The Quinault Rainforest is home to one of the best beginning backpacking experience in the Northwest. Tucked away in the rain-soaked southwestern corner of Olympic National Park, this rainforest provides amazing views, well-marked trails and world class experiences, all on relatively flat trails by Olympic standards. With bear, elk, salmon, eagles, deer, coyotes and other assorted wildlife, hiking here should be added to anyone’s hiking bucket list.
From Pony Bridge (http://bit.ly/PIRCnX) and Irely Lake(http://bit.ly/MYXHup) to the Giant Cedar (http://bit.ly/1nGNmEw) and the Quinault Rainforest Nature Loop Trail (http://exotichikes.com/the-quinault-rainforest-nature-trail-loop/), and everything in between (http://bit.ly/1fTYGFg), we strive to bring you the very best that the Quinault Region has to offer. That being said, we have saved one destination until right now.
Enchanted Valley is exactly what the name implies. Enchanted, magical and taken directly out of every forested fairytale, this is where many feel most alive. The Enchanted Valley, which is a wide open section of the Quinault River, sits at the bottom of picturesque mountains in Olympic National Park. Towering thousands of feet above the valley, waterfalls cascade down rocky, scantily-forested cliffs; the nickname “The Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls” being correctly earned. The Enchanted Valley is one of the best and easiest backpacking destinations in Olympic National Park.
The trailhead signs say the trail to Enchanted Valley is 13.5 miles, but in reality, it is much closer to 15 miles. Not that anyone could complain about being forced to hike an extra mile and a half of spectacular forests, mind-blowing river views and brooks babbling louder than the 12th man. Throw in walking next to an elk herd and a possibility of seeing a black bear walk across the river on a mossy log and this trail basically has it all. Oh, you like mountains and a cool river features? This trail has views of Mount Anderson’s gnarly looking West Peak and lets you walk across a rustic wooden bridge that is the epitome of a rainforest canyon. If you want to experience what backpacking in Olympic National Park has to offer, without switchbacks on the trail, the Enchanted Valley is where it’s at.
HOW TO GET HERE
Trailhead to Pony Bridge
3 Miles One-Way
If you are looking for an easy day hike, this is a great section of trail. Once an old road, the wide trail a heads directly into the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. Crossing Graves Creek and heading up hill and away from the Quinault River, the trail starts with what some argue is the steepest section on the trail. After around a mile of steady climbing, you will reach a picnic table that is moss-covered and falling apart from neglect. From this forgotten picnic table to Pony Bridge, it is all downhill and somewhat large steps for those shorter in stature hikers.
Listen for Grouse in the forests and watch for small, seasonal waterfalls all around. When you start wondering how many more steps down you need to take, you will soon be hearing the waters of the Quinault River as you near the wooden awesomeness that is Pony Bridge. Take in the sights here; it is worth the long break for pictures.
Pony Bridge to O’Neil Creek
7 Miles from Trailhead
After the gorgeous canyon, the trail rises and falls in elevation as it traces the bends and turns of the Quinault River. As the trail heads uphill, you will climb up notice you are near canyons just like where you crossed at Pony Bridge. In some sections, if you lean off the trail you can look straight down into the cold, mysterious depths of the river. In other sections, you cross small streams that cut across the trail. Occasionally you will have a bridge; occasionally you will have to cross creatively. Don’t worry though; walking across flowing water without a bridge here is actually fun and safe.
As the trail heads down hill, it will lead you to impressive river views with blues and greens of every hue. In places along the river, the trail takes you past moss-covered branches that have fallen in arches, perfectly framing all the elements of the Quinault rainforest. In small valleys, filled with cedar, fir and moss-covered maples and sword ferns, elk are commonly seen walking along or near the trail. Remember, elk are far more likely to attack you than a bear, so give these majestic guys and girls a break and keep your distance.
