By Judy Smith
August 23, 2018
I stopped at Lake Quinault Lodge for lunch five years ago during our move to Forks.
The view was lovely, my Monte Cristo sandwich was excellent, but what really enchanted me was the brochure on big trees of the Olympic Peninsula.
I’d like to visit every big tree in the brochure, but many of them involve multi-day trips into the backcountry.
One tree visit that looked feasible was the largest Douglas-fir tree on the Queets River.
It was only a 5-mile round-trip. It became a goal to make the trip once I was in a bit better shape.
Five miles isn’t a huge hike, but I was daunted by having to ford the Queets River at the start of the hike. Being cautious in my older-middle-age (I think that is what you call 60 now), I visited the trailhead and checked out the ford.
One trail guide provided a link to the USGS stream gauge and recommended fording when flow was below 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).
I was ready to go and waiting for a low water weekend when a tumble on an easy trail ended my hiking season with damage to my knee and hamstring.
Finally, during low water a year later, my husband and I set out under sunny skies to visit the largest Douglas-fir tree.
We used waders and poles to cross the Queets River and stashed them in the brush for the return trip. The water was mid-thigh at a 500 cfs.
We met another hiking pair who used an inflatable raft for the crossing.
The first 2 miles of trail were a lovely stroll through some abandoned homesteads. It is amazing to think about hardy pioneers carving out homes in this remote valley.
We watched some raccoons play up in a tree and admired big trees, mosses and giant ferns.
We started to cross Coal Creek but realized it was beyond the turnoff to the largest Douglas-fir. We backtracked a bit and discovered that an extremely large spruce tree had fallen and rendered the side trail impassable.
Throwing common sense to the wind, we decided to bushwhack in the general direction of the largest Douglas-fir.
We fought our way through thickets of alder brush, scaled massive deadfalls, channeled our inner hobbits under towering ferns and avoided falling into the eroded chasm of Coal Creek.
Having damaged myself on an easy hike the previous year, I wondered about my sanity; however, after a lot of thrashing and meandering, we picked up a remnant of the path and followed it to our destination.
A leaning sign declared “Largest Recorded Douglas-fir, Diameter 17 feet Height 221.”
The diameter remains impressive, but it lost its top and is now less than half the original height.
We ate our lunch leaning against this elder statesman, snapped a couple of pictures and then tunneled, climbed and crawled our way back to the main trail.
The return trip and river crossing were uneventful. As we drove back to Forks, we were thrilled to see a pod of whales just off Kalaloch Beach. You can’t beat a day that includes an adventurous hike to a world record tree and a whale sighting.
The Queets River Trail is in our big backyard. From Forks, travel 48 miles south on U.S. Highway 101, turn left on FR 21, go 8 miles and turn left on FR 2180. Go 2 miles and turn left on FR 2180-11. Follow this road 1.5 miles to the Upper Queets Road. Turn right and go 3 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.
It’s easiest to Google “Queets River streamflow” to find the water level, or visit www.tinyurl.com/FF-QueetsStreamflow.
Remember that the river level can rise during the day due to rain or snowmelt.