Ready to adventure through so much green you’ll think you’ve landed in the Emerald City? How about rollicking waterfalls, towering conifers, twittering song birds, laughing creeks, and shoreline views of one of the largest lakes on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula?
Look no further than the Rain Forest Loop Trail at Lake Quinault. (See slideshow, below.)
Some say start and conclude this hike at the Rainforest Nature Trail Loop, off South Shore Road at about .2 miles. You can do that. But for broader, richer rain forest adventure, start from the Gatton Creek trailhead off South Shore Road past the Lake Quinault Lodge. Take an immediate right at the Gatton Creek Campground sign onto a short gravel road. Park at the trail head. Hike clockwise.
The trail parallels the laughing waters of Gatton Creek on the left for about a third of a mile or so. Then it meanders away to the right. Watch for newly cleared blow down and mud here early in the season.
Keep an eye out for Gatton Falls on your left. When you hit the first kiosk at the trail juncture, veer left. Mosey about two minutes to the bridge over Gatton Falls. This is a good place to take pictures. Do an about-face. Return to the loop over a mild uphill. Then get ready to do some climbing and navigate some switchbacks. But take heart. Although this trail has some ups and downs, the grades are gentle and the climbs are relatively brief. Also note that the trail can be rocky and muddy in places as well as narrow. In early spring, you may run into wayward creeks gurgling down the center of the trail. Be prepared.
Heading away from Gatton Falls, the trail twists and turns about a half mile or so toward Cascade Falls. Cross a couple wood plank foot bridges and wind your way toward Cascade Falls. Cascade Creek cavorts over rocks and boulders on your right. You’ll hear the falls before you see it. Veer left at the next trail sign kiosk. Continue and climb toward the bridge over Cascade Falls. A good photo spot.
Cross some more bridges and head toward Cedar Bog. You’ll know you hit it when you’re on the wood-planked boardwalk over wet, marshy ground studded with yellow-tipped skunk cabbage.
There are a couple benches about midway along the bog boardwalk. Take a water or snack break here or just enjoy the solitude. In early spring, keep an eye out for white tongues of Trillium, pink Nootka rose and yellow cinquefoil. Listen to wrens, varied thrush, and other songbirds. You’ll also pass several downed trees with root balls the size of SUVs.
A few more ups and downs after crossing Willaby Creek and you connect with the Rain Forest Loop Trail. You can turn left or right. Both options take you to the trailhead and the parking lot, which has bathrooms. (Note: A $5.00 parking fee or a Northwest Parking Pass is required at the Rain Forest Nature Trail lot for stays over ten minutes. Park personnel do check.)
Head north out of the lot toward the stop sign. Cross the South Shore Road and head toward Willaby Campground. Pick up the Lakeshore Trail out of the Willaby Campground. Head north along the shore. Lots of good photo opps here! Don’t forget to turn around for more!
The Lakeshore Trail is mostly level, but watch out for tanglefoot and fallen logs strewn about near the water. The footing can be hazardous and slick in wet weather. Head toward the Lake Quinault Lodge, a little over a mile. Pass the lodge on your right, the Quinault ranger station, and staff housing toward Falls Creek Campground. Cross the bridge over the creek. Head toward South Shore Road.
If you have the time, check out the Quinault Cemetery for an interesting detour. The marker is on the right side of the South Shore Road. Just follow the paved road up the hill. The cemetery is small. About an acre. This detour will add about half a mile or so to your total miles, but it’s pretty and quiet.
Post-cemetery, continue north on the South Shore Road about half a mile until you reach the Gatton Creek Campground sign. You’re back! Bonus points: If Gatton Creek Campground is open, stop in for pleasant picnic lunch on Lake Quinault. It’s directly across the street from the trailhead, has bathrooms and picnic tables near the lake.
Trail notes: This pleasant loop is versatile, offering numerous options for lunch stops, turn-arounds, photo opps and spur trails. You can hike the trail in chunks as short as half a mile or as long as 6.5 miles if you hike round-trip. Much of this trail also offers shade by the truck load. The vegetation is thick and lush. Festooned in moss, towering conifers like Douglas Fir and Western red Cedar form a dense overhead canopy. So this trail is pleasant even on a warm day.
From Hoquiam, travel north on US Highway 101 for 38 miles. Turn right at milepost 126 onto South Shore Road (1 mile before Amanda Park). Proceed for 1.3 miles to the Rainforest Nature Trail Loop trailhead (elev. 240 ft), on the right. Water and restrooms available. Continue on South Shore Road past the Lake Quinault Lodge until you hit the sign for Gatton Creek Campground. It’ll be on your right. Take an immediate right at the sign into a gravel roundabout. The Gatton Creek Trailhead is straight ahead. Park near the trailhead sign and you’re good to go.
RT: About 6.5 miles.*
Average hiking time: That depends on you. An experienced hiker can polish off the loop in a couple hours or so. But why rush? Take your time. Allow about four hours to soak up the serenity and enjoy your Olympic adventure.
* Some sources peg round trip mileage at about 4.0 miles. We added up the mileage as noted in chunks at on-site trail kiosks.