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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.
If you plan on riding west from the East Beach end of the Spruce Railroad Trail, be prepared for dips in the trail which will compromise the rear derailier of your trike. I was not happy with the rocks which jutted from some places of the rail, as they caught the under carriage of my trike. You will have to walk your trike through several streams & it is quite muddy and narrower than your trike in many places.
However, the trail on the west end of the lake is a beautifully maintained paved section, stretching 6.5 miles.
Watch out for bear and mountain lion & read up on how to handle confrontations with these animals.
Spruce Railroad Trail - Western Section - Mt Mueller Trailhead to Camp Creek Trailhead and Klahowya - 6.5 to 7 additional miles of pure beauty.
Last Friday I rode this section of trail East to West, From the Mount Mueller Trailhead to the Camp Creek Trailhead and Klahowya Campground (which is unfortunately closed for the season). I was riding transit to Kalaloch on the coast to go camping, but I was able to stop and make this ride in between Westbound buses. With a heavily loaded bike, I was hoping to avoid any significant hill climbs or hike-a-bike sections. I ran into neither.
I caught the #14 Forks bus (Clallam Transit) out of Port Angeles, and the driver was kind enough to drop me at the Mount Mueller Trailhead (North side of 101). Current descriptions of the Spruce Railroad Trail state that there is about 1.5 miles on the highway between the Eastern section of the trail and this section. My GPS read closer to two miles, but it is an easy stretch of highway - mostly straight with wide shoulders.
At any rate, I crossed the highway South to Forest Service Road #2918, which is a lightly traveled but paved road leading to some active forestry tracts. In the mile or so that I was on shared roadway, I only ran into one logging truck, which was moving slowly and could be heard approaching for some distance. This is in a period of over 20 minutes, as I was stopping to take pictures along the way. A bit over half a mile up the road, I caught my first glimpse of a bridge across the Sol Duc River - I would shortly be crossing that bridge. At something less than a mile from 101, there is a paved road to the right, with a gate that apparently gets locked at night. This road leads to the bridge, up a small hill, then to the separated trail. Of course I had to stop on the bridge and take some pictures. Scouting the route ahead of time in Google Earth, I noticed there would be something of a hill climbing up from the bridge - I estimated it to be a climb of around 200 feet. I am happy to report it is probably less than half that, and the grade is at worst moderate. A short stretch of road later, and you can't miss the entrance to the separated trail on your right.
From this point on, it is pretty much all downhill to the Camp Creek trailhead. The separated trail is beautifully graded and paved - a lot of work went into making this as nice as a trail can be. Early on, the trail doubles back on itself down near the river, and this is really a beautiful section of forest. I noticed a small trail leading off towards the river, but I didn't take it. For the next mile or more, you are treated to peek-a-boo views of the beautiful Sol Duc River, but you will probably need to dismount and leave the trail just a bit to really see the river in all its glory. The forest through here is mature second growth, with a nice open feel to it. Tracts of recently cut timber approach our path, but never intrude until the end of this section. After a recent ride through the Eastern section of the Spruce Railroad Trail in which I encountered a lot of blowdown, I wasn't sure what to expect here. There were a few branches down in places, but only one tree blocking the path, which I was able to move out of the way with some effort. The Fall colors I encountered along the way make this trail a must-ride this time of year, and the damp weather did nothing to detract from the beauty of this trail.
All too soon, I started seeing signs of civilization (gates near a Forest Service access road, which appears to be adjacent to Cooper Ranch Road). The several miles of beautiful paved separated trail through the forest with nobody around is an experience you don't often get, and makes this section one of the best trails I have ever seen.
On the entire trip, I encountered the one logging truck mentioned earlier, one mushroom picker near the other end, and two hunters on bicycles just near Cooper Ranch Road (deer season is open, but they were more interested in scouting for Elk, which opens soon). It may be prudent to wear orange this time of year, although it is hard to imagine anyone being stupid enough to shoot at someone on the trail.
