The East Fork Quinault River Trail to the Enchanted Valley is a popular route in Olympic National Park.
The Quinault River has two branches in the mountains. The Quinault Valley is a rain forest zone, with huge trees and abundant undergrowth to feed the Roosevelt elk. Above the Enchanted Valley, high ridges contain the East Fork. Waterfalls cascade down impressive cliffs. This stunning zone is a favourite spot for black bears and other wildlife.
Take the Coho Ferry from Victoria Inner Harbour to Port Angeles, Washington, USA (90 min sailing). Advance reservations recommended. Cost $175 USD/return for vehicle and 2 passengers. Black Ball Ferry Line. Drive 3 h 20 minutes (140 miles) on US-101 W and North Shore Road. Arrive at Graves Creek Trailhead in Olympic National Park. Google Map
All overnight stays in the Olympic National Park wilderness require a permit year-round. Backcountry areas with quotas need reservations. Wilderness Camping Permit fees are $8 USD per night per person. Persons 15 years or younger are free. Olympic Annual Wilderness Passes are $45 USD per person. Wilderness Passes cover your fees, but permits plus or minus reservations are still required. We find the best place to get permits is the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Centre (WIC). This location is convenient for us after driving off the Coho Ferry from Victoria. WIC rangers can answer your questions about permits, food storage, weather, trail conditions, or wildlife.
Our pre-trip evening was spent at the Graves Creek Campground in the Quinault Rain Forest. We even saw the resident elk herd just before pulling in! This first-come-first-served campground has 30 drive in sites with pit toilets. There is no potable or running water. You must pack out your garbage. RV and trailers are not allowed due to narrow North Shore Road access. Fee is $20 USD per night via a self-serve envelope system. Open year round. Graves Creek Campground is approximately 400 m from the East Fort Quinault River trailhead.
Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley – May 19-21, 2018
Distance: 47.0 km (29.2 mi)
Duration: 3 days
Peak: 703 m (2307 ft)
Gain: 1673 m (5489 ft)
Early in the season, with snow still in the mountains, we like to hike the green river valleys of Olympic National Park. We had not yet travelled the East Fork Quinault River Trail to the Enchanted Valley so we made this our first trip. Our goal was simple: to ramp-up our physical training for the 2018 backpacking season. We decided the best approach was to hike to a basecamp along Pyrites Creek for two nights. That left one day to hike up Enchanted Valley as far as desired before finding snow or other obstacles. We brought our smallest and lightest packs for our day hike. Two black bears made an appearance, adding excitement to our trip!
- Day 1: Graves Creek to Pyrites Creek
- Day 2: Pyrites Creek to Enchanted Valley
- Day 3: Pyrites Creek to Graves Creek
Day 1: Graves Creek to Pyrites Creek
Distance: 15.6 km (9.7 mi)
Duration: 5 h 54 min
Peak: 454 m (1490 ft)
Ascent: 741 m (2431 ft)
Descent: 475 m (1559 ft)
Our trek from the Graves Creek Trailhead (600 ft) to Pyrites Creek Camp (1450 ft) was scenic! The weather was cool and cloudy. We started our clocks at the Graves Creek footbridge at 0915 h. Notable waypoints included a desolate picnic table, Pony Bridge, Fire Creek, O’Neil Creek Camp junction, and Noname Creek. At Pony Bridge, the East Fork Quinault runs though a canyon of vertical rock covered with ferns. There was lots of water available from several creeks. Wildlife viewings included many active spring birds! The tiny Pacific wrens had a constant presence in the rain forest. They liked perching on ragged tops of broken stumps to sing and mark their territories. Robins and Steller’s jays also dominated the soundscape, as did the constant rush of the East Fork. Pyrites Creek Camp (10 miles) was a large zone, with both forest and gravel bar sites. We set up riverside camp on a large gravel bar east of Pyrites Creek with flowers clustered around. After hanging our food bags for the night, we enjoyed the “elk walk.” We did a long loop from camp to the bear wire, then along the trail, then back through the groves and braided streams. We found fresh Roosevelt elk hoof prints in the mud and coarse hair stuck to the rubbed bark of trees.
Day 2: Pyrites Creek to Enchanted Valley
Distance: 15.8 km (9.8 mi)
Duration: 6 h 35 min
Peak: 703 m (2307 ft)
Ascent: 446 m (1463 ft)
Descent: 446 m (1463 ft)
Our goal for our Enchanted Valley day was to hike as far as we could. Vanilla leaf carpeted the ground in astonishing quantities. The weather of the day was excellent with a broken sky and warm temperatures. Our two planned waypoints included: a high foot bridge and the ranger station / chalet (2000 ft). The East Fork Quinault meandered along the valley floor with wide braided channels. Our adventure past the ranger station was only a few hours long. We shot a little GoPro video and a black bear walked into the wide frame! Our first big obstacle was a massive blow down cluster and slope failure. Winter storms obliterated a short section of the trail, forcing us to scramble and crawl. Soon we walked past a black bear in a meadow area, feeding on greens with his feet up. Our second big obstacle was a fast-flowing creek. There was no way to cross without soaking our feet, so we called this spot as the turn-around. We hiked back past the bear (who had moved further away in bushes), through the blow downs, and back to the serenity of the ranger station. Here we enjoyed a late lunch in the sun and prepared to hike back to Pyrites Creek Camp. As we rehydrated dinner, a small black bird hopped around camp eating bugs.
Day 3: Pyrites Creek to Graves Creek
Distance: 15.6 km (9.7 mi)
Duration: 4 h 47 min
Peak: 459 m (1506 ft)
Ascent: 486 m (1595 ft)
Descent: 752 m (2467 ft)
We set our alarm for 0430 h and left camp at 0545 h. We were pleased with our efficient camp breakdown in semi-darkness! Radical organization was the only way to prevent equipment loss in poor light. As we left the flower-dotted gravel bar, the sky brightened and the air warmed. The rest of the camp was almost deserted as we passed through the forest sites. We walked to the western gravel bar of Pyrites Creek and ate a quick breakfast. Ignar Creek flowed into the East Fork Quinault across from our breakfast spot. We followed the river downhill, retracing our steps from the first day. Again we noticed the vast fields of brilliant green vanilla leaf and soft mosses. The spring birds were in full force, and the Pacific wren’s typewriter song was dominant. About half-way out, we noticed a brown grouse who appeared to struggle. We couldn’t see any obvious injuries to the bird, but he sat next to the trail and would not move away. We wished him the best and headed down the trail. The perfect weather continued on the exit. We took some time to shoot video and take photos on the Pony Bridge. The sun came out as we arrived at the trailhead, prompting a quick clothing change into fresh T-shirts and shorts. The East Fork Quinault River Trail to the Enchanted Valley was a delightful spring trip!