Lake Quinault Loop Drive: A Complete Guide

With enormous trees and lush rain forests to lake views, waterfalls and wildlife, the Quinault Rain Forest loop drive is a great way to experience the highlights of the Quinault Valley.

The scenic drive is 31-mile loop around Lake Quinault and along part of the Quinault River, passing through parts of Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest.  

This guide has everything you need to know, including all the best stops and insider tips. 

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Guided Lake Quinault Tours

While there is no tour specifically for the entire loop drive, if you prefer to have someone drive for you and want an expert guide to take you, there is a private full day tour from Seattle to the Quinault Valley. 

Stops include highlights of the loop drive such as the world’s largest spruce tree, Maple Glade and Kestner Homestead.  

BOOK A FULL-DAY PRIVATE TOUR FROM SEATTLE TO LAKE QUINAULT & THE QUINAULT RAINFOREST


Quinault Rainforest Loop Drive Overview

*** NOTE: In April 2023, the bridge area spanning Quinault River at milepost 14.5 on North Shore Road was closed due to storm damage. This means that the loop drive around Lake Quinault is impassable. You can still see the highlights on this drive, but can’t do it as a loop at the moment. Check the NPS website for updates. ***

Lake Quinault is a natural lake that lies at the end of the Quinault Valley.  Quinault River feeds into the lake. 

There are two main roads in the valley. The North Shore Road and the South Shore Road run along the two main sides of the lake and the river. Olympic National Park lies along the north shore and Olympic National Forest lies along most of the south shore.

The Lake Quinault Loop starts from Highway 101 (the main road that loops around the entire Olympic Peninsula) at the end of Lake Quinault and, driving in a clockwise direction, goes along North Shore Drive, continues up the north bank of the Quinault River, crosses the river at the Upper Quinault River Bridge, then heads back along the south shore of the Quinault River and the South Shore Road to Highway 101. 

The drive can be completed in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.  Most people tend to drive it counterclockwise, but I prefer it clockwise, because this gives you a chance to visit the main Olympic National Park hikes first thing in the morning. The stops here are described clockwise.

Note that the road has both paved and unpaved sections. About half the road is unpaved – the entire eastern half of the loop.  The unpaved road is not suitable for RVs or trailers, but a regular car is fine if you take it slow. 

Unpaved road on the Lake Quinault Loop drive

Allow at least two hours for the drive; longer if you do the hikes. 

Keep an eye out for wildlife, especially around dawn and dusk when animals are more active and may wander on to the road. Bears, black tail deer and Roosevelt Elk are often seen all around this area.

This is a temperate rainforest and the area receives a whopping 12 feet of rain each year!  Fortunately, most of the rain falls in winter when few people visit. 


Stops on the Lake Quinault Loop Drive

Here are the most popular spots to visit along the loop drive:

1. July Creek Picnic Area

A 0.4-mile loop goes from a parking lot to the shores of Lake Quinault and back.  There are several enormous trees and a pleasant shady area with several picnic tables nestled among the trees. There are fire pits at some tables. 

This is a great spot to enjoy panoramic views of Lake Quinault. 

There are restrooms at the parking lot. 


2. Maple Glade Trail

The Hoh Rainforest gets most of the attention, but this 0.5-mile loop in Olympic National Park is just as (if not more) beautiful and is a lot less crowded. 

The trail loops through a stunning glade filled with twisted Big Leaf Maple trees.  Moss drapes from winding branches and clings to tree trunks, while enormous ferns cluster the undergrowth. 

Soft light filters through the leaves.  There are more shades of green in the glade than in an entire paint factory.  The whole effect is like something from a fairytale. 

Keep an eye for Roosevelt Elk, as they are often seen in the area.


3. Kestner Homestead

This 1.3-mile loop trail leaves from the national park Ranger Station and connects with the Maple Glade Loop. 

After you’ve left the glade, continue along the homestead trail, as it loops through the rainforest.

Before long, you pop out of the forest on to the remains of an old farm.  The Kestner Homestead Site, built in 1897 and rebuilt in 1900-1905, is the oldest surviving settler-built homestead in the Quinault River Valley.  It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are several buildings, including the main house, a (reconstructed) barn and several sheds, plus fences, a small orchard, and even – somewhat randomly – a bathtub in the middle of a field.

Continue along a dirt road and then loop back along a path to the starting point.


4. Upper Quinault River Bridge

It’s worth getting out at the bridge at either end and admiring the view.  

Look upriver for views of the snowcapped Olympic Mountains.  

Then look up at the trees.  Bald eagles often perch in the trees looking for prey in the river and surrounding forest. 

Finally, go down to the banks of the river and look down – you may discover quartz crystals glistening in the sun.  


5. Bunch Creek Falls 

This is the first of two Lake Quinault waterfalls on the loop drive.  It’s also called Bunch Falls. 

The 60-foot falls cascade down the side of a mossy hill, surrounded by lush forest.

You can see them from the road, but if you park carefully along the side of the road, you can walk a short distance over some rocks (take care, as they can be slippery!) for better views.  This is a lovely spot to relax, enjoy the waterfall and have a snack.

If you’re driving the loop clockwise, soon after the bridge, you’ll see the falls on your left.  Keep a careful eye out, as they are easy to miss.  You’ll drive over a small bridge over Bunch Creek.  

If you’re doing the drive counterclockwise, the falls are on the right soon after the sign indicating you’re entering Olympic National Park.


6. Fletcher Canyon Trail 

Soon after leaving Bunch Creek Falls, you transition from Olympic National Park into Quinault National Forest. 

Fletcher Canyon is a magical place, with multi-hued moss, enormous ferns and enormous tees.  

