“So, what do you want to do for your birthday?” Chris asked. “Anything special for the big 5-9?”
“How ’bout we day hike around Lake Quinault?” I chirped. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
That’s the thing with “hike” and “November” when you live on the Olympic Peninsula, home to one of the largest rain forests in the world. Where they measure rain fall in feet, not inches. Where anything that doesn’t move at warp speed every ten minutes grows moss. Where you may have to sprout gills and webbed feet to hike this time of year.
Like I said, how ’bout we hike?
Layered up with Under Armour, hooded jackets, gloves, mufflers and Keen Boots, we take a picnic lunch and drive about 40 miles north to beautiful Lake Quinault.
Drenched in a thousand shades of green, this rugged, isolated landscape hangs out verdure like rungs on a ladder. Cobwebbed with lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, and waterfalls, you’re never far from the sound of running water. The Quinault Rain Forest is also home to some Really Big Trees, hence the handle, “Forest of Giants.”
We take the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive, a 31-mile loop around Lake Quinault. Meandering past July Creek Picnic Area, we get out and hike the shoreline as our breath exhales in frosty plumes. It’s chilly. But it’s November. And the sky is clear, dry, and achingly blue. So no complaints!
Driving on to another old favorite, the Maple Glade and Kestner Homestead trails, we pause as a four-pointed buck ambles across the road.
The Kestner Homestead Trail is an easy 1.4 mile loop hike that leads through an old homestead and the Quinault Rain Forest. It includes land that Anton Kestner claimed in 1889 under the Homestead Act. The trail hooks up with the Maple Glade Nature Trail, an easy .5 mile stroll through a splendid moss-draped maple forest.
By early afternoon it’s warm enough to start peeling off layers. So we do, hiking in T-shirts. (We later found out that this was the second warmest November 12 on record. Go figure.)
After pictures at the glade and the homestead, we tuck back into the truck and continue around the lake. The road turns into gravel at about mile 7.5. It’s rough but passable. The road temporarily becomes paved again at the one-car-at-a-time narrow bridge over the Quinault River.
“How ’bout some pictures at the bridge?” Chris suggests. “It’ll be fun,” he says.
It’s heading toward late afternoon. Shadows lengthen. Temperatures skim the low 40s. I try not to shiver too hard, mustering a thin smile through chattering teeth. Then I run back to the truck to retrieve my sweater, jacket, gloves, and knit cap, passing a few fishermen en route.
We drive past Bunch Falls at about mile 15.2. The is about where the road leaves park boundaries and enters Olympic National Forest.
Then it’s on to our favorite local restaurant, The Salmon House. They open at 4:00 and only serve dinner. It’s not yet 4:00. Drat.
So we continue on to another favorite, Falls Creek Campground, and hike the area. Hugging the south shore of Lake Quinault, this campground features a sweet little waterfall and Really Cold Water. (Don’t ask how I know that.)
“How ’bout we pop into the Lodge and grab a glass of wine for a birthday toast?” Chris suggests.
Works for me.
But the lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room isn’t open for dinner yet. Or anything else. Phooey.
So we hike back to the Falls Creek Campground and sit on a picnic table. Swig from our water bottles. Watch Canadian geese ski the lake before sable night seeps over the Olympic Peninsula and rings down the curtain on a November to remember.