Views from the Top: Enchanted Valley, WA

Views from the Top: Enchanted Valley, WA

Words and photos by Ben Carson

It takes a marquee name like Enchanted Valley to coordinate 8 friends across 2 different states to trek into Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Enchanted as this valley may be, the 34-mile round trip price of admission is neither a small feat nor an easy sell to your backpacking buddies. The final destination and trail leading up to the valley, however, is well-deserving of its namesake.

The fresh legs and early morning coffee buzz manifested itself in the unrealistic pace that’s so predictable at the start of any new trail. Lost in catch up conversation, we breezed through the first 2 miles of lush rainforest before being stopped dead in our tracks, taken aback by the beauty of our first major landmark: Pony Bridge. We stood motionless as we peered down a narrow hallway of fluttering leaves. Granite sidewalls drenched in technicolor green plunged sharply into crystal blue waters that shimmered in the sunlight from the specs of pyrite. Like entering the narthex of a grand cathedral, Pony Bridge would be our introduction to the unique textures that sprawl across the Peninsula’s landscape. Or as Theodore Roosevelt put it, “a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man."

Enchanted Valley, WA

Shape-shifting shadows danced across the trail as we stood in awe of the next show-stopping landmark. A hulk-like, uprooted tree laid to rest on its side. Large enough for our entire party of 9 to climb inside, the remains were not your average blowdown. The massive diameter of the trunk was a striking reminder of her prehistoric origins, like a not-too-distant relative of the famous General Sherman. We gave her the nickname of “Mother Tree,” as we briefly discussed the details of setting up permanent residence in the event of some natural (or nuclear) disaster.

The smell of damp soil was a fragrant reminder of the spongy loam that marked our path, bending in unison with the river as we traipsed through winding trails. As we neared our final destination, a solo hiker walking in the opposite direction felt the need to admonish our large group. “Good luck,” he snorted, “it's basically Woodstock up there.” The disgruntled backpacker recommended that we turn back, follow his lead, and set up camp in the meadow we had just passed. Ignoring his advice and the nagging pain in our feet, we made the decision to press on through the final passageway of old growth forest.

We were greeted first by the sound of cascading waterfalls feeding into the Quinault River. As the early evening sky began to filter through the dense canopy, mossy greens slowly gave way to granite greys. A few of us actually teared up as we laid eyes on the valley for the first time. Coral-colored cloud formations clung to the jagged mountainside as the peaks, like cathedral spires, pierced the sky. The clouds hung so low in the valley that they mingled with campfire smoke as it wafted from each campsite. The multi-colored tents that dappled the valley were not a blight on the scenery as we had been told. In fact, it felt like home. As we inched closer to the valley floor, we caught glimpses of other groups prepping meals over fireside conversation.

We were told by one of the rangers on-site that they were expecting more than 250 campers in the valley that night. While far short of Woodstock’s fabled 400,000 attendees, it’s still significantly more campers than I had expected, which added to the time it took us to find a spot suitable for 3 tents and 9 hikers. I’ll admit that it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game, as if spending time in a beautiful location is somehow cheapened when shared with other campers. This particular experience, however, was a timely reminder of the shared joy we all can experience in the wilderness. While isolation is certainly part of the draw, my view from the top was only enhanced by the greater community of campers that took part in the experience with me that night.


Aluminum Quick-Lock Trekking Poles w/Cork Grip

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