Spruce Railroad Walk
By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer
Distance: 4 miles Hiking Time One-Way: Couple of Hours Elevation: No gain Rating: Class 1
October 5, 2010.
I left the Quality Inn in Sequim while it was still dark, not because I wanted to begin hiking by dawn but because I wanted to eat breakfast at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, nearby the Spruce Railroad trailhead. It was a chilly morning, so when I walked into the lobby of the old hotel I stood in front of the big stone fireplace and warmed myself by the crackling fire. Sufficiently toasted, I was seated in the dining room. I ate a sumptuous salmon omelet while the mists swirled on Lake Crescent and the first rays of the sun struck Pyramid Peak on the opposite shore. I drained my coffee cup and headed out for the trailhead just a few miles down the road.
The trail hugs the north shore of Lake Crescent. It follows the bed of the abandoned Spruce Railroad, a creation of the US government during World War I. The railroad accessed the spruce forests, spruce being a needed wartime resource. Since it’s a railroad bed it’s mostly level, and at only 600 feet in elevation, it’s a good trail to hike in the winter. Veteran hiker and trail guide author Robert L. Woods says it’s one of the few trails where you can encounter both ticks and poison oak, so this is another good reason for saving this hike for winter time.
It was almost 8:00AM when I left my car at the gravel trailhead parking lot. The trail begins as a serpentine path through mixed hardwoods and waste-high ferns for about half a mile or so as it skirts private property along the trail. About half a mile or so later the trail drops to the shore of the lake where I began walking on the actual railroad bed. I squinted at Lake Crescent, white caps on the bright blue surface that was sparkling in the sun.
Although this trail doesn’t gain much altitude, it’s by no means flat. The bed was uneven and muddy. There were few working drainage ditches. It is not ADA accessible in its current condition. About an hour after I began, the trail detoured around a tunnel entrance that was almost completely filled in with rubble. The detour continued on an arching footbridge over a picturesque inlet called “The Devils Punchbowl.” There were gorgeous views up and down the blue lake.
The other end of the tunnel is about fifty feet above the trail. I scrambled up the scree. The trail up until now had been more like a path and less like a railroad but the gaping opening reminded me that The Spruce Railroad was a big freight operation. The timbers strewn on the tunnel floor were a foot and half in diameter. It was too dark and too unsafe to venture far inside.
After the tunnel (first of two) the trail becomes much wider and begins to give a sense that you are walking on a railroad bed. There was warm sun and sparkling blue water all about. Even to the jaded engineers and workers this section of track must have seemed beautiful. I had a Great-Uncle who worked as a lineman on the railroad back in the mountains of New Hampshire where I grew up. His Claremont to Concord railroad has many scenic vistas too. To me there is something especially grand about the thought of a black locomotive puffing white steam and rushing through the golden leaves of the autumn countryside.
I came upon a second tunnel. I could see the other open end about 100 yards away. Like the first tunnel, the bed was covered with loose rock and timbers. Instead of bypassing this one, I scrambled through it. (Note: The National Parks Service says don’t do that!) Out on the other side were views of Lake Crescent Lodge nestled on the flat alluvial delta. Smoke was curling out their chimney into the sunny sky.
At a bit after ten o’clock, I was almost at the end of the trail. I met Kim Kwarsick and Matt Dubeau, a couple of archeologists working for the National Parks Service. They were digging cross-sections of trail so they could interpret the history below the surface. The archeologist’s work was the first step in the NPS plan to rebuild the trail, making it ADA accessible.
I enjoyed my sunny, autumn walk on the Spruce Railroad, but when it’s upgraded for wheelchairs and strollers it will be a beautiful destination for all.
To get to the trailhead from the Quality Inn Sequim:
1. Take Highway 101 West to Port Angeles
2. Continue on 101 through Port Angeles toward of Lake Crescent
3. At the Eastern shore of Lake Crescent make a right toward Log Cabin Resort
4. Continue Past the Log Cabin Resort toward the Spruce Railroad Trailhead
5. Cross the Lyle River and the trailhead will be on your left.
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