Washout Restricts Access to Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rainforest

As heavy rains, strong winds and otherwise nasty conditions blasted the Pacific Northwest, the Quinault River ran high and wild, shifting its banks as it always has. In previous years, the river shifted course 14 miles upriver, threatening to wash away the Enchanted Valley Chalet. In late 2015, the river shifted further downstream, wiping out a huge section of the only road leading to Graves Creek Campground. The Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park is now closed to ALL vehicle traffic and only accessible to hikers on foot. Anyone heading to this area needs to be cautious while working their way around the washed out section of the road. 

The Graves Creek Road is a six mile dirt road leading into one of the prettiest rainforests in the world. Home to elk, bear, amazing day and backcountry hiking and stunning riverside camping, the Graves Creek region of Olympic is a paradise for adventurers searching for a more rugged area. In 2015, Olympic visitation records reported nearly a quarter of a million “visits” to this rainforest wonderland. The washout does NOT impact those looking to drive the Quinault Loop, or visit the Lake Quinault Lodge and the 13+ miles of trails in Olympic National Forest. However, the washout could directly impact summer plans if the road is not able to be repaired quickly. The Graves Creek area is popular for backcountry campers who are hoping to experience the beauty of the Enchanted Valley, or even traverse across Olympic National Park to the Dosewallips.

Speaking on the phone with Barb Maynes, the Spokesperson for Olympic National Park, The Outdoor Society learned that the road is currently being analyzed and a full press release of what the park plans to do will be issued in the next few weeks. The plans are to repair the road, but the process could take a bit of time. The washout is not just limited to the location pictured. This entire stretch of road has numerous smaller washouts that could become larger if there is a strong spring melt. Even with the road able to be repaired, funding issues are currently plaguing the entire National Park Service, with Olympic National Park having a reported $133.2 million in delayed work so far. For now, the park is doing their best to come up with a timely solution, but patience is needed. of course, as soon as we hear anything, we will keep you updated on any information.

On February 13th, 2016, The Outdoor Society took an exploratory, Adventure Running trip up the Graves Creek Road and Pony Bridge in hopes to document and analyze the road with our own cameras and eyes. As we ran up the road from the closed gate, a steady rain started to fall. The rain, like the running pace we set, would not let up. As each foot pounded the now vacant road, we worked our way steadily upriver. Passing a herd of elk a few miles in, we continued to jog until we reached the washout area, about four miles up the road. As we reached the single cone marking the area, the smell of sulfur filled the air, something that shocked me. While not strong, I was able to smell sulfur a few feet on either side of the washout, with the larger smell coming from the deepest cut into the roadway.

We admired the washout for a bit, then continued running upriver to the Graves Creek Campground. From there, we climbed over some serious downfall to reach Pony Bridge, our destination for the day. The trail was tough, but mainly due to mud and water running down the path. The downfall was annoying, but took minimal effort to climb around/over/under to continue along the trail. We stayed at Pony Bridge for a few minutes, soaking in the sights and rain before heading back along the same route. Mathias will be writing this trip report and we will link it to the article once he is done. Until then, enjoy the pictures and continue reading the article after the images.

A trail runner looking at the washout of the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park's Quinault Rainforest.
A trail runner looking at the washout of the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rainforest.
A trail runner looking at the washout of the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park's Quinault Rainforest.
A trail runner looking at the washout of the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rainforest.
Elk along the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park
Elk along the Graves Creek Road in Olympic National Park
Pony Bridge in Olympic National Park, taken on Feb. 13th, 2016
Pony Bridge in Olympic National Park, taken on Feb. 13th, 2016
Pony Bridge Panorama in Olympic National Park, taken on Feb. 13th, 2016
Pony Bridge Panorama in Olympic National Park, taken on Feb. 13th, 2016
Howe Creek in Olympic National Park's Quinault Region
Howe Creek in Olympic National Park’s Quinault Region

The Future of Graves Creek Road is Uncertain

The Graves Creek Road washout will take some work to fix, and while we hope it will be repaired soon, don’t be surprised if it takes longer than anyone would like. The washout, while frustrating to those who want easy access, is part of the wilderness of Olympic and the Pacific Northwest. It is wet and wild out here, and we need to try to enjoy the region as best we can before our favorite roads become closed or washed out. The National Park Service will do all they can to get this area back up and accessible, and we need to give them some time to get this done. I know, it can be frustrating, but you can still hike the road or find a new favorite place.

The region is still open to hikers and makes for a very fun trail to run or walk for those hoping to see the beauty of Quinault Rainforest. We will keep you updated as we know more, but for now, get outside, go hiking and enjoy the wild trails, roads and destinations of Olympic National Park.

 

Frustrated you can’t get to Pony Bridge and Graves Creek? We can help you find a new adventure!

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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