Passing the Forest Service road, the trail continues a short distance to the Camp Creek Trailhead, just off Cooper Ranch Road. The hunters mentioned this as a possible place to camp, but I couldn't say if it is allowed or not. There are toilets here, which make this an excellent place to stage. From here turn left as the ODT follows Cooper Ranch Road then along Mary Clark Road until it rejoins 101 near Sappho. I rode the short distance to the right down to 101 across from the beautiful Klahowya Campground along the Sol Duc North of the highway, which is unfortunately closed for the winter. Since I had arrived a bit early for the next bus Westbound towards Forks, I snuck in and took a couple of pictures. Soon after, I caught the next Westbound Clallam Transit #14 to Forks, which met up with Jefferson Transit's Olympic (Westside) Connection, which dropped me at the beautiful Kalaloch Campground, which is open year round.
To sum it up, this is one of the most beautiful trails anywhere, with easy access, a perfect surface, and no steep grades. It just doesn't get any better!
Just to give a report on this section, which I rode yesterday West to East. A buddy and I caught the #14 Forks bus out of PA, and the driver dropped us at the West trailhead, just a ways West of the Sol Duc Road access, on the North side of the highway. A short climb then gradual descent through beautiful forest and we reached the Sol Duc Road TH, followed by another brief climb before a gradual descent towards the lake. The paved section is absolutely beautiful, one of my favorite trails anywhere. Due to a recent wind storm, there was a lot of blow-down, including a number of trees fully blocking the path. We cleared most of them, but there were a couple we left, partly because we were on a time schedule, and partly because they were big. So be prepared to stop and carry your bike over them. There are lots of branches scattered along the trail as well, which could cause flat tires. But like I said, the paved section of trail is absolutely amazing, and well worth making the trip.
Moving on to the 3+ miles of non paved single track - this section is a whole different story, although it too is very beautiful and certainly worth the effort. But be advised it WILL take some effort. Along with the primitive tunnel bypass sections, there are a number of slide areas, at least one of which required carrying our bikes through a section of boulders and loose rock. This would not have been so bad, but I was carrying loaded panniers, and heavy bike syndrome soon made this section a bit of work. Also, in many of the sections that this trail is rideable, there are a lot of large roots and loose rock, making this a bumpy ride, even on my 29er. There are some excellent sections of smooth single track, but they don't last as long as you would hope. We were trying to make good time here in order to catch a certain bus, because my buddy had somewhere to be - BAD idea! Take the time to enjoy this one, and be advised that heavy bikes will require some effort to get through. Having said that, it is a beautiful trail that is passable, but expect to spend some time carrying and/or pushing your bike. Road bikes will probably not get to do much extended riding in this section. But given the choice of working my way through here vs riding the south side, I would choose this route every time!
One possible alternative to this route is something I have not researched, but . . . Along the Western portion of the lake, we noticed a dirt/gravel road below us - I assume it is accessed off 101 near Fairholm. It went quite a ways, quite possibly to a picnic area which can be accessed from the paved section of trail. This COULD provide an easier way to enjoy the paved section of trail while avoiding any hike-a-bike terrain. But this is only speculation on my part. Also, you would have to already be on the west end of the lake, so it is really not a solution for those wanting to get around the lake without having to ride on the highway.
Just over a quarter mile from the Lyre River trailhead, we encountered full width trail with a beautiful crushed gravel surface - they just completed this section, and it is really great - my only complaint is that there isn't more of it :). Patience is a virtue, and I understand this is a work in progress. I can't wait until they get this extended over to the paved section - when that happens this will be a world class trail for all users!
Continuing on, we headed down East Beach road towards 101, where we were to catch a bus. Having long since given up on our original schedule and stopped in several places to admire the views, we were now in a tight race to catch the next bus heading East. For some reason I had expected this road to be flat. It is not. Be prepared for elevation changes of 100 - 200' along a rolling 3.5 miles or so from the trailhead. We missed our bus :-[ Fortunately, there was another one an hour later, which we did catch.
