Spruce Railroad Trail

sign at the trailhead

Olympic National Park on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula sprawls across the majority of the interior of the peninsula as well as including some areas of the coast. Ecosystems in the park include everything from rugged glacier topped mountains to ocean beaches. Temperate rainforests fall into the mix as well as lakes, rivers, and less rainy forests.


On a short getaway to Lake Crescent with my mother, we decided to take a day hike on the Spruce Railroad Trail. This paved and mostly flat trail runs alongside Lake Crescent for much of its 4-mile distance. It’s also a small section of the much longer Olympic Discovery Trail, which runs along the north end of the Olympic Peninsula. The trail was once a railroad line for taking spruce logs from the forest. Tunnels are the main reminder left of its railroad past as there are no tracks or abandoned trains to be seen along the way. Being part of the Olympic Discovery Trail may be the reason why the Spruce Railroad Trail is one of the few trails in the Olympic National Park that allows dogs.

long tunnel east entrance

We started at the trailhead at the east end off of East Beach Road, which was close to the cozy little Airbnb cabin we stayed in near the tiny town of Joyce. The trailhead has a paved parking lot, vault toilet, and an entrance to the trail. There are a few small hills near that end of the trail, but it soon levels out once it gets to the lake.

buggy bands

I happened across a bin of something called buggy bands one day at a store and since they only cost a dollar each I gave them a try. We didn’t see any mosquitos on the trail, but the gnats wouldn’t leave us alone. The buggy band package did say it was for mosquitos, but at the park near my house which is full of them they don’t seem all that bothered by it either. One even landed within inches of it with intent to bite – stopped only by a quick slap insuring it would never bite me or anyone else. So my take on the buggy bands is that bugs are not bothered by them. Which is unfortunate since wearing a little bracelet is preferable to dousing oneself with chemical bug spray. I have had pretty good luck keeping mosquitos away with a dryer sheet in my pocket. Apparently there is something about dryer sheets that they don’t like, and mine are of the unscented variety so it’s not the smell.


We saw a little waterfall with lots of rocks and vegetation that looked like it had been there quite awhile. A bit bigger one farther down the trail had nothing but bare dirt around it appearing to be in the middle of a recent slide.

tunnel or punchbowl

One spot along the trail offers a choice of an unpaved dirt side path leading to the Devil’s Punchbowl or a long dark tunnel on the main path. Both are highlights of the trail so when doing an out and back taking one each direction gets both of them in. We took the trail on the way out and the tunnel on the way back. The trail winds around with some ups, downs, a few narrow places where the edge has fallen, and some going over big rocks so it’s not for anyone with any sort of balance issues or other walking problems. For everyone else though it’s pretty much the best section of the trail. Besides some great lake views, that area had the most wildflowers and a lot of the little sorts of plants that grow on sheer rock walls.

Devil’s Punchbowl

It’s a bit of a walk to the punchbowl, which is a little cove surrounded by towering tree-covered rock walls. It’s separated from the main lake by a bridge. A still deep blue pool reflecting the greenery of the rocks above seemed quite misnamed. It looked like it should have been called serenity or tranquility pool rather than devil’s punchbowl. Perhaps on a stormy day waves crash onto the rock walls and churn back or something to earn the moniker it has, but not having seen it in a storm I can’t say for sure. After the punchbowl the trail continues on and connects back to the main trail on the far side of the tunnel.

scotch broom may look pretty in bloom, but it’s a non-native invasive species

For most of the distance along the main trail the land drops steeply to the lake on one side and rises even steeper up forested hills on the other. Unfortunately there was a lot of scotch broom alongside the trail. Scotch broom is a non-native invasive species that doesn’t take long to take over an area and crowd out the native vegetation, which is not a good thing for anything that lives there and depends on native plants for food. I hiked that trail again more recently and someone had removed the scotch broom from the side of the trail, but there were little ones starting to grow again as well as bigger ones up on the steep hillsides where nobody could reach it. It’s good that someone is making an effort to get rid of it, but they’re fighting a loosing battle if they can’t get rid of the ones on the hill above the trail. Less than 10 years ago the sides of highways 104 and 101 between Kingston and Sequim were lined with wild rhododendrons blooming pink every spring. Now the sides of those highways are yellow with scotch broom and it’s hard to spot one of the few remaining wild rhododendron bushes.

