Adam Sawyer is an outdoor and travel writer, photographer, published author, guide, and public speaker based in the Pacific Northwest. He authored the guidebook, Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon, and co-authored, Hiking Waterfalls in Washington, for Falcon Guides. Adam is also a monthly guest on the Portland television show, Afternoon Live, as an outdoor and travel expert.
Corralled by the Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal, the 3,600-square-mile chunk of land that comprises Washington’s Olympic Peninsula lays claim to some pretty weighty and interesting geographical titles—including Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the contiguous United States, and that one square inch of the Hoh Rainforest that has been labeled the “Quietest Place in the U.S.” It is a wild, remote and mostly untamed region. So much so, that it was some of the last unexplored and unmapped territory in the lower 48.
While there undoubtedly remain secrets hidden within the peninsula’s rainforests, beaches and mountains, a great number of treasures have been revealed. And if you’re a fan of waterfalls, the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail serves as one of the best outlines for adventure in the Northwest. There’s a lot to see and do on the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail route—here’s just a sampling.
ENCHANTED VALLEY / VALLEY OF 10,000 FALLS
Though the actual number of cascades might fall a bit shy of the oft-touted 10,000, the one- or two-day backpacking trip into the Olympic National Park’s Enchanted Valley is still one of the most renown backcountry experiences in the Northwest. Even without the archetypical old-growth forest scenery along the way, the destination would be worth the 13- mile hike in. Especially in spring and early summer, when countless ephemeral waterfalls spill down from on high, weaving a watery lace-like pattern over the mountains that protect the unspoiled valley. If you’re a waterfall hunter seeking adventure with a side of solitude, this is a trek you’ll want to make.
Just a few miles east from the turnoff onto Sol Duc Road, you’ll come upon the clean, clear waters of Lake Crescent. Highway 101 traces the distractingly picturesque southern bank of the lake to the Storm King Ranger Station and the trailhead to Marymere Falls. The nearly 120-foot cascade is accessed via another family-friendly, well-maintained path beset by a verdant understory of ferns and mosses. The 1.8-mile loop then parallels Barnes Creek beneath ancient maples and conifers before climbing to
a viewing platform near the base of the cascade. Marymere eases narrowly over a notch at the top of a rock face, spreading out gracefully on the descent to the splash pool. Explore the space—there are a handful of great angles for photography.
MADISON CREEK FALLS
While it probably doesn’t qualify as a hike, the 200-foot walk to Madison Creek Falls is certainly a worthy leg stretch and a great place for a snack break. Just after passing through the unincorporated community of Elwha and crossing its namesake river, a short drive up Olympic Hot Springs Road gets you to Madison Creek Falls. The completely paved and accessible path that leaves from the parking area arrives in short order at a set of benches near the base of the falls. A peaceful and contemplative setting to take in the 50-foot horsetail cascade.
Approaching the northeast corner of the peninsula, you begin to re-enter civilization. Or at least the Salish Sea version of it. The almost-too-good-to-be-true Victorian artist enclave of Port Townsend is worth a side trip, if not its own dedicated outing. As you head south toward Hood Canal, there are a handful of falls you can check off, including one that resides in the small community of Port Ludlow. You wouldn’t expect to find a cascade here but, hiding in plain sight, the 25-foot Ludlow Falls is much more impressive and photogenic than its relatively scant 25-foot drop might lead you to believe. And the half-mile interpretive loop hike that visits the falls is its own reward.
SOL DUC FALLS
In Olympic National Park, there are some truly impressive sights to be seen, including the tidepools at Beach 4 and the “Hall of Mosses” deep within the Hoh Rainforest. In the northwest corner of the park a sojourn up into the Sol Duc Valley is not to be missed. Where the road ends, the trail that leads to Sol Duc Falls begins. A spectacularly scenic and family-friendly path leads a scant 0.8 mile to one of the most iconic cascades in the Northwest. Depending on water levels, the Sol Duc River flows through as many as four channels over the falls. Multiple views are afforded from the trail, including a bridge that crosses the canyon at the falls.
Lake Crescent Lodge, olympicnationalparks.com/lodging/ lake-crescent-lodge – Since 1915 Lake Crescent Lodge has been an iconic base camp for visitors to Olympic National Park. The lodge features an array of overnight accommodation options along with paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals. The Lake Crescent Dining Room serves elevated Northwest fare complemented by an award-winning wine program.
Kalaloch Lodge, thekalalochlodge.com – For nearly a century, Kalaloch Lodge has been the perfect home base for exploring both the Hoh Rainforest as well as the beaches of Olympic National Park. Lodging options include private cabins, main lodge rooms, the Seacrest House and a group campsite. As a bonus, the lodge is a short beach walk from the photographer’s favorite, “Tree of Life.”
Lake Quinault Lodge, olympicnationalparks.com/lodging/lake-quinault-lodge – The historic 1926 lodge on the shore of Lake Quinault exudes warmth and charm and is the choice accommodation for Quinault Rainforest explorations. Guests can enjoy outstanding dining in the Roosevelt Dining Room and take advantage of guided tours operated through the lodge.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, olympicnationalparks.com/lodging/sol-duc-hot-springs-resort – At the newly renovated Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, guests stay in a variety of cabin options. Guests can hike to Sol Duc Falls from the resort grounds and follow it up with a relaxing massage and a soak in the hot-spring pools.
The Bishop Victorian Hotel, bishopvictorian.com – In the heart of downtown Port Townsend, The Bishop Victorian Hotel possesses all the charm that a building constructed in 1891 can hold, along with all the modern amenities and creature comforts a current-day boutique hotel can provide. The lobby is adorned with local art and the rear of the property is blessed with a serene, manicured Victorian garden. In addition, all the best food and drink the town has to offer is just outside the front door.
WHEN YOU GO: