A hiking buddy of mine goes to Enchanted Valley regularly, and this year he asked me to tag along. We arrived at the Graves Creek Trailhead (East Fork Quinault River Trail – NPS, All Trails) around 11:00, May 17. This trail is within the Quinault area rainforest (NPS). This is a POPULAR trail and for good reason – enchanted valley.
Our original plan was:
- Day 1 – TH to O’Neil Creek campsite
- Day 2 – O’Neil Creek to Enchanted Valley
- Day 3 – Enchanted Valley hang out
- Day 4 – Enchanted Valley to Pony Bridge campsite
- Day 5 – Pony Bridge to TH
Reminder: clicking on an image will show better resolution pic
Weather is such important element in this area is the weather – it can be wet, cold, warm, windy and down-right wet all in the same day. Our forecast was: Tuesday (50-50 sun/rain), Wednesday (rain / cold), Thursday (am cold grey / pm some sun), Friday (sun), Saturday (sun) … temperature lows were to be around 40 @ Quinault, so the trail 15 miles up river would be even colder. We both took extra cold / wet gear and clothes and carrying between 30-32 pounds each. NPS (National Park Service) posted sufficient information at TH to be aware of the risks. Wrt bears, neither of us carried bear spray, just common sense, and of course all food was in bear canister.
Day 1 – TH to O’Neil Creek
Getting started at TH, there were about 10 cars – the least my buddy had seen in last 5 years – the weather forecast? Most of the connecting trails were closed due to high snow levels. Walking up the East Fork there is no confusion about being in a very, very wet forest.
Don’t trust the mileage on the sign. It was about 3+miles to Pony Bridge where the East Fork narrows into a solid rock chute. The campsites are 2 and worthless unless emergency, imho.
Along the way, the first day, the wildflowers and vegetation were working so hard at coming out in full bloom before the rain.
Past Pony Bridge, the trail levels out and returns to the river’s bank more winding around and over side creeks running into East Fork. We also got our first view of the ridge top covered in snow.
Campsites at O’Neil Creek are not fabulous, but there are at least 2 functional sites; we arrived a bit damp after some rain. Our site was big enough for 2 tents easily (and tarps preparing for the hard rain forecast overnight) and right along the river where we watched wildlife – a new uncommon bird for me as well – Harlequin Duck – there were 2 males and 1 female.
On my way to the privy, I met a new friend just waiting right by the structure – I turned around and grabbed my camera. This was the biggest guy we saw, and the first.
Day 2 – O’Neil Creek to Enchanted Valley
It rained hard and long over night, but we both woke with dry gear (other than tarp & tent), quickly made a breakfast and hit the trail – everything in water-proof bags. It rained all day with cold wind and the trail was wet and muddy. Basically it was a cold slog all the way to Enchanted Valley. We arrived and only 2 other tents were in the Chalet end of the valley, and we took the best ‘under the trees’ site for additional shelter.
By the time tents were up, we were very cold and wet. Both of us put on warm, dry clothes and hid in sleeping bag for a couple of hours to warm up. The fog was incredibly low that first day in Enchanted Valley, but still the waterfalls and scenery began to unfold.
Our 2 and 3 bears were sighted in the valley just grazing the green grass shoots and roots. These were the 2 biggest ones seen in Enchanted Valley. They were on both sides of our campsite but stayed at least 50 yards away eating their way around the meadow. (Below is the bear that was up-river from us)
Day 3 – Enchanted Valley hang out
Up early in Enchanted Valley and nothing to speak of around 4:30 … but then by 5:30 it was different as the valley was covered in fresh snow. One pic shows that even after moving the Chalet is near falling into river. We were told by another hiker that the building is to be dismantled and removed – any guess about reclaim value of that wood? Fog nearly to the valley floor.
All day the sun and fog traded places as to who had the upper hand. We hiked up river toward Anderson Pass until we hit a washed out section of the trail and turned around. We also saw another skittish adult bear on the way – pic was worthless.
The better weather brought out more bears and an elk herd ate its way into the valley. Over the 4 days, we saw 11 bears with only 2 of them being possible repeats (same bear different day). The last pic also shows how close they get to campsites (our neighbors)
When we woke up there were 4 tents in our end of valley, when we went to bed there were 9.
Day 4 – Enchanted Valley to TH
Waking up was another surprise as the sky was completely clear – no clouds for the first time since leaving. The moon was setting, and we prepared for a perfect day.
The weather held for most of the day, but by the time we approached Pony Bridge again, the rain had started. Along the way we passed (going up to Enchanted Valley) at least 50 other people and in larger groups of 4+. At Pony Bridge, it was just not worth it to stay for 3 miles the next day. We hoofed it back to the car and drove home … a fabulous 4 days.
On the way back, with the sun out and warmer temperatures, I had friends
Summary: Enchanted Valley is one of those places – magical no doubt. The hike there in the cold rain was a challenge and we were rewarded well for the work. The crowds are too big and impact is high so the earlier one goes the better (but the weather … ). This is not a thru-hike go fast but a tourist hike where ever other step shows something fabulous. The old growth forests are remarkable, the wildlife plentiful (and relatively safe), and the water is EVERYWHERE.