lupine just starting to bloom

Although there were more wildflowers as well as more variety of them on the trail to the punchbowl, there were some on the main trail including a small patch of lupine near the bare dirt waterfall.

trailside logs

There were not any benches, picnic tables, or restrooms to be found alongside the trail. Other than the occasional large rock the only place to sit for a rest, snack, or picnic was the logs lining the sides of some bridges or spots where the trail was right at the edge of the lake unless you happened along a level enough log near the trail in one of the few patches of relatively flat ground. Stopping even briefly meant being swarmed by gnats, some of which followed along even while we were moving the first time I went there, though on the second visit we didn’t see any.

fungus covered tree

After hiking 4 miles we came across a dirt road paralleling the trail, which a not 4-wheel drive car struggled down and parked where the road ended. That area was well below the main trail, but had a trail leading down to it. It looked like there wasn’t much down there but a pile of logs and a trail sign. There were some signs facing for people coming from the other direction announcing that this was the Spruce Railroad Trail. The paved trail continued on from there. We initially thought that was the trailhead for the other end which was supposed to be 4 miles from the other trailhead and turned around to head back, but later thought that the actual trailhead must have been a bit farther down because when we got back we saw a sign at the beginning of the trail that we hadn’t noticed on the way out. It said next restroom 4 miles and we had not seen any in the vicinity of the signs or dirt road at the other end. Going back there again another time with my son and grandson we walked nearly a mile beyond the small parking area at the west end with the Spruce Railroad Trail sign on the dirt road leading to it, and then back on the Olympic Discovery Trail which paralleled the dirt road and never saw any other sign of a trailhead other than that small dirt parking area. The pile of logs was gone, but the sign for the Spruce Railroad Trail was still there. From the trail itself there are just signs indicating where the Spruce Railroad Trail part of the discovery trail begins on that end. No sign anywhere near the trail, dirt road, or parking area of the restroom some websites say is at the trailhead on the west end of the Spruce Railroad Trail, but that spot is 4 miles from the east trailhead as well as having signs for the trail both in that parking area and on the paved trail so it must actually be the trailhead for the west end. The trailhead on the east end off East Beach Road is definitely the better choice. It’s paved, has paved roads leading to it, and actually does have a toilet.

short tunnel

In addition to the long dark tunnel there’s a much smaller tunnel, which you can see all the way through before even setting foot in it. The long one not so much. The long one has some white posts marking the edges of the pavement at regular intervals along the way, which guide you through the tunnel even if you don’t have any light. If you stray beyond them it’s rough ground. A sign outside the tunnel recommends using a flashlight, but I didn’t have one and following the white posts was enough to get me through. My mom had a tiny light that was probably worse than nothing. It must have reflected off the puddles on the floor making them look like bumps rather than water to her so she kept heading to the actual rough ground trying to avoid what must have appeared to her to be worse. Going through it on the second visit without any lights worked much better for everyone.

tunnel entrance

I went in a dark cave once with a camera I used to have that I could point at a cave wall which I couldn’t see at all and it would light up a little patch and take a perfectly clear photo that I could later see what I hadn’t seen while in the cave. The camera I have now wouldn’t do that. Photos taken with it in the dark tunnel just looked like a couple white spots in the dark so that was disappointing.

kayakers on Lake Crescent

For most of the hike we didn’t see anyone else other than some kayakers out in the lake, but both going out and coming back we saw several other groups of people fairly close to the trailhead so most of them must not go too far. Mostly we saw people walking, but there were a few on bikes and some with a dog. Horses are allowed on that trail, but we saw neither horses nor any of their droppings so horseback riders may not use it much. Which is understandable. Paved trails weren’t my preferred choice of places to go when I had horses. Overall it’s a nice trail with some scenic lake views. The second time I went there I brought my dog and we saw lots of other dogs near the trailhead, but not farther out. That time someone had added poetry signs, which we also saw in some other areas of the park. We only read one and immediately wished we hadn’t, wondering why on earth anyone would post such a disgusting and disturbing story about a kid venturing inside a nearly dead beached whale looking for its heart. We would have much preferred informative signs about the area, the plants and animals found there, and history of the place.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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