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Exploring the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is huge and there’s so much to see and do, that it can be hard to plan an itinerary that doesn’t leave out something monumental. On the bright side, it just means you have to keep coming back to experience the magic.

The lush and beautiful Quinault Rainforest is a little slice of rainforest heaven, but visitors tend to overlook it because it is dwarfed by the magnificence of the HOH Rainforest, which is one of the most popular destinations in Olympic National Park. Popular destinations are not usually our thing, so instead, we’re taking you on a little journey through the Quinault Rainforest, which is located in the southwest corner of the park.

How to Get to the Quinault Rainforest

The Quinault Valley is a three-hour drive from Port Angeles and an hour from the sleepy, but now famous, town of Forks. We spent several days exploring Olympic National Park and headed to the Quinault Rainforest after several days camping in the Sol Duc Valley. The trip took us about four hours with numerous stops to admire the scenery. You could definitely do the journey in 2.5 hours without gawking, but what fun would that be?

From the Sol Duc area in Olympic National Park, simply hop on Route 101 and head toward the coast. You will drive through beautiful, old-growth forest and then along the Pacific Ocean. You likely won’t be able to avoid stopping when you see views like this one, from Ruby Beach.

A view from the overlook at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. Photo credit: Steve Dean on Pixabay

Ruby Beach off of Route 101 in Olympic National Park.

When you reach the town of Queets, you will start to head inland again. Follow the signs and turn left on North Shore Road to head into the Quinault Rainforest.

Two kids climb in an old cedar tree in Olympic National Park near the Quinault Rainforest.

An old cedar tree off route 101 on the way to the Quinault Rainforest.

The Quinault Ranger Station and Kestner Homestead

For an idea of how isolated this part of Olympic National Park is, we stopped at the Quinault Ranger Station to get our bearings before finding hiking and camping, and the ranger told us that we were the first visitors of the day at noon. She even sat down and picnicked with us.

A woman hikes along the Kestner Homestead Trail in the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Park.

Hiking on the Kestner Homestead Trail in the Quinault Rainforest.

A rusty truck is being taken over by weeds at the Kestner Homestead in Quinault Rainforest.

An old truck at the Kestner Homestead.

The Kestner Homestead trail is a 1.3-mile loop through the rainforest and an abandoned 100-year-old homestead. The trail takes you through abandoned farm fields and a blissfully cool forest. If you want to break a sweat, there are plenty of longer hikes with trails from the campgrounds, but this little hike is perfect for families or anyone who wants a little stroll.

A mossy fencepost on Kestner Homestead Trail in Olympic National Park.

A mossy fencepost on Kestner Homestead Trail.

Camping in the Quinault Rainforest

There are two campgrounds in the Quinault Rainforest, both first-come, first-served. The Graves Creek Campground has 30 spots that are suitable for RVs up to 21 feet long. A sweet little stream runs through the campground – perfect for toe-dipping and splish-splashing. The tiny North Fork Campground has nine sites and is not recommended for RVs. Looking for solitude? You’ll certainly find it there.

We spent one night at the North Fork Campground and were not surprised to be the only ones there. There are a few really pretty hikes that start at North Fork Campground, but we only got as far as Isley Lake, which is a tiny lake along the Three Lakes Trail. Actually, I’d call it more of a swamp, but it was still lovely. If you have time for a little backpacking or a nice long day hike, continue past Isley Lake on the Three Lakes Trail, where you’ll discover beautiful old-growth forests, wild meadows, and yes, beautiful lakes that aren’t swamps.

A bench along the trail in the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Park.

A bench along the trail in the Quinault Rainforest.

Lake Quinault Camping and Lodging

After exploring the Quinault Rainforest, head back the way you came, and if you’re not in a hurry, stop and explore Lake Quinault. Covering more than 3,000 acres, this is a great lake for swimming, boating, and fishing.

Most of Lake Quinault is located in Olympic National Forest, and along the south shore, you’ll find three United States Forest Service campgrounds, plus the famous (and incredibly beautiful) Lake Quinault Lodge. Camping in any of the three Forest Service campgrounds cost $25 per night, and while you won’t find any hook-ups, there is potable water for drinking and vault toilets. Picnicking, hiking, and swimming from any of the campgrounds is totally free.

You can read more about Lake Quinault Camping on the Lake Quinault website. 

Lake Quinault Lodge

Lake Quinault Lodge by Frank Kehren

Lake Quinault Lodge by Frank Kehren via Flickr

So, we really, really wanted to stay at the Lake Quinault Lodge, but alas, we were totally broke when we passed through the area. We vowed to return when we could afford to splurge on this gem of a place. We did tour the grounds a bit, as well as the lobby and dining room of the lodge. We’ve decided that this is the spot for the perfect family vacation, whether you have toddlers or teens, and it would also be awesome for a multi-generational trip.

The Lake Quinault Lodge is open year-round and offers guided boat tours, boat, and paddle boat rentals, and guided driving tours of the Quinault Rainforest. I’m keeping my eye on Lake Quinault Lodge, and hoping to score a good rate for our next vacation. I suggest you do the same. Maybe we’ll even meet you there someday!

Packing Tips for Visiting the Quinault Rainforest

The Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park are notoriously hard to pack for, even if you visit in the summer. You can most certainly count on rain, mud, sunshine, and wind, no matter what season you visit, so plan accordingly. We visited in July, and temps were mild, but we still occasionally needed a light jacket. Aside from the usual travel and road-trip gear, here are some important pieces of gear/clothing that we recommend.

  • Rain Gear – Definitely a must for any trip to Olympic National Park.
  • Trekking Poles – You will experience mud and wet conditions while hiking in the Quinault Rainforest, and we found our trekking poles to be very useful. We love the Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles from REI because they can be folded and put away when not in use. They are the best we’ve used.
  • Good Hiking Boots and Wools Socks – Waterproof hiking boots will come in very handy in the rainforest. I am an Oboz footwear junkie and love the Bridger waterproof mids for wet conditions (plus they come in red!). Wool socks will wick away moisture, keeping your feet cool and dry in all kinds of conditions. Darn Tough Vermont socks are my socks of choice every day of the week.
  • A Swimsuit and a Quick-Dry Towel – Because if it’s summer, you will want to swim, I promise. I don’t have a good swimsuit recommendation (do you?), but I definitely recommend this awesome quick-dry towel from REI Co-op. It’s a lifesaver, and dried overnight, even in the rainforest.

Read Next: Packing a Small Car for a Big Trip

The Quinault Rainforest is ripe for exploring and is especially nice for families looking to escape the crowds. The best part? It’s just a little sliver of the expansive Olympic National Park, which just might take a lifetime to investigate thoroughly. It’s currently one of our all-time favorite national parks for camping and hiking.

The Pacific Northwest is one of our favorite destinations in all the world. You can read more about our explorations in these posts:

The beautiful Sol Duc Valley in Olympic National Park is a great base for family explorations.

Our favorite family-friendly hikes and campgrounds in North Cascades National Park.

Port Townsend is one of the most awesome little towns in the United States.

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A photo of a bench and a large tree in the Quinault Rainforest. Caption reads: Hiking and Camping in the Quinault Rainforest, Olympic National ParkA collage of photos from the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Park. Caption reads: Olympic National Park - Quinault Rainforest.