SEASON: During the summer with low water (Aug to Oct)
FUN FACT: Overall a spectacular run and cameraman's paradise, but one that definitely requires commitment.
ACCESS: At Highway 101 mile 126.5 head east up South Shore Road. Drive past Quinault Lake and follow the road a few miles to a bridge that crosses the Quinault River and connects with North Shore Road. Continue on the South Shore Road to Graves Creek Campground which is the take-out. From this campground it's a 3 mile trail hike to the put-in at Pony Bridge. South Shore Road has been closed at times due to road washouts. You can always check current conditions with the USFS/ NPS Resource Information Center in Forks 360-374-7566.
This run can be very intimidating because the entire 3-mile section is gorged out, making some drops impossible to scout or portage, in particular in the first quarter mile after Dolly Falls. If you don't know the run it's a good idea to do as Korb suggests and hit it on the low side. The run starts out with about a 3 mile hike-in with a lot of up-hill, so expect to exert a fair amount of energy just reaching the put-in. All of the rocks on the river are polished and very slippery, so scouting and portaging are extremely tiring and difficult.
Dolly Falls is a 3-part drop that Korb identifies as a mandatory portage. It has been run depending on flows and the wood situation, but many will want to portage at least some of it which in itself is extremely challenging. The first two tiers are both around 8-foot vertical plunges created by massive bolders in the middle of the river. You cannot bank portage or scout the first tier because it is completely gorged out and in years when wood hazards limit your options you've got a real challenge on your hands (the wood may be positioned in a way that facilitates a portage or alternatively it could greatly complicate things). You may be able to scramble onto the midstream boulder for a peak at things but this requires some advanced bouldering moves or the assistance of some conveniently placed wood. You can portage the next 8-foot drop on the right. The right side of this drop is rocky and does not go, and the left goes into a meaty hole--the worst one in the rapid. You can then put in and run the final tier of Dolly, a 100-ft long boulder garden run down the middle with a nice 5-foot boof at the end. Once you commit and proceed past Dolly Falls your only option is to continue downstream as your last exit point is upstream of Dolly Falls.
Shortly after you've left Dolly there is a 10-foot drop, again created by a huge mid-stream boulder. The right side is sieved and certain death. The lead-in rapids pull you hard towards the right sieve, so drive hard left. The left route is not entirely clean. You can actually portage this on the left by eddying out high enough above. You may have to seal launch back into the river, but you might want to take a look at this option if running the drop doesn't appeal to you.
The next major drop follows shortly. Again, a giant mid-stream boulder creates a death drop on the right, and a small tight chute with a 5-foot drop on the left. Unfortunately, you cannot portage or scout this drop, as the gorge walls are entirely vertical here. You can scramble on the left wall and look, but that is it. This drop is kind of trashy as the left wall sticks at the bottom and the right side is undercut at the bottom. At higher water, this drop may back up and form a very sticky hole, and if wood ever gets in this drop, you would have a puzzle requiring some creativity.
After this, the river remains gorged and beautiful and the drops get much better and clean up considerably. There are some more challenging rapids in the remainder of the run, but those in the first 1/4 mile after Dolly have the most issues. Because portaging is not easy or not an option for most of the first section of rapids, they are the most intimidating. You will have a much easier time of scouting and/or portaging the remainder of the run which is filled with 2 to 2.5 more miles of river, but the rocks are just as slippery and you can expect a fair amount of wood so don't let your guard down.
With contributions from Mark Corsentino
for additional information see:
Memo and supporting documents on rivers eligible for Wild and Scenic designation within Olympic National Park
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
USGS Quinault gauge at the
lake outlet which likely corresponds to about 1/3 of
the flow in the gorge. Korb recommends 150 cfs as
estimated in the gorge because of the portage around
Dolly. It has been run higher and many might actually
prefer a bit more to clean up a few of the drops. The
issue however is the fact that you may loose some of
your portage options.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Quinault Gorge, seal launch
Quinault Gorge boof
Quinault Gorge put-in
Quinault Gorge, Flume Rapid
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!