Exploring Coastal Rainforest Hikes
Story and Photos by Craig Romano
Northwest summers are temperate, often sunny, and great times to go for a hike. Northwest autumns are, too—minus a little sunshine! But what better time to hike in one of our region’s coastal rainforests than during the rainy season?
Don rain gear and an adventurous spirit and check out these three hikes ranging from kid-friendly strolls to wilderness wanderings. And during the rainy season you can expect quieter trails, more frequent wildlife sightings, and a deeper appreciation for our wet and wild environment. Pack dry socks for the drive home.
NW Trails is sponsored by:
Coastal Forest Trail
Cape Disappointment State Park
Roundtrip: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Fees/Restrictions: Discover Pass required; dogs must be leashed
This delightful trail in the 1,880-acre Cape Disappointment State Park consists of two loops: one offering a short jaunt, the other a longer wandering. Both will grant you an intimate journey through an old-growth Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock forest at the mouth of the Columbia River.
The longer loop provides excellent views of Baker Bay, a relatively calm cove close to the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River. Take in sweeping views of the fishing village of Ilwaco perched along Baker Bay’s shoreline against a backdrop of the rolling and often cloud-enshrouded Bear River Range.
Both loops make for easy hikes suitable for all ages and abilities. If you’re still itching for more terrain to explore, several other trails can be found in the sprawling state park, which protects coastal headlands, maritime forests and sandy beaches at the southern tip of the Long Beach Peninsula. The park offers plenty of historic sites too, including the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Center.
Over 200 years ago during a very wet and dreary November, the intrepid duo and their Corps of Discovery traipsed around Cape Disappointment admiring its natural splendor. Retrace their steps and make a few discoveries of your own.
Horse Creek Trail
Drift Creek Wilderness, Siuslaw National Forest
Roundtrip: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
The tranquil Drift Creek Wilderness lies just a few miles away from the crashing Pacific Ocean, protecting a 5,800-acre rare tract of coastal Oregon old growth forest. The coastal forests up and down U.S. 101 in the Beaver State have been heavily logged since settlers spilled into the Willamette Valley in the 1840s. Drift Creek testifies to what most of this region’s forests once looked like.
The Horse Creek Trail will take you into the heart of this sanctuary, which harbors spotted owls, bald eagles, Roosevelt elk and black bears. From a high ridge, climb a couple hundred feet before dropping more than 1,000 feet to pristine Drift Creek with its spawning populations of Chinook and Coho salmon.
The trail snakes around towering firs, spruce and hemlock, some with diameters exceeding seven feet. You may hear the sound of the distant surf over chattering wrens and thrushes. More than likely you’ll also hear rain drops pitter-pattering since this area receives over 120 inches of rainfall annually.
If Drift Creek is low enough that you can ford it, you’ll find two trails leading up ridges in the southern half of the wilderness. Whether you explore further, or just while away the day under a giant tree alongside the creek, make sure you save some energy for the climb back to the trailhead.
Quinault Recreation Trail
Olympic National Forest
Roundtrip Loop: 3.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Green Trails Map: Lake Quinault, WA- No 197
Fees/Restrictions: Northwest Forest Pass required; dogs should be leashed.
Trails lead from several trailheads, campgrounds and the historic Quinault Lodge to waterfalls, crystal clear creeks, scenic lakeshore, and through groves of towering Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock. You can spend days here exploring. This loop makes for a great introduction to the area.
From the trailhead, pass a colossal Douglas Fir before reaching a junction on a high bank above Willaby Creek. Look down for salmon and up for eagles. Turn right to begin your loop. Bear left at the Nature Trail (lest you want a much shorter trip) and soon cross Willaby Creek. Continue on the loop avoiding a 1.7 mile side trail to the Willaby Creek giant cedar (a worthy side trip although involving a difficult ford).
Via a boardwalk, cross a cedar bog that in spring bursts with pungent patches of skunk cabbage. Soon afterward come to another junction. The trail left heads .6 mile to the Quinault Lodge; proceed right. After crossing Falls Creek, gently climb and cross Cascade Creek at lovely Cascade Falls. Then slowly descend, bearing left to cross Falls Creek and climb again before reaching the South Shore Road.
Cross the road and admire Falls Creek Falls, then skirt a campground before coming to Lake Quinault, one of the largest bodies of water on the Olympic Peninsula. Close the loop by following the lakeshore for one mile, passing quiet coves, humble cabins, and the majestic 1926 Lake Quinault Lodge.
This section of trail is prone to winter flooding. If it’s flooded, return via the South Shore Road, or head up the Lodge Trail and retrace some of your route. The forest may be ancient, but this hike never gets old.
Coastal Rainforest Trail: From Ilwaco, take Loop Spur State Road 100 in either direction to Fort Canby Road. Follow to Cape Disappointment State Park. At a four-way intersection, turn left to boat launch and trailhead.
Horse Creek Trail (Drift Creek Wilderness): From Newport, follow U.S. 101 south to Ona Beach State Park. Turn left onto North Beaver Creek Road and after one mile bear left. Continue 2.7 miles and turn right onto Elkhorn Road. After 5.8 miles turn left onto FR 50; then after 1.4 miles, bear right onto FR 5087, reaching the trailhead in 3.4 miles.
Quinault Recreation Trail: From Hoquiam travel north on U.S. 101 for 35 miles. Turn right onto the South Shore Lake Quinault Road and proceed for 1.3 miles to a large parking area signed Rainforest Nature Trail Loop.
Coastal Rainforest Trail (Cape Disappointment State Park):
Drift Creek Wilderness: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Siuslaw
Quinault Recreation Trail: http://www.fs.usda.gov/olympic
Craig Romano is Trails Editor of Outdoors NW and is the author of eight Northwest hiking guidebooks including Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (The Mountaineers Books), which includes many other coastal rainforest hikes. Visit him at http://CraigRomano.com.