Taking it Easy at Spruce Railroad Trail

Taking it Easy at Spruce Railroad Trail

By: Shelby December 30, 2013 10:00 am 384 comments

After a crazy weekend in Vegas earlier this summer, we decided to refresh our spirits along a quiet trail in Olympic National Park. We love the quiet change of pace we always find on the peninsula. Lake Crescent is probably our favorite spot to drive along, so we decided this weekend in particular would be a good time to see it in a different way.

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Lake Crescent is a huge glacial lake with an official recorded depth of 624 feet. However, the instruments used to measure depth couldn’t actually record measurements beyond that depth, and instruments have unofficially recorded depths of over 1000 feet. So the actual depth remains unknown, which is always fun to think about when peering into the dark blue waters. What could be lurking down there? What could grab me if I dangled my feet in? The lake is absolutely gorgeous, though, and its lack of nitrogen makes it tough for algae to grow. This means the water stays completely clear and sapphire blue. Even from high up on the trail, one can see fish swimming far below.

Spruce Railroad Trail is 4 miles from end to end, and was built along an old WWI-era railroad bed for the Spruce Production Division to transport the Sitka spruce trees which were highly prized for fighter planes. Though the railroad was completed just after the war ended, it continued with its original purpose for 35 years, and the National Park Service converted the railroad into its current trail incarnation in 1981.

There is a trailhead at each end, so if you want a shorter hike, taking 2 cars and parking one at each end would be feasible. Or, just walk halfway down the trail and turn around. The trail is so flat and hugs the lake for the most part, so you’ve always got a good view of the water. This is one of the few trails in ONP where mountain biking is also allowed, so hikers need to be on the lookout for cyclists (and vice-versa, I suppose!). No pets are allowed either.

We started the hike at the east trailhead, picked up a handy plant-identification pamphlet, and hiked downhill through the forest and towards the lake. The trail was incredibly muddy in some places, despite how dry the day was. It descends fairly quickly about 200 feet.

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About a mile in, you reach Devil’s Punchbowl, which is a deep hole crossed by a bridge. The sheer edge of the lake drops off far deeper than the water allows you to see. People like to swim in it, but personally, I would be terrified of the lake monsters swimming in the depths below.

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At about 2 miles along the trail, you can see the white building of Lake Crescent Lodge across the lake. I’d love to go kayaking from there, but Spenser doesn’t seem to think I’d like it so much once I fall in to the frigid water.

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It’s a gorgeous, easy hike, with lots to see. I don’t think I had ever seen ferns so huge as there. The old railroad tunnels are also an interesting sight. We didn’t go quite 4 miles in, but turned around at about 3 miles instead, making our hike 6 miles total. There’s something about hiking from one parking lot to another that seems to dampen the magical feeling of being in the wilderness. The only real issue we faced that day was bugs! The place was mosquito central! So, during the summer time, remember bug spray. However, we loved this trail because we felt it let us get more up close and personal with Lake Crescent. It’s one thing to drive down the snaking Hwy 101 that clings to the hillside, but it’s completely different to get out and actually experience and explore the lake at a slower pace. Maybe next summer, we’ll brave getting in the water at the East Beach!

Difficulty: Easy
Northwest Forest Pass required
Directions: From Port Angeles follow US 101 west for 17 miles to the Olympic National Park boundary. Turn right onto East Beach Road (signed “Log Cabin Resort, East Beach”). Follow this narrow paved road for 3.2 miles. Just beyond the Log Cabin Resort, turn left onto Boundary Creek Road (signed “Spruce Railroad Trail”). Follow it for 0.8 mile to the eastern trailhead. Privy available.
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