Friday, January 13, 2012

The Land of Enchantment

In the middle of nowhere, far from the hustle and bustle of cities, airports and traffic on interstate 5 there is a place that time is suspended. In a place nearly untouched by modern society, never hearing of the Kardashians, or this year’s trends and political leanings, there is a chalet in the woods. The valley is enchanted, no really, the name of the valley is Enchanted Valley, and is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and probably a few bridges with trolls under them. With herds of elk, numerous bears and miles from civilization, Enchanted Valley lives up to its name and more.

Another name for Enchanted Valley is The Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls. While this may be slightly over estimating it, entering the valley is most similar to entering a fjord in Norway, with steep cliffs and water falling down everywhere. The journey here is hardly magical; in fact, it is a long day hike to get so far off the beaten path that you enter the magic that is the Olympic National Park.

To get here, be prepared to drive from just about everywhere. Located near Lake Quinault, this is as remote as you can get. Once you reach Lake Quinault, follow the signs to the Olympic National Park. As you meander through land that is privately owned, keep an eye out for bear, elk and deer, as they are seen often from the comfort of your car. The road you can take is pretty simple. Actually, you can take 2 routes, but I suggest taking South Shore Drive, as it gives you an opportunity to ease your way from society and into the rainforest. Driving down this road, keep your eyes open for the ominous sounding, yet pretty, Graves Creek Campground. This is where you enter the National Park, and are greeted (after a mess of a gravel road) by a beautiful entry sign, as well as a gorgeous runoff waterfall next to the road. Depending on the conditions of the road, the drive from Lake Quinault to Graves Creek can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to go the needed 11 miles, as there are washouts and road construction often.

Graves Creek is the perfect retreat for hikers who desire nothing more than solitude in the Olympic Park’s natural beauty. The Graves Creek trail to Enchanted Valley offers visitors the ultimate backcountry hiking adventure. The well-marked, yet rugged trail is composed of extraordinary natural wonders including ancient forests, canyons, waterfalls, and epic views of the Olympic Mountain peaks. From Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley, it is roughly 13 miles each way.

Graves Creek, upon arrival, has the feel of stumbling upon a group of very friendly bandits in their hangout, smiling and waving. Campers, rangers and tourists all meander around, enjoying the beauty of the area. Find parking where you can and get ready for a life changing hike. The trail from Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley is quite long at 26 miles round trip, so I suggest take 2 or even 3 days to experience it properly. While, it can be done in a day, you really need a few days to properly experience the isolation and beauty that surrounds the area. With scores of campsites along the way (just make sure to get a back country permit from the rangers for around $5), this trail allows you to enter the Olympic National Park foot by foot. If you are looking for a day hike, I recommend Pony Bridge as a destination. Just 5 miles round trip, Pony Bridge offers you great views of the river, a gorge and the chance to cross an old wooden bridge. By Pony Bridge, there is a small meadow on your left (as you are going toward the bridge) that often has elk remains from hungry black bears. This is a unique experience, as you hardly ever see a half-eaten rack of elk ribs on trails around Seattle.

From Pony Bridge, you can continue to meander up and down small hills toward Enchanted Valley. The hike continues to wander through forests and valleys, giving a glimpse into the primitive landscape, untouched by time. As the trail reaches the Enchanted Valley, hikers will find themselves exiting the dense forest into a vast valley surrounded by the Olympic Mountains with peaks over 6,000 feet high. Arriving at Enchanted Valley, the views are topped off with the first glimpse of the Enchanted Valley Chalet. This chalet is a picturesque two story cabin built in 1931, which was recently added to the National Register of Historical Places in 2007.

From the campsites in Enchanted Valley you can and should take day trips explore dried-up creek beds, searching in hopes to find large crystal deposits, some the size of softballs. While beautiful and unique, remember that everything in the National Park needs to remain where you found it! I only say that because while younger and doing this hike with my family, I may or may not have taken a crystal the size of my fist. I probably wouldn't have thought to pick it up and keep it (assuming I did) if it hadn't been for the fact that my uncle was the one who convinced me to climb up a hillside looking for these primitive jewels. I still wouldn't have grasped it in my hands and possibly placed it in my backpack had it not been for the fact that he was standing directly on it, admiring a small crystal of his own. To this day, I still tease him for missing the giant stone.

Enchanted Valley is just that, enchanted. Once you hike for 13 miles and come into a clearing and see a chalet, with snowcapped mountains, and waterfalls surrounding it, you should fall in love with this place. Herds of elk frequent the areas, as do bears. Did I mention that there are bears? About that; bears will leave you alone if you follow all posted signs and make sure you respect them as wild dangerous animals. Despite people’s fears of bears, Enchanted Valley is a beautiful trek to solitude, isolation and land of mystery and amazement. Enchanted Valley makes me smile when I think of my trips there, and despite the 26 miles round trip, I go here as often as I can, just to get away and be mystified by the beauty that the Olympic National Park hides from the world. Oh, and did I mention there are bears here??

Until next time, see you on the trails,
Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes

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