Chasing Waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula

Tour some of the state’s most scenic falls on a weekend jaunt full of mist, moss and spruced-up photo ops
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the March 2020 issue. Click here to subscribeDue to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of the restaurants and places mentioned will be closed and/or offering to-go only. Turn this weekender into a day-trip by leaving early, packing your own food, picking a waterfall and staying safe by following health guidelines as recommended by WA-DOH.

With the Olympic Peninsula just a short drive away, it’s a shame not to indulge in that accessible natural beauty, especially in spring when waterfalls are in their prime. To help guide you on your way, we’ve planned a peninsular route to six of Washington’s finest.

Get an early start to catch the Edmonds ferry to Kingston. This northern route will weave you through two of the upper peninsula’s most notable small towns for a preparatory fuel stop. In Sequim, stop in at Nourish, a winsome restaurant located next to the historic Bell House, built circa 1880. This gluten-free, organic restaurant serves locally sourced food accented with herbs from its on-site gardens, where lavender is also grown. For something heartier, head about 15 miles west to Port Angeles. There you’ll find Smugglers Landing, a dockside eatery offering a range of Northwest fare; it’s also conveniently located near the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, where you can buy a park pass ($30, nps.gov/olym) if you hadn’t already gotten one online (yourpassnow.com).

A 20-minute drive west gives you ample time to digest before landing you at Madison Falls (also known as Madison Creek Falls), tucked into the Elwha Valley. The 0.2-mile round-trip hike is light work for a big reward: a 76-foot fall that keeps contact with the bedrock directly behind, maintaining its vertically lined stream. Dip your toes into the small pool at the fall’s base or, if you’re looking to keep your socks on, have a seat on the benches at the trail’s end and experience the mood-boosting mist.

Looping deeper into Olympic National Park, a short drive and 1.6-mile round-trip hike will bring you to Sol Duc Falls, a hurtling cascade that drops off a 48-foot cliff into the Sol Duc River. The trek to Sol Duc takes you beneath an old-growth forest canopy; you can view the falls from upstream, downstream or from a wooden bridge directly above the falls’ four-channeled split as it sweeps into a narrow canyon—an especially magical sight in spring. The name Sol Duc, meaning “magic waters,” comes from a Quillayute tribal legend of how the falls came to be: Two hot-tempered dragons named Sol Duc and Elwha fought until they became trapped in some caverns; their hot tears feed the nearby Olympic and Sol Duc hot springs to this day.


RUSTIC RETREAT: Lake Quinault Lodge, with its 100-year-old charm, makes for a comfortable spot to recharge. Photo courtesy of Aramark.

If you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up in transit to the day’s final run, swing through Forks. Drive-through coffee huts, such as Mocha Motion and A Shot in the Dark, and low-key comfort food spots can all be found along the main drag. Noshing Clif Bars in the car will work, too, on your way to Mineral Creek Falls. Hike about 5 miles round trip along the Hoh River Trail to reach the 66-foot falls in the heart of the Hoh Rain Forest—the trek will be worth it. Feeling bold? Meander across the small wooden bridge spanning the creek and follow a slightly overgrown path on the right that takes you practically under the falls for a fern-filled, misty view.

Recharge overnight at Lake Quinault Lodge, a spiffy 1920s-era resort that’s rustically charming while still offering plenty of amenities to help you unwind, including an arcade and game room, sauna and a heated indoor swimming pool. The woodland ambiance makes it dangerously easy to cozy up in any room on the property; however, the Historic Main Lodge suites have the easiest access to the Roosevelt Dining Room, replete with lake views.

Once you’re rested and fed (food options are thin on the ground in this area, so make sure you eat at the hotel), drive a few miles north of the lodge for a morning at Merriman Falls, the most accessible and popular falls in the Quinault Rain Forest. You’ll easily spot its radiant 40-foot cascade, nestled in lush green flora, through moss-covered spruce branches.

For an additional dose of exquisite woodland scenery, take advantage of the peninsula’s broad backroad network to get to Spoon Creek Falls. This hike, short and sweet, clocks in at less than a mile round trip and is certainly worth the drive; expect to see a 93-foot falls, visible from the trail’s several lookout points, that drops into a cool, blue wading pool.

Wrap up your trip at Rocky Brook Falls, adjacent to Hood Canal. Reaching this roadside attraction entails a brief walk of about 200 yards; the 229-foot force of nature spills down the bedrock into a shallow pool, popular for swimming. It’s a perfect place to take one final photo before starting your journey home.

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