The Irely Lake Trail starts with a short rocky climb through an open grove of juvenile hemlocks that sprung up in the aftermath of past wind storms. The path soon moves into dappled montane forest which surrounds you in its humid embrace.
A blanket of viridescent moss cloaks every forest feature, interspersed with trillium, ferns, huckleberry and salal. Watch your step though, the trail is woven with the gnarled knuckles of the immense fir, cedar, spruce and hemlock trees shadowing overhead.
In a half-mile, the trail takes its course along Irely Creek which permeates the forest floor. Aged wooden puncheons and a brief detour up onto a cliff band do their best to keep you above the devil’s club, skunk cabbage and muck but expect more than a few swampy patches as you go.
There are two creek crossings, a rock hop and a narrow log bridge, before the trail gains 60 feet more and transitioning back into the dense forest. At 1.2 miles, arrive at a modest sign for a detour up and down to the lake. The last few feet descend to a small bank on a ladder of roots that may require both hands.
Take rest by this boondock lake as a hungry woodpecker and squawking ducks serenade you. Gaze at Mount Hoquiam rising to the southeast and search for the tip of Colonel Bob Peak to the south through the woods on the other side of lake. If you bring a pole, enjoy a spell of catch and release!
BACKPACK IT: If continued, the Irely Lake Trail provides access to Three Lakes, the World’s Largest Alaska Yellow Cedar and the stunning, maintained-by-WTA Skyline Trail with Kimta Peak and Lake Beauty in another 21 miles.
For a backpacking loop, 45 miles will take you up on the Skyline, down to a junction with the Low Divide and back on the North Fork Quinault River to the North Fork Campground just a quarter mile up the road from the Irely Lake Trail you started on.