Saturday, February 15, 2014

Trail heads through rain forest to waterfall

Marymere Falls, courtesy of Olympic NPS.
Topo map, Marymere Falls Trail.

Marymere Falls easy
to reach from Seattle

A trail through a lush, old growth forest that ends at a waterfall will delight kids day hiking the Marymere Falls Trail at Olympic National Park.

The 1.6-mile round trip really is like taking two entirely different hikes in one. Most of the trail heads through a Pacific Northwest rain forest while the last portion at the destination is purely about the waterfalls.

The trail can be hiked anytime of the year, though rain is more likely during winter. The upside is that the water flow is higher, making for a more spectacular falls and creeks.

While perhaps not as stunning as a walk through Olympic’s Hoh Rain Forest, the Marymere trail is much easier to reach from Seattle. From Port Angeles, Wash., head west on U.S. Hwy. 101. After about 17 miles, Lake Crescent appears on the right/north. Turn right onto Lake Crescent Road. At the first stop sign, turn right/east, which takes you to a parking lot. The trailhead is on the lot’s east side and curves southeast back toward the highway.

Lowland forest
The trail passes the historic Storm King Ranger Station then heads beneath Hwy. 101. The ranger station is a good example of early North Peninsula log construction and at one time was the residence of a homesteader and forest ranger who was instrumental in convincing Congress to create Olympic National Park.

From the highway, the trail curves westward, roughly paralleling it. The next half-mile is fairly flat as you walk through a lowland forest, seeing more green that you might imagine ever existed. Ferns cover the ground from which spring spruce, fir and hemlock. Verdant moss covers every rock and bare patch of ground – and just about every tree for that matter. If hiking the trail in late May, purple forget-me-nots dot the forest floor.

The emerald forest, as with others on the park’s north and east side, sit in the Olympic Mountains' rain shadow. The result is they receive only 60 inches of rain per year. In contrast, those on the west side, such as the Hoh Rain Forest, receive up to 150 inches annually.

As the trail curves southward, it follows Barnes Creek on the right/west. Watch for trail signs pointing where to turn right/west for Marymere Falls. The trail then crosses the creek over a wooden footbridge.

Welcome to the falls
When the rush of the falls fills your ears, you’re only about an eighth of a mile from the destination. The trail next crosses Falls Creek beneath Marymere Falls. From there, the trail is quite steep, but easy enough for kids to handle.

Marymere Falls is about 90 feet high, and you’ll get close to as the trail passes the small plunge pool. Falls Creek ultimately flows into Barnes Creek, which feeds Lake Crescent.

Hikers also can take a stairs to see the falls’ upper segment. A few landings on the stairs offers fantastic views of the falls from different angles. Alternately, the trail loops back to the footbridge over Falls Creek.

After taking in the views, return the way you came.

Light rain is not unusual in the Pacific Northwest, so be sure to wear (or at least pack) rain gear for everyone. In addition, you’ll want waterproof boots with decent traction, though the hard-packed trail is well maintained. It’s wheelchair accessible up to Barnes Creek.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.