Wild and majestic, the North Fork trail of the Quinault River to Wolf Bar Camp is perfect for getting the kids out, impressing a date or indulging in some personal quiet time. Old-growth cedar and spruce stand command while the sandy-turn-rocky trail winds through an intimate river valley. This five-mile out-and-back adventure is under-utilized compared to popular hikes on the canal side of the peninsula. Autonomy, space and a slower pace are easily attainable.
Adding to the allure and romance of the trail is the fact this path was blazed by the 1889 Press Exhibition. This hardy and adventurous group journeyed from Whiskey Bend (near Port Angeles) through the core of the Olympics, landing in Quinault. Five men completed the trip in six months. “Exploring the Olympic Mountains” (2001), compiled by Carsten Lien, documents the original adventure and is great stormy day reading.
I purchased a pedometer with the idea of measuring the distance between water crossings and points of interest. I intended to approach this report with what seems to be the standard in trail report writing. I spent almost ten minutes attempting to program the unit when I realized it was not working properly – so much for specifics and being precise.
I arrived at the trailhead 12:30pm, on an April Thursday. The sky was hazy blue, the temperature in the mid-fifties, and the parking lot was empty. I’ve hiked this trail often in the last year-and-a-half, almost always heading out earlier in the day.
The chorus of frogs in the swampy area behind the ranger station caught my attention during my post-car exit stretch. I’d not heard anything like it mid-day in years. It was so loud that it overwhelmed the usual river rush I’m accustomed to when I exit the car.
Stately maple trees draped in moss previewed the maturity and beauty-beyond-words of what was up ahead. I was greeted by the chirp, hum and buzz of hummingbirds, who have returned to their more active, spring-like state. Delicate purple-blue Spring Azure butterflies seemed to swarm me as I started up the path. Salmonberries were beginning to bloom, sword ferns transitioning from winter brown to spring green, and a friendly breeze kept me company. I was happy to be back.
I’ve seen far more elk than deer on this walk in the past. I was surprised to meet a young buck and doe (deer) along the way, who allowed a photo opportunity as I continued to venture on. The frequent drumming of grouse (one of my favorite nature sounds) reminded me I was not alone.
The valley-bottom trail winds into the hillside and a bit above river level. Vistas reveal captivating views that are best seen in person (and I’ve done my best to capture in photos), as the trail winds gently west into the hillside and back toward the river. I approached this trail with the sense that folks new to hiking may feel the urge to venture out into an unfamiliar world. There were four water crossings: The first is a not-so-big stream, which is rocky and about five feet wide. Nothing to an experienced hiker, though a newbie may get wet if not confident or careful. I’ve encountered this area complete dry, later in the season. The second crossing is similar to the first and about seven feet wide, with larger rocks. Boulder hopping is an option. And similar to the first crossing, it was barely a whisper at the end of fall.
The third and fourth crossings take a bit more navigation and fact-finding. The bottoms on both are mostly sandy, though very wide. This may be a time to offer a piggy-back, request a ride yourself, or take off your shoes and (wool) socks and cool off those feet! I did, and it was fantastic! Both crossings generally are dried up before the end of the season. Don’t let the crossings dissuade you! As I stated earlier, I’m being careful for those less experienced and minimizing surprises.
That being said, I came across cougar scat twice on this hike. I’ve seen cougar and bear tracks on this trail in the past. If you do take children, please keep them ahead of you or between you (if two adults are hiking). This is a wild area. Please keep a whistle on you (to scare cougar), educate yourself, and know what precautions to take in the chance there is a meeting.
Wolf Bar Camp is not in shape for camping at this writing. It doesn’t mean it won’t be in a month or two. I walked out onto the spacious river bar and found a sandy loam for rest and lunch. I leaned back, and looking at the sky, considered how perfect a spot it would be for night sky viewing. I considered how this spot would be perfect for families newer to backpacking/hiking who want to practice closer to the car than further. I’ve hoofed it out of there in 50 minutes with a group: The youngest were six and seven (and on a tight schedule) and the kids set the pace. There are a few blow-downs that are easy to navigate. I don’t expect them to be there much longer. It is truly a great hike with kids.
I headed back to the trailhead, enjoying the view in the southerly direction and noticing how the river had grown a braid or two since the last time I had visited (about two months ago). Reaching the parking lot, I found (still) the only car in the parking lot was my own.
I’m finding one of the many benefits in returning to such an area somewhat frequently is the feeling of creating a friendship with a living, complex being. As I return to observe the changes seasons bring to my friend, I also have the opportunity to observe how the seasons have changed me.
Try a solo hike and find out for yourself. Get acquainted with a particular spot. Return often to observe how the season has changed the scenery. Observe how you have changed.
Please call the USFS Ranger Station in Quinault for road conditions and accessibility: 360-288-2525
The below information is from the National Park Service website: http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/north-for-quinault.htm#CP_JUMP_176619
Permits/Reservations: Obtain permits at WIC in Port Angeles or at the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station located next to Lake Quinault Lodge. No reservations necessary.
Food Storage Method: Bear canisters and bear wires.
Location and sites: Wolf Bar
Toilet Facilities: Outhouse at trail head. In other areas bury waste 6-8″ 200 ft. from water sources and campsites. Please pack out toilet paper.
Water Source: North Fork Quinault River and tributary streams: Always boil, filter or chemically treat your drinking water to prevent giardia.
Stock: Allowed, check stock regulations.
Special Concerns – Leave No Trace: Leave No Trace of your stay to protect vegetation and prevent further camping regulations. Camp in established sites or on bare ground.Fires: To protect sensitive vegetation, campfires are not allowed above 3,500 feet.Respect Wildlife: To protect bears and other wildlife, all food, garbage and scented items must be secured from all wildlife 24 hours a day.
Safety: Steam crossings may be high during winter, spring and during heavy rain or snow melt. Check trail conditions.