The U.S. Army’s spruce production division built the 36-mile Spruce Railroad to transport timber to Port Angeles during World War I. The line was forged through forest and tunnels blasted through rock in less than five months. 19 days before the line was completed, the war ended. Sold to commercial logging companies, lumber was transported until 1954.
Now, the Spruce Railroad Trail segment of the planned 126-mile Olympic Discovery Trail is open on a portion of the historic corridor through Olympic National Park. The forest is home to cougars, bear and deer, woodpeckers and golden eagles, the world’s largest mountain goats and peregrine nesting above the trail on Pyramid Peak. Much of the trail follows the edge of the deep, clear glacial-formed Lake Crescent, containing trout found nowhere else in the world.
From its easternmost endpoint, the curvy 2-4’ wide dirt and gravel single track extends 3.5 miles, skirting the edge of an occasionally undercut shoreline. The trail is rocky and rough in places and flat in others; easy for hikers and a bit beyond moderate for average mountain bikers. You’ll climb to 200’ above the lake, rising gently into a forest of cedar, fir, alder and the peeling red bark of Pacific Madrone trees amidst dense Salal. The trail then drops to the shore, where the Olympic Mountains stand tall across the lake.
Reach the first tunnel on a narrow, steep detour at the edge of the lake. The Devil's Punchbowl Bridge leads across a small but deep cove of turquoise waters and steep rock walls that form the base of Pyramid Mountain. Wildflowers are nurtured in the southern exposure in March and April. Past the bridge, the trail closely hugs the shoreline on a level path.
Detour around a 2nd closed tunnel and ascend gradually over some rocks and roots to reach a smooth, paved portion of the trail. After nearly 2 miles, you’ll reach the access trail to the North Shore Picnic Area. Turn to the west for a continuous ascent, first high above Lake Crescent and then in the peaceful high forests. Reach the top of the climb in several miles, at an intersection with an ascending trail on the right.
After the Sol-Duc parking area, the trail continues for an extra 1.4 miles via a hilly ascent to 1120’ Fairholm Hill, followed by a brief descent to US 101. There is currently a gap in the trail between the end of this segment and the next segment to Cooper Ranch Road. Fortunately, a paved connector trail will eliminate the gap in 2015 or 2016.
Beginning several miles west of the other segment on the south side of US 101, the Spruce Railroad Trail continues further from civilization toward denser forests, where the hemlock, spruce, cedar and fir grow larger. Halfway between the cities of Forks and Port Angeles, the rail bed parallels the windy Sol Duc River, following a very gradual uphill grade. The final 2 miles gains several hundred feet. Along the way, enjoy a small waterfall and cross an old rebuilt truck bridge. A magnificent trestle that crossed the river was burned to prevent accidents once the rail line ceased to run.
To reach the Lyre River trailhead, drive 18 miles from West Port Angeles on US 101. Turn right on the paved E. Beach Road, with signs to Log Cabin Resort. At 3.1 miles, see the resort followed by a left turn signed “Spruce Railroad Trail.” Reach the Lyre River trailhead in less than 1 mile after a final bit of gravel, some potholes and a 1 lane bridge.
The trailhead at Camp David Jr. Road can be reached by driving 23.5 miles from West Port Angeles on US 101 to the western tip of Lake Crescent. Turn right at Camp David Jr. Road at mile marker 221. The road becomes dirt and can be rough and muddy after 0.6 mile. Reach the North Shore Picnic Area after approximately 3 miles. Ascend a paved handicap access trail and turn right for about a mile of paved trail to reach the 4 mile single track.
The Sol-Duc parking area is located along US 101. Just beyond Lake Crescent, watch for the Olympic National Park sign at 28 miles that reads: “Sol Duc Valley Hot Springs Resort at milepost 219.” Turn right for limited parking and handicapped access.
The Camp Creek trailhead is located farther west along US 101. Turn left at mile marker 211 onto Cooper Ranch Road (Klahowa accessible campground is on the right). The trailhead is on the left.