O’Neil Creek to Pyrites Creek
10.2 Miles from Trailhead
If you love hiking through flat open maple forests, alongside giant firs trees and next to beautiful sections of the Quinault River, then this part of the trail is for you. With a minimal, yet growing possibility of seeing a bear and a high probability of seeing Roosevelt Elk, this section of the trail is pretty rad. There are small hills, but for the majority, the trail ever so slightly gains in elevation. Huge fallen trees litter the forest floor, some exposing their root systems as large as a house. This section of the trail may eventually start to seem like it goes on forever, but don’t worry, soon you will arrive at the Pyrites Creek crossing with may require a ford.
Pyrites to “The Gate”
12.5 Miles from Trailhead
Depending on when you hike to the Enchanted Valley, crossing Pyrites Creek can be a little tricky. Like the Quinault River, Pyrites Creek can have huge flooding and dramatic deterioration and changing of its river banks. Each time the National Park Service builds a new bridge to help hikers cross the creek; heavy rains come and wash away their hard work. Be prepared, at all times, to have to ford the river, either by walking on logs or walking through the water, which could be around shin or knee deep. Most days, hikers will mark log crossings with stacked rocks, known as a Cairn, so keep your eyes open for those places of easy crossing.
Once you cross the creek, be bear aware. More people see bears after crossing Pyrites Creek. Don’t worry though, following the simple National Park rules will allow to be extremely safe. While hiking here, also keep an eye out for more huge fallen trees and roots, as they make for pretty awesome pictures. Once you reach an old fence that once was home to a gate, you have almost arrived. Get ready for the amazing views of the Enchanted Valley.
“The Gate” to the Enchanted Valley Chalet
13.5 Miles from Trailhead
The last section of any trail can be frustrating, but don’t worry. At just one mile, anything is worth the payoff. Depending on the time of the year you hike in Olympic National Park, any trail could have fallen trees on the trail. If you hike in the spring and early summer, be prepared to do some climbing over fallen logs, especially in this final section. When we last hiked out, there were 26 fallen trees along the trail to the Enchanted Valley and 24 of them were in this last mile. Take your time, use logic and you will be just fine. It will end.
Once you are through the maze of fallen giants, the trail quickly heads back toward the river, where you come to a narrow bridge high above the Quinault River. The bridge is a single I-Beam with one hand rail, so take your time and pay attention. This bridge is totally doable, especially knowing that the Enchanted Valley Chalet is just down a few minutes away. Follow the ever-changing trail and take in your first glimpse of Chimney Peak towering over the three story wooden Chalet. Follow the trail and celebrate. You made it!
The Enchanted Valley
In a wide valley along the Quinault River, situated next to a mile long system of waterfalls, The Enchanted Valley sits. With cascading falls steadily dripping of the steep cliffs of Chimney Peak, the Quinault River fills with more water, ever changing its course along the valley. The cliffs of Chimney Peak also see the spring rains and warm temperatures that cause avalanches of snow to roar down its hillsides with the loudness of a jet. Sitting in Enchanted Valley one can lose themselves for hours watching the waterfalls and avalanches while occasionally gazing upon Mount Anderson’s West peak and the glaringly white Anderson glacier.
Besides one of the more massively impressive views in the entire Olympic National Park, Enchanted Valley is home to a picturesque wooden chalet. Appearing more at home in the Alps than in the Olympics, the three-story Enchanted Valley Chalet has sat since 1930. This homesteading architecture building is so unique; it was named to the national registry of historic places in 2007. While not open to the public, the Chalet is now used as a Ranger Station and an Emergency shelter for backpackers. in The late summer months of 2014, the NPS worked with locals grounds and med the Chalet to safety- http://www.thurstontalk.com/2014/09/09/enchanted-valley-chalet-moved/
WHY HIKE ENCHANTED VALLEY
It might seem like a long distance and 28 miles round trip, but this awesome valley should be seen in your life. What better time to come out and see it then now, when you still have the chance to lay your eyes on a sight that people have been paying to see for over 80 years. The Chalet is the draw to get you here in the Quinault Rainforest, but you will fall in love with more than just the building, you will fall in love with hiking, backpacking and the greatness that is the might Quinault. Make a plan to hike here this summer, get our guidebook to get you ready and in shape and come experience the Enchanted Valley.
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