Olympic National Park: Quinault Rain Forest

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The three of us spent two fun days exploring Portland from Powell’s Books to the Hawthorne District to food cart pods. Saturday morning, April 28, we returned to Seattle via the Olympic Peninsula. We rose early to get a head start on the three hour drive to the first, and southernmost, section of the park areas we wanted to see: Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest.

I waited in the car while Kathrin and Sean tried to run into Stumptown Coffee for some much-needed caffeine for the drive. It was closed, so they got us treats from Voodoo Doughnuts instead.

As we drove north on I-5 the clouds parted to the northeast, and we got an unexpected view of Mount Rainier in the distance, glowing in the morning light.

We turned off the expressway and headed northwest toward the western side of the peninsula. The highway curved through valleys of agricultural land and timber country.

Image: Sean M. Santos

We passed through Aberdeen (birth place of Kurt Cobain) and Hoquiam on the shores of Gray’s Harbor. We didn’t stop for a rest or gas in either because I thought certainly there’d be something on the outskirts of town as we headed north onto the peninsula proper. Certainly, right?

Forty-five minutes later we stopped in tiny Humptulips, Washington (pop. 255), seriously relieved to find both gas and porta-potties at the Humptulips Grocery.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

After Humptulips, it was only about another 20 minutes until we were skirting Lake Quinault, a glacial lake in the southwestern Olympics, drained and replenished by the Quinault River.

Image: Kathrin Russette

The forest service administers Olympic National Forest on the southern shore of the lake while Olympic National Park borders the northern shore. We turned down the access road  to the park entrance.

Image: Kathrin Russette

We pulled over into the single parking spot by a sign for the Big Cedar Tree. We had this part of Quinault Rain Forest to ourselves as we walked along the muddy trail and mounted stairs up a ridge. The whole time, we could hear a rushing brook just to the east of us. It fed the lake below where the car was parked.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

We weren’t sure exactly how far up the slope it was to reach the big cedar, and we still didn’t have a sense of forest scale (we were surrounded by some massive trees as it was). So, without actually reaching the big tree, we decided to turn back down. We had just arrived, and there was so much more we wanted to see.

Image: Sean M. Santos

It may look like clover, but it’s really the larger, brighter Oregon Oxalis. Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Kathrin Russette

Trillium along the trail

Although Hoh Rain Forest is justly more famous (and spectacular as we would soon see), I’m glad we stopped at Quinault. It was quieter, more personal. It felt more visually accessible than Hoh, a little less other-worldly. The sound of the brook, the light rain, flowers along the trail, all conspired to make it feel more familiar, more like the midwestern forests we knew. I noticed that all three of us tended to the intimate in our photographs of Quinault, more so than at Hoh.

Soon, though, we were back in the car, headed for the Pacific.

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