A paved trail is slowly but surely replacing the dirt and rock Spruce Railroad Trail on the north shore of Lake Crescent. When complete, it will provide a safe and scenic alternative to the narrow shoulder of US Highway 101 that bicyclists must now use to pass the lake.
Anyone who has bicycled on US Highway 101 along the shore of Lake Crescent in the Olympic National Park would have to agree it’s one of the most scenic bike rides around.
It’s also one of the most hair-raising, considering the narrow shoulder and the constant stream of logging trucks that pass by.
Now Clallam County and the National Park Service are cooperating to pave the dirt track that runs along the north side of the lake.
The approximately 11-mile-long section is part of the Olympic Discovery Trail that rolls in bits and pieces from Port Townsend on Puget Sound to La Push on the Pacific. It changes its name to the Spruce Railroad Trail as it enters the Olympic National Park. The name recalls its use as a timber railroad beginning in the closing days of World War I.
For years, the abandoned railroad right-of-way existed as a narrow dirt trail that wound through groves of Douglas fir and cedar on the slope on the northside of Lake Crescent. It loosely clung to a couple detours on cliffs where the park service tried to close two railroad tunnels with dynamite.
It was best suited for hikers or mountain bikers.
Then a few years ago, the park service pushed ahead with a plan to make the trail “universally accessible.” That translates to an 8-foot-wide asphalt path with shoulders for equestrians and low grades.
A 6-mile section — beginning about 2 miles west of the Highway 101/Sol Duc Hot Springs Road intersection to a mile or so east of the old railroad stop of Ovington — already has this new treatment. The trail also can be reached from a parking lot, with no facilities yet, at the intersection Sol Duc Hot Springs Road.
Work is now underway at the east end of the trail.
Since late August, contractors have closed down the eastern trailhead at East Beach Road to Devil’s Punchbowl and begun installing the 8-foot asphalt trail, 3-foot gravel shoulder, and a bridge. The work extends for about 1,600 feet, and the trail should be reopened sometime in October.
The future work includes reopening those two old railroad tunnels and removing the bypass trails.
The remaining 5 miles of dirt trail will be improved in coming years. We can probably expect trail closures in the late summer when trail work will be scheduled.
The Spruce Railroad Trail was on my itinerary when I visited the Olympic Discovery Trail last month. After bicycling the new trail — “New path for bicycling on Olympic Discovery Trail” — I was pleasantly surprised by what I found here.
Starting at the turnoff on Highway 101 west of Fairholm, I began a steep, but short, climb up switchbacks on Fairholm Hill. At the summit, the Olympic Discovery Trail starts downhill and becomes the Spruce Railroad Trail as it enters the Olympic National Park.
About 1.3 miles after leaving Highway 101, the trail hits the old abandoned railroad grade and begins an easy downhill grade toward the lake.
Soon I could see the sparkling blue waters of Lake Crescent through the trees. The paved trail continued past the Ovington Trailhead (on Camp David Junior Road) for about 1.5 miles until it became dirt.
Here I was glad I had my rigid mountain bike with 2-inch tires. There are plenty of rocks and roots over the next 3.5 to 4 miles, and this section is definitely not ready for road bikes yet.
I found the two tunnels, both of which are impassable, and used the bypasses that skirt the lake. Although perhaps not the safest way through here, these bypasses catch the warm afternoon sun and allow breath-taking views of the lake.
The second bypass uses a bridge that goes around Devil’s Punchbowl, a cove carved into a cliff. Some kayakers had beached their craft here to go swimming.
The trail ends just beyond Devil’s Punchbowl, but should soon extend to East Beach Road and the trailhead there.