The trail is relatively short – 2.4 miles each way – but its length belies its difficulty.  It’s a challenging hike, mostly uphill with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. There are multiple obstacles such as rocks and fallen trees to navigate.  However, if you enjoy the challenge, the rewards are worth it! 

There is a small primitive parking area at the end of a short drive in a dirt road off the main road. 


7. Merriman Falls

40-feet Merriman Falls may not be the tallest waterfall you’ll ever see, but they are very picturesque.  Surrounded by moss-covered trees, ferns and lush undergrowth, the falls drop down into a mass of mossy rocks and logs.

The falls are close to the road and can be seen from your vehicle, but it’s worth parking carefully on the side of the road and getting closer to the falls.

They’re best seen in fall and winter when the rainfall makes them more dramatic, but they’re worth a visit even in the dry season.


8. World’s Largest Spruce Tree

The Quinault Valley is known as the “Valley of the Giants.” 

An easy 0.3-mile each way out-and-back trail leads from a parking lot near the Rain Forest Resort Village to the largest Sitka Spruce tree in the world. 

The tree is impressive by any standards. It’s about 1,000 years old; 191 feet tall; and has a circumference of 58 feet and 11 inches!  

The tree is one of the Quinault Valley’s six (five) champion trees. Also in the Valley are the world’s largest Douglas Fir and Mountain Hemlock trees. Plus, the largest Yellow Cedar and Western Hemlock trees in the United States.  The ‘six’ used to include the world’s largest Western Red Cedar tree, but this fell down in a storm in 2016 and the trail to the fallen tree has since been closed.

It’s worth spending some time here really soaking in how old and big this tree is!


9. Lake Quinault Lodge

This lodge is one of the classic national park lodges and inns

Built in the 1926, the rustic lodge sits around a large grassy lawn on the shores of lake Quinault.  The centerpiece is a huge stone fireplace that’s decorated with a native American totem pole-shaped rain gauge that measures rainfall in feet.

The Lake Quinault Lodge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.

Today, there are a variety of room types, an indoor swimming pool and sauna, a game room and even a conference room. 

CHECK CURRENT PRICES & AVAILABILITY AT LAKE QUINAULT LODGE

Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth visiting for a drink in the lounge or a meal in the classic Roosevelt Dining Room (yes, the president dined there in the 1930s).


10. Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail

Most of Lake Quinault’s southern shore is surrounded by Quinault National Forest.  There is a network of interconnected trails on the south shore of Lake Quinault through the Quinault Forest. One trail is the Falls Creek Loop from near Quinault Lodge to Cascade Falls.

For an even shorter and easier trail that is a nice introduction to the temperate rain forest, take the Rain Forest Nature Loop Trail.  It’s often described as “the Quinault Rain Forest in a nutshell”. 

Experience the enormous ferns and magical moss of the temperate rain forest as part of the trail goes through Willaby Creek Canyon.  There are interpretive signs at several points along the trail that give a really nice introduction to the rainforest and teach you more about some of the main features that you see. 

The easy 0.5-mile loop is wheelchair accessible for part of the way.


Tips for the Drive around Quinault Lake

Some things to keep in mind for the Quinault loop drive:

  1. The drive can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise.  If you do it clockwise, you can be on the rain forest trails in Olympic National Park earlier in the morning.
  2. Stop off at the ranger station in Olympic National Park, near the Maple Glade Loop and Kestner Homestead Trail.  This section of the national park is a lot less busy than the Hoh Rain Forest and the ranger often has more time to spend talking about the forest.   
  3. There are often ranger-led hikes to Maple Glade.  Check the NPS website for current schedules.  You can hike it yourself very easily, but the ranger-led hikes give you a lot more information about what you see.
  4. About half the loop is unpaved.  If you have an RV or trailer, this road is not recommended.  If you have a regular vehicle, you can drive it most of the time, but go slowly and keep an eye for potholes.
  5. Both the waterfalls are close to the road, but easy to miss. Keep a careful eye as you near them.
  6. If you’re looking for a restaurant, I love Salmon House at the Rain Forest Resort Village.  They have great food and a patio out the back with lovely views of the lake. It’s near the world’s biggest spruce tree. 

Lake Quinault Map

Click on each icon to see what they are:


FAQS about the Olympic National Park Lake Quinault Loop Drive

How long does it take to drive around Lake Quinault?

It takes about an hour to drive around Lake Quinault, but you should leave at least two hours for the loop drive to enjoy the highlights along the way. 

If you plan to do some hikes on the route as well, it can take a full day.

How long is Lake Quinault Loop?

The Lake Quinault Loop is 31 miles.  About half of the route is paved and half is unpaved, but is in generally good condition.

Can I drive the Quinault Loop Drive in an RV?

Because half the route is unpaved, it’s unsuitable for RVs or trailers. A regular sedan car is generally OK, though.

Is Quinault Rainforest worth it?

Yes! It’s just as beautiful as the more well-known Hoh Rainforest and there are a lot fewer people.

Is Lake Quinault worth visiting?

Yes, you should definitely visit Lake Quinault. Things to do include the scenic loop drive around the lake, rain forest hikes, seeing the biggest spruce tree in the world, and watersports on the lake.


Travel Insurance for Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula

The drive isn’t difficult, but you should always get travel insurance before you set out on a trip.  This can protect you against medical and emergency repatriation and cover things like trip cancellation, loss and/ or theft of property, etc.

A great insurance option is Travelex.  It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now:

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Enjoy the drive around Lake Quinault, Washington!

Do you have any tips for driving around Lake Quinault Olympic National Park or other suggestions for things to do in the Lake Quinault area?  I’d love to hear about them.  Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know (you can also pick up extra planning tips, share your photos and stories with other national park lovers and more).

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About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

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