To sum it up, I would make this ride again in a heartbeat, but I would prefer to do it without a loaded bike. The views are spectacular, and the forest is amazingly beautiful, especially this time of year. But plan to take your time with it, especially through the uncompleted section. Even on the paved section, be prepared for the occasional stop to get over fallen trees, and do be on the lookout for fallen branches. I would imagine this will be all cleaned up next spring, but with winter windstorms, it will be hard to keep the whole thing clear. Overall, I give this trail better than 4 stars, with it getting a perfect 5 on completion.
The previous review is out of date. For current information go to OlympicDiscoveryTrail.com
My wife and I have really been interested in the rail trails, even the unpaved ones and we were really excited to read that this section of the ODT was rideable. Well, it's not all rideable, at least not by a trike, and probably not by a road bike either. There is about a 4 mile section at lake crescent that is not complete and the trail is mountain bike trail only. The Finished parts are awesome, we did enjoy our rides on those, however, a better descriptive is in order as of this date to prevent any disgruntled riders! The ODT from Sequim stops in Port Angeles almost at the Coho ferry. So we parked close to the end of that section to see how the connecting trails/roads work to get to Lake Crescent. Parking in P.A. is difficult, having a lot of pay spots. We moved further towards the hook and found free parking along the street. On the map, it has you following the P.A. Waterfront trail, leading you to believe you are on a well kept bicycle trail. However, from downtown, it is mainly street side with a little wider 'bike' path at the side of the street as you near the hook. There is nothing on the route at this section which lets you know you are on shared path with the ODT. In fact, we went past Hill street (the road connector to the Elwha section) the first time and realized we were headed out on the hook and turned back. We found Hill street and climbed (17% grade up?) to the top where you switch to 4th, then Milwaukee which leads to the ODT at the end. This was marked well. At this point the trail is nice. It shares the dirt rail grade with a access road after a bit and back to trail. This is a recent completion which is very nice. The trail is very freshly under construction further down past the Airfield where it joins Milwaukee again. Well done and from then on you have beautiful paved path to the Elwa bridge. There is no trail after the bridge so we decided to go back to the truck giving us 14 miles and drive to where we stopped and continue to where we could find the trail again. Well, if you are going to do the ODT, you have choices at this point. The road is heavily used by traffic so it's quiet but there are some very narrow points with no shoulder. Pick your poison, more heavily populated roads or less populated but minimal to no shoulder. We followed the recommended path to the Spruce RR Trail and were immediately confronted with the reality that this trail cannot be used by trikes or road bikes. We took pictures of the east end of trail for you to see what we mean. So, we got in the car and decided to take the bike and find the west starting point and come back in and see how far the trail is completed. Well, this is tricky as well. After rounding the lake, we followed a sign that said spruce RR trailhead and following a very primitive road over 4 miles only to find that this leads to another dirt trail that is not trike/road bike friendly. We did see portions of the paved trail from the road at times so we knew we didn't find the west end so we went back out of the road and continued up Hwy 101 to try and find the beginning of the trail. Well, we came to Sol-duc road and on the side of the road was rudimentary pull out and a paved trail that lead down into the woods. No sign. We asked someone who rode up out of the trail if it was the ODT, they said no it was the spruce RR trail. (good enough for me). Our time was limited, we have a reservation for the P.T. Ferry to get back to whidbey so we broke the speed limit on the trail so we could give an accurate scouting report. This portion of the trail is awesome! Starting where we did however, has us going very very fast down the grade, and very very slow coming back up the grade! This portion of the trail was however about a 12 1/2 mile round trip so a decent portion completed (6+ miles). new Trestles across, etc. This leaves about a 4 miles section of the lake not completed. We loved the sections we were able to bike but don't be deceived. You cannot take this route successfully on a road bike or trike recumbent! To take the 7 and 6 mile completed sections however for a day ride is well worth it.
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