Sitka spruce is unique to the temperate rain forests of the coastal Pacific Northwest. Its strong, light wood was found to be particularly useful for World War I–era airplanes, so the U.S. Army built the Spruce Railroad to transport this strategic lumber from the coastal forests to Port Angeles. World War I ended just 19 days after completion of the railroad, however, so commercial logging companies took over the 36-mile rail line and used it until 1954.
To remember the rail line, the section of the Olympic Discovery Trail that runs through the Olympic National Forest has been named the Spruce Railroad Trail. Plans call for paving the often narrow, winding, rocky dirt trail. When improvements are complete, the entire 19.6-mile stretch of the Olympic Discovery Trail from the E. Beach Road trailhead to the Camp Creek trailhead will be a paved corridor (with 2 miles on US 101).
E. Beach Road (Lyre River) Trailhead to Sol Duc Road Parking Lot: 10.1 miles
Visitors to this remote section of trail will likely be awed by the beauty of Lake Crescent and the grand views of forested mountains across the crystal-clear blue water. The segment rolls along the north shore of the glacier-formed lake within the boundaries of Olympic National Park.
In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt established the 922,650 acres of rain forest, extensive old-growth forest, glacier-topped peaks, and alpine meadows as Olympic National Park. Its forests are home to cougars, bears, deer, woodpeckers, golden eagles, mountain goats, and peregrine falcons nesting above the trail on Pyramid Mountain. Lake Crescent contains several unique species of fish.
Starting at the E. Beach Road (Lyre River) trailhead, the 8-foot-wide paved trail quickly reverts to snaky 2- to 4-foot-wide dirt singletrack. It is rocky and rough in some places and flat in others—easy for hikers and a bit beyond moderate for average mountain bikers. Stretches of trail skirt the edge of an occasionally undercut shoreline, but elsewhere the path climbs 200 feet above the lake. Long pants and bright colors are recommended to protect trail users from deer ticks. Also keep an eye out for the "leaves of three," or poison oak.
Work is scheduled to continue every summer through 2017 or 2018 to upgrade and pave this nearly 4-mile dirt segment of the Spruce Railroad Trail to universal accessibility standards. Visitors should expect trail closures during work season.
The trail rises gently into a forest of giant cedars, Douglas firs, red alders, and Pacific madrones amid a dense understory of salal. The path then makes one of its frequent visits to the shoreline, dropping to clearings where the Olympic Mountains can be seen across the lake.
Trail users can visit two railroad tunnels at miles 1.1 and 3.0 from the trailhead. The entrances have been partially blasted shut, so the route detours around them at the edge of the lake. The first detour crosses a bridge around a swimming hole called Devil's Punchbowl, a small, deep cove of turquoise waters and steep rock walls that form the base of Pyramid Mountain. The upgrade plans include reopening the tunnels for trail use.
After the second tunnel, the route follows the bumpy railroad grade uphill, hitting paved trail at about 4.1 miles from the E. Beach Road (Lyre River) trailhead. (A path that forks to the left here goes to the Camp David Junior Road trailhead and parking lot. This lightly used road connects to Fairholm on US 101.)
The paved trail follows the contour of the mountain to the former station site of Ovington, now nothing more than a signpost. A short path to the left heads to restrooms, parking, and picnic tables at North Shore trailhead. Camp David Junior Road also passes here for a 3.3-mile return to US 101 at Fairholm. To the right is a hiking trail leading to the top of Pyramid Mountain.
The wide asphalt path follows the railroad grade uphill toward Fairholm Summit over the next 4.5 miles. Views of the lake are nearly obscured by the dense forest.
As you leave Olympic National Park in this area, the trail name changes to Olympic Discovery Trail. Just before the top of the climb, a 0.2-mile paved trail forks downhill to the left toward the Sol Duc Road parking lot on US 101. (A right turn continues almost 10 miles west toward the Camp Creek trailhead.)
Sol Duc Road Parking Lot to Camp Creek Trailhead: 9.5 miles
The Olympic Discovery Trail keeps pushing westward toward the rain forests, where the hemlock, spruce, cedar, and fir trees grow larger, and the ferns and moss grow denser. The route briefly follows US 101 and a U.S. Forest Service road before it picks up on an old railbed that parallels the serpentine Sol Duc River. The 1951 Great Forks Fire sparked in this area, roaring across 18 miles of dry summer landscape to burn more than 30,000 acres of forest and more than 30 buildings in Forks.
The route starts at the Sol Duc Road parking lot, following a 0.2-mile access trail to the paved Olympic Discovery Trail. Turning left at the junction, the trail climbs a series of tight switchbacks that are noticeably steeper than a railroad grade and arrives at Fairholm summit in 0.4 mile. The trail crosses a couple of bridges and passes a connection to the Mount Muller Trail on the way downhill to US 101 in less than a mile.
For the next 2.1 miles, the route takes the shoulder of US 101, where a steady procession of logging trucks serves as a reminder that this is timber country. The first road on the left is Forest Service Road 2918, where you'll carefully cross US 101. (Future plans call for a paved trail running south of the highway.)
Following FS 2918, the trail enters a working forest. Unlike the protected forests in Olympic National Park, the woods here have been logged at least once. Trees in some tracts have a striking uniformity. Travelers on foot, bike, or horse may encounter logging trucks at any time. Warning signs suggest getting off the road at the first hint of a truck.
After about a mile, the path turns right onto another Forest Service road that crosses Sol Duc River, whose name translates to "sparkling waters." The road climbs after the bridge and picks up the old railroad grade on the right. This last leg of wide, paved rail-trail heads gradually downhill over the next 5 miles, passing through stately forests and recently logged areas to the Camp Creek trailhead.
The Olympic Discovery Trail continues west on 30 miles of roads and highways described at the trail's official website. The westward route ends at 1.5 miles of separated trail that connect to the Pacific Ocean beaches at La Push.
To reach the E. Beach Road (Lyre River) trailhead, head west from Port Angeles on US 101, and go approximately 15 miles. Turn right onto paved E. Beach Road, following signs for "Log Cabin Resort." After 3.1 miles, pass the resort and follow a sign to the left marked "Spruce Railroad Trail." Reach the trailhead in 0.8 mile.
To reach the Sol Duc Road parking lot, take US 101 W from Port Angeles for approximately 28 miles. After passing Lake Crescent, look for an Olympic National Park sign that reads "Sol Duc Valley Hot Springs Resort." Turn right into a roadside parking lot across from Sol Duc Road.
To reach the Camp Creek trailhead, from Port Angeles, take US 101 W for 35 miles. Turn left at mile marker 211 onto Cooper Ranch Road (Klahowya Campground is on the right), and turn left into the trailhead. From Forks, travel northeast on US 101 for 20 miles, and turn right onto Cooper Ranch Road.