Looking for a great place to escape the summer’s heat? To see down into startlingly deep blue waters? To enjoy a pleasant stroll or give yourself a thrill? All these pursuits and more can be had at Lake Crescent’s famous Devil’s Punchbowl.
There are lots of Devil’s Punchbowls (or “punch bowls”) out there. One is in Colorado, another along the Oregon coast, one in England, and I’m sure there are more, elsewhere. When those of us in Western Washington hear the name, however, only one place comes to mind. A deep and shadowy little cove along Lake Crescent’s popular Spruce Railroad Trail.
The Spruce Railroad Trail (aka the Lake Crescent Trail) runs along the shores of Lake Crescent for approximately four miles. The trail is built upon a repurposed railroad bed and part of the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail.
Getting to the Devil’s Punchbowl
Take US 101 east from Manitou Lodge towards Lake Crescent. Just before Lake Crescent, around 35 miles into your drive, you’ll see Camp David Junior Road on the left. Take this turn and follow the road to its end (approx. 3 miles): the North Shore Day Use Area and the Spruce Railroad trailhead.
The trail is approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) one way, with trailheads at both ends. The hike is a moderate one, relatively level and running mostly along the lake shore. Spruce Railroad Trail is one of only two trails in Olympic National Park that allows mountain bikes.
About two miles in, you’ll encounter the short Daley Rankin Tunnel, remnant of when this trail was a rail line. You’ll also enjoy expansive views of Barnes Point across the lake with Mount Storm King rising above.
Your goal, the Devil’s Punchbowl is another mile or so along the trail. Reaching it, you’ll find a small, protected cove of still, deep, and startlingly blue water. A large footbridge spans the lake in front of the Punchbowl, providing a nice place to take in the view.
Take A Dip
In the warmer seasons, you can be sure to find plenty of folks along the trail and even more at the Punchbowl. It is a favored swimming hole and nothing beats a dip in Lake Crescent’s cold, clear waters on a hot day. There is limited shoreline for changing, drying, and observing the activities, however, especially on crowded days.
Many enjoy leaping from the bridge into the pool or, even more daringly, climbing and jumping from the considerable height of the encircling cliff.
While leaping from the bridge is harmless fun, cliff dives are not recommended. Every year, cliff jumpers end up seriously injured or worse at the Punchbowl. Add in the remote location you’ll be in while sustaining these injuries and it becomes clear as Lake Cresecent that jumping from the Punchbowl’s cliff is a fool’s game. Don’t do it.
Home Again, Home Again
Once you’ve enjoyed the Devil’s Punchbowl, turn around and head back towards your car at the North Shore Day Use Area. Alternately, you can continue along the trail to its eastern trailhead before turning around.
If you do, you’ll encounter one last point of interest along the trail: McFee Tunnel.
This 450 foot long tunnel was cut through the mountain for the old train line and now provides a short but pitch black thrill for those who travel through it. Though the dark section is quite short and you typically don’t require a light to make your way, some may prefer to bring a flashlight.
The Devil’s Punchbowl hike along the Spruce Railroad Trail is less than an hour’s drive from Manitou Lodge and makes for a fun day trip. Lake Crescent has plenty to see and explore with Lake Crescent Lodge, Marymere Falls, and more in the area. Get out, do some exploring, enjoy a picnic, then head back to your digs at Manitou Lodge.
Now that’s a fine day!