The most famous building in Olympic National Park isn’t found on a park road or an easy to get to trail. Instead, it is buried deep in the rainforest along the Quinault River. Thirteen miles from the nearest parking lot, the Enchanted Valley Chalet has been a backpacking destination for generations. For many, a trip to the Enchanted Valley Chalet is an annual backcountry journey, a rite-of-passage for outdoor enthusiasts in the Evergreen State. But that tradition may not last too much longer.
The Enchanted Valley Chalet was the highlight of my very first backpacking trip across the Olympics. It was here that I roamed the valley as a teen, climbing up on the cliffs and finding incredible deposits of quartz crystals. I would return every few years, stealing glances of the waterfalls pouring down the cliffs to the north, and peeking at the snowcapped summit of Mount Anderson to the east. I watched avalanches roar down the cliffs in the spring, then watch as the cliffs earned the name “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls.” In the fall, the leaves of the big leaf maples turn, with the flora on the hillsides, shades of red, yellow and orange.
I have breathed deep along the Quinault, inhaling the rich soil, the damp air and rotting salmon. My roots are firmly planted here and it is one of my favorite places in the world.
In 2014, I was given permission to watch the team move the historic structure. It was hanging over the riverbank, ready to drop after another round of winter storms. It was moved 100 feet away, but that wasn’t enough. The river is now just five feet from the riverbank. One storm this fall or winter, and the structure may collapse into the pristine waters of the Quinault River.
Time is running out and Olympic National Park is showing its urgency, giving the public until August 31st to weigh in on the chalet’s fate. The three options for the chalet for it to be dismantled, relocated to another nearby location, or a no-action alternative. Comments must be made online or delivered in person (during a pandemic) or mailed in. The address to do so is at the bottom of this post. Online comments can be made HERE.
For many around the Olympic Peninsula and Pacific Northwest, the perception is that the park hasn’t been too keen on keeping this backcountry bungalow. During the 2014 move, many staff at the park expressed, in off-the-record conversations with me, that they didn’t want the chalet out there any more. The popularity of the place was putting extra stress on the road leading to Graves Creek. The valley was seeing a lot of trash and human waste. The year after the move, campers left food around the chalet to supposedly feed bears, causing a ban on backcountry camping around the chalet for part of a summer. In recent years, people were breaking in, causing problems and taking already limited resources away from the park.
It doesn’t help that when deciding what to do with the Enchanted Valley Chalet, there is a lot of public frustration from those who enjoy backcountry buildings. Over the last 50 or so years, Olympic National Park has removed dozens of backcountry structures of all sizes, pushing an agenda to make the wilderness of the park, which is 95% of the lands, free of human structures. Many in the community see the presumed fate of the Enchanted Valley Chalet as a continuation of this policy.
While running out and back to the Enchanted Valley Chalet one fall day in 2018, I saw the building differently. As we reached the chalet and stopped for a bite to eat before running back to Graves Creek, my eyes paid less attention to the building. Sure, we took the obligatory pictures, but it was boarded up, looking more sad than inspiring. All around, natural beauty beckoned adventure, but this two-story fixer-upper demanded out attention.
The chalet just sat there, teasing you that maybe some day, this could be your own. The Enchanted Valley Chalet represents a different way of thinking. It is a symbol of a time before wilderness was defined by law and when the great outdoors could be tamed by the idea of a private, cozy, quaint two-story chalet in a remote valley.
People want to leave the chalet standing, saying it represents the history of the region. Lighting up the comment section of FB pages, this group is dead set on doing whatever it takes to save this 90 year old structure. From their posts, not a thought seems to be given on the fate of the Quinault Tribe’s lands we traipse over. There is no mention of restoring any of the Quinault’s history, despite them being here for millennia. There were once structures of the Quinault along the river too, but the very same ideals that built the Enchanted Valley Chalet are the ones that have done their best to erase any sign of the original inhabitants of the land.
I really wish I felt as I did a few years ago about the Enchanted Valley Chalet. I wanted it saved. I wanted it there forever. I had hopes that once it was moved, it would be renovated beyond the shell of a chalet that it is today. Instead, it still serves no function, no purpose. It is just a “cabin” in the woods to frame in a picture.
Some will argue that if they move it one more time, then things will be different. Some say that if it can be placed on the rocks to the Southeast of its current location, it will be there forever. Even if that is true, the Chalet is never going to be anything more than a multi-level structure in the wilderness. There are no plans to renovate it and open it up to the public again.
“But that is because the Park doesn’t want it to survive,” some will say. “If we can save it from the river, then we can work on fixing it up.”
That might be true, but that more than likely isn’t going to happen. Despite being renovated in the 1980s, the chalet hasn’t been functional to visitors for 40+ years. At best, since the 1980s, only the first floor of the Enchanted Valley Chalet was used. During that time, it was open in the summer months as a seasonal ranger station.
Moving the Enchanted Valley Chalet to a new location in the valley solves one problem while creating more. If the chalet is moved, what next? Funding for projects in our National Parks is extremely low, and was before Covid. Private businesses in the Quinault region have been struggling to keep their doors open, as the masses who visit the park head north to the Hoh and the infrastructure around Forks instead. The costs to renovate the chalet, then get the right permits to operate it as a backcountry option are astronomical. Even if the funding is located, and the chalet is allowed to open to guests, who will run it?
Do you want Aramark or Delaware North?
Even the popularity of the Enchanted Valley is waning in recent years. While it is being visited quite a lot, other areas are being sought out. The “secret” about Olympic is out and what people are craving is not looking at a vacated building. Instead, the majority of backpackers are seeking out truly wild places. The coast, Seven Lakes Basin, Home Sweet Home, Lacrosse and O’Neil Pass, the Grand Loop, Royal Basin; these are the backcountry adventures most are now coming to explore in Olympic.
The common theme here? Letting Olympic’s natural beauty speak for itself.
I’ll get some hate for this, but it is time to take the Enchanted Valley Chalet down.
It is time to see the Enchanted Valley for what it really is: a wide, wild, and wonderful valley, full of life-changing views and adventures in the rainforests and tribal lands of the Quinault.
Comments must be submitted online here or in person by 11:59 p.m. August 31st, or delivered by mail on the same date to:
Olympic National Park
Attn: Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, Enchanted Valley Chalet EA
600 East Park Ave.
Port Angeles, WA
Douglas Scott is the author of 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula, a guidebook to the region and
full of the best hikes to get the spirit and soul of Olympic National Park and Forest. Pick up a copy of his guidebook here.