Washington state’s Quinault River Valley is a must-see part of Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest. Here the Quinault River, home to so many salmon, flows down from the Olympic Mountains and into Lake Quinault, surrounded by old-growth temperate rainforest. If you’re visiting the Washington coast, a trip to the Quinault area is never a bad idea.
The river, lake and surrounding forest provide a wealth of family-friendly activities, including hiking, fishing, kayaking on the lake, wildlife viewing, and standing around staring up at humongous trees in total awe. A rainforest is nature’s playground: go play! (But be sure to bring jackets!)
Here are some of our favorite places to go and things to do in the Quinault River Valley, otherwise known as The Valley of the Rainforest Giants. Really. You can’t make this stuff up!
Hike the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail
Quinault is about an hour drive up from Ocean Shores, the nearest significant town. As you first arrive into the area, you’ll be heading either north or south on 101. Turn off at South Shore Road, just south of Amanda Park (the nearest town) and continue 1.4 miles to the Nature Trail parking lot. This is clearly marked.
This 0.9-mile nature trail has a good parking lot and bathrooms at the trailhead. It’s technically on National Forest land, and they have an honor system for payment, charging a few bucks for parking. Check the main information signage at the trailhead for current cost.
This is a great place to set the kids loose to run up the trail and read the informative signs. Look for nurse logs: these decaying logs nourish new trees, and are pretty impressive to witness. Play hide and seek around the tree so giant it has its own viewing platform. Follow the trail to a pretty little stream and waterfall. This is an easy “hike” that my three-year-old can easily manage and a great introduction to the awe and wonder of being in the rainforest.
Visit the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce
You know who loves world records? Kids. Or mine do, at least. Do yours a favor and take them to see the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce since you’re here anyway. Be forewarned: it’s damn hard to get a picture of something this big. Also, the walk to get there is close to a developed area and not particularly scenic. But you’re here, so this is a must-see. Follow the signs on the left side of the road as you drive in along South Shore Road. It’s a 0.3-mile walk along a gravel trail to to the tree.
Explore Lake Quinault Museum
If the kids aren’t too antsy, pop into the Lake Quinault Museum. Admission is by donation, and they have a collection of items from days past. Quinault has an interesting history. Originally a very important area for Native Americans, it was then homesteaded before becoming part of the national park system. Take the kids in to see the Native American racing canoes and the old schoolhouse artifacts, if nothing else.
Admire Bunch Falls
This is a perennial favorite of ours, ever since we started having babies. Want to know why? Because it is right on the side of the road. Zero walking required. Hop out and take a quick photo while your spouse changes a diaper. Or let the kids out to eat their snacks on the rocks and clamber up as high as they can get to the waterfall. To get there, just keep driving along South Shore Road deeper into the Olympic National Park. After the Lake Quinault Lodge and the Museum, you will wind through an area with some homes; keep going. Eventually you will see the falls on your right.
Play on Lake Quinault
In the summer, you can rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks and paddle boards from a hut right on the shore of Lake Quinault. If you get lucky with a blue sky day (a rarity, but we managed it this summer) there are few places as beautiful as this area, and paddling across the lake makes a great break from hiking.
Fish the Upper Quinault River
Just after the South Shore Road turns to dirt, it will start to hug the Upper Quinault River. This is public land, and if the river is open for fishing and you are the type to keep a rod and reel stashed in the back of your minivan, go ahead and park on the shores of this pretty river. Check the state regulations to make sure it’s open for fishing when you’re there; it’s usually open from February to November. The Quinault hosts some of the largest steelhead in the world, but a spinner may tempt smaller trout and keep the kids happy.
Watch for Wildlife along the North Shore Road
This area is home to lots of blacktail deer and Roosevelt elk, the largest elk in the world. Once you run out of road on South Shore Road, turn left, cross the river and head downstream on the winding (wait for it…) North Shore Road. If you are lucky, you may see a deer or small herd of elk in the meadows or along the river. There are also ample places to fish, investigate the woods or play along the river as you head back to 101 along this road.