The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Spreading in a broad valley at the southwest corner of Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault offers lush rain forest groves within a short walk or drive of most creature comforts. The lake has served for decades as a popular resort destination—cabins, lodges, and stores dating from the 1920s line the southern shore, just outside the park boundary. The old-growth forests here have survived intact, though the naked tracts of clear-cut timber along US-101 north and south of the lake give a good sense of what the area might have looked like had Teddy Roosevelt and friends not stepped in to protect it around the turn of the 20th century.
Before or after the hike, stop at the USFS ranger station (353 S. Shore Rd., 360/288-2525) on the south shore, where you can get details of the other excellent hikes in the Lake Quinault area and pick up a map of the guided driving tour around the lake, including the location of the many record-size trees. The roughly four-mile-long Quinault Loop Trail winds on a path from the ranger station along crashing Cascade Creek up through an old-growth rain forest of alders and bigleaf maples, whose leaves grow upwards of 12 inches across (and provide some splendid “fall color”). Midway along, the trail crosses a raised wooden boardwalk through a fecund cedar swamp, then drops down again along another creek before returning by way of the lakeshore.
On the lakeshore right next to the ranger station, historic Lake Quinault Lodge (345 S. Shore Rd., 360/288-2900, $149 and up) is well worth a look, with a rustic but spacious lobby opening onto lakefront lawns, though the rooms could do with some TLC. The Rain Forest Resort Village (516 S. Shore Rd., 360/288-2535, $115 and up), at the east end of the lake, besides offering comfortable and reasonably priced accommodations (from camping to cabins) and very good food in the Salmon House Restaurant, also holds the World’s Largest Spruce Tree, a 191-foot giant.