[Featured image description: green mountains rising above the lake at sunset. Clouds reflect the sun, casting a rainbow pink glow.]
Spruce Railroad Trail is located between Port Angeles and Forks and follows the north shore of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. The trail is a popular destination for families with children and is one of only a couple of trails in the park that allows dogs, so it is often busy. The hike is rewarding – it offers sparkling views of the lake and surrounding mountains, a couple of small waterfalls, wildflowers, cliff faces, and mature forest. While it is described in popular guidebooks as an easy and accessible trail, there are definitely things you should know before going.
Spoon Rating: Four spoons. A 6 mile out and back trail with a total of 525 feet in elevation gain. The elevation changes are gentle with a couple of short 10% grades. For a two-spoon hike, follow these directions only as far as Devils Punchbowl, the most photographed and primary destination of the hike, or a half mile further to the stream.
Trail Description: This description is from the East Beach trailhead. There is another trailhead located at the west end of the trail. At the time of this writing, that trailhead is closed for construction on an old rail tunnel. It is also more difficult to access and makes for a 4 mile round trip to Devils Punchbowl.
The Spruce Railroad Trail, as the name implies, follows an old railroad bed along Lake Crescent. It is a popular destination due to its location and well maintained, generally level trail. If the entire hike is not possible for you, there are many wonderful views along the entire trail; you can turn back at any time and still have a rewarding experience.
From the gravel parking area, head up the wide gravel trail. The first few paces are a bit steep, but it levels out to a gentle grade for about .5 mile without any elevation gain, then gently descends 75 feet in .4 miles to the lake. You’ll pass the first waterfall. Here the trail levels out and you arrive at the first of the old railroad tunnels and the access to Devils Punchbowl.
The tunnel is gravel roadbed and not very long, but it does curve so that the middle of it is dark. I often pass through the tunnel without a light source, but it isn’t recommended. If you do not want to go into the tunnel and are up for a bit of a more difficult hike to Devils Punchbowl, you can go left up the footpath.
The footpath is about .10 mile and is a bit steep and narrow with many rocks, ruts, and roots in the way. The first 10 paces are steep then it climbs more gently to another steep section with many ruts and loose tread. It then shortly and steeply descends to the picturesque footbridge over Devils Punchbowl. It may be crowded here, and there isn’t much room, so you may have to find a place to stand or sit until you can cross. The view is pretty amazing, but it is only one destination on a hike that offers many viewpoints.
From the bridge, the path ascends briefly to a rock outcropping over the lake; you have to step up and over and down the rocks, but it is pretty sure footing. Then it is a very short gentle walk to connect with the main trail on the other side of the tunnel.
If you go through the tunnel and want an easier route to the Punchbowl, you can approach from this way and only have to go over the rock outcropping. But you may be traveling upstream of the hikers coming down.
Shortly after the tunnel the wide gravel trail narrows considerably to a compact dirt trail. In some places it can be a little muddy or difficult to pass other hikers without stepping off the trail. But it is mostly level and offers cool shade and less busy places to sit and look at the lake.
At mile 1.5 (about a half mile past the tunnel) you will come to another waterfall and a small stream crossing. The stream is lined with small logs and there are always rocks or sticks laid across; at the deepest the water should only come to the top of your soles, and it is narrow enough to cross in one step. I like to take a moment beneath the Western Redcedar and listen to the falls first, though. It also makes a good turn around point, as from here there are more obstacles on the trail.
The trail continues another 1.5 miles. It begins to follow the cliffs that line this section of the lake and climbs 75 feet in .10 mile and then descends 50 feet in .10 mile. You will cross an area of loose rock along a cliff and then come to a larger rockfall. This area is passable, but you will need to be careful and have some sure footing. It is a bit steep at first, creating more of a series of steps than a trail. The trail then closely and narrowly skirts the cliff with more rocks on the path. You will then come to a cave/tunnel on the right that has fallen in on one side. It is a neat area to explore if you can. This whole section is very interesting to the geologically minded hiker with some great views of the lake.
As of this writing, the trail is closed .25 mile further, so the cave is a good place to turn around.
Cell Phone Reception: Spotty. The rise of the mountains and curve of the lake make reception unpredictable.
Pass/Entry Fee: None.
Getting There: This is important. There is construction on the road along Lake Crescent. Generally, work only occurs on weekdays two hours after sunrise until two hours before sunset, but you should always check the NPS website and ask locals for up-to-date conditions because it can change daily. You could be stuck in a four hour delay or in pilot car delays up to an hour. At all other times there are stop lights for alternating traffic.
From Forks, you are more likely to be impacted by the construction. Head north/east on Highway 101 40 miles to East Beach Rd. You will drive all the way along the lake and then the road widens – look for the sign to turn left on East Beach Rd.
From Port Angeles, travel 20 miles south/west on Highway 101 and turn right onto East Beach Rd. before you reach the lake.
East Beach Rd is a paved narrow, curvy two lane road. Follow the road along the lake: follow the signs to the Spruce Railroad Trail and stay left. You will come to another left turn and then a one lane bridge. Cross the bridge and you will be on a gravel road leading to the parking area. As of this writing, work was being done to improve the parking area; it is a mix of unmarked pull in and parallel parking along the road. There are pit toilets available.
There is another way to get to the trailhead which avoids the construction. From the town of Joyce, about 10 miles west of Port Angeles, head west on Highway 112 to Joyce-Piedmont Rd/Olympic Discovery Trail – there is a sign that points to Lk Crescent East Beach. Turn here and drive just over 4 miles to a right on East Beach Rd, follow it to the trailhead.
Nearby Alternatives: There are many points of access and short trails around the lake. Try stopping at the Fairholme Campground on the western side of the lake, or at Lake Crescent Lodge or the Ranger Station off of Lake Crescent Rd. on the eastern side.
Lake Crescent is the ancestral lands of the Klallam people.
Last Updated April 19, 2018
Written by Syren Nagakyrie for DisabledHikers.com