Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week we bring you one of the best hikes North America has to offer. For us, just reading about a great hike and seeing pictures is enough to inspire us to get outdoors. We hope this series incites the same feelings in you to plan your next backpacking adventure!
This week's highlight is in Olympic National Park on a wilderness sightseeing tour from Hoh River to Sol Duc Hot Springs.
Featured Photo: Mt. Olympus (photo by rese.arch)
Why this Hike?
Located on the Olympic Peninsula on the western edge of Washington State, the nearly one million acres of Olympic National Park wilderness ranges from Pacific coastline to temperate rainforests to 7,000-foot mountains. On this hike alone, you will traverse through montane forest, subalpine meadows, old-growth forest and much more. As a side-bonus, since you will already be ending your trip there, you might as well take advantage of the much-deserved Sol Duc Hot Springs at the end of your journey.
- 51-mile point-to-point trail
- Moderate to difficult with steep climbs in places
- More than 4,400 feet of elevation difference between the highest and lowest points
- Best time to go is late June through September
- 6-day, 5-nights recommended
- Well-maintained trails
- Views of Mt. Olympus (which you can also summit if you are prepared/have adequate mountaineering experience)
- Elk, bear, and deer are seen regularly in the Seven Lakes Basin area
- Aside from the varied ecosystems mentioned above, you will also find plenty of waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and creeks along the way.
Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Bear canisters must be used
- No fires are allowed above 3,500 feet on the Mink Lake Trail. Several other regulations exist along other sections of the trail as well. (Be sure to consult individual NPS trail guide websites.)
- Again, “climbing Mount Olympus should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers...” per the Olympic NPS website. (This does not mean that you cannot complete the trail if you do not wish or are inexperienced to summit the mountain. You can simply end your second day at the Glacier Meadows campsite without attempting the mountain at all.)
How do I get there?
If you will be flying in, Seattle-Tacoma International (SEATAC) is the closest airport to the trail. Assuming you will be using a shuttle service to be dropped off at the Hoh River trailhead, we have included directions to the trail end at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort where you will be leaving your vehicle.
From Seattle-Tacoma International, head southeast on Airport Expressway and keep left, continuing onto S 182nd St/Arrivals Drive. Follow the signs for I-5 S and continue for 18 miles. Take exit 132 and follow the signs for and merge onto WA-16 W. Continue for 26.3 miles. Merge onto WA-3 N and continue for 25 miles. Turn left onto WA-104 W and travel 15.4 miles. Keep right and follow signs for and merge onto US-101 N for 9.3 miles. Keep left and continue on US-101 W for 25.7 miles. After a jaunt through Port Angeles, continue on US-101 W for 27.8 miles. Turn left onto Sol Duc Hot Springs Rd and travel 9.1 miles. Continue onto Sol Duc Rd for 3 miles. Turn right and you will have arrived at the Sol Duc Hot Spring Resort parking lot.
In total, this drive should take about 3.5 hours.
You can find our recommended route for this Olympic National Park trek below. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.
- Day 1: Lewis Meadow (11.3 miles)
- Day 2: Glacier Meadows (6.7 miles)
- Day 3: Hoh Lake (11.9 miles)
- Day 4: Heart Lake (3.4 miles)
- Day 5: Deer Lake (9.4 miles)
- Day 6: Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort (7.5 miles)
Beginning at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, your first day will consist of easy, relatively flat hiking alongside the Hoh River through dense rainforest and old-growth forest. You'll have your first peek at the river after just 1 mile. You'll pass several campsites in the next few miles, a couple of small waterfalls, and Cougar Creek cedar grove. After 5 Mile Island and Happy 4 shelter, the trail winds away from the river and enters more moss-covered trees. You'll pass the Olympus Guard Station a little over 9 miles in and finally reach your destination for the evening at Lewis Meadow camp.
Day 2 is mostly about checking out Blue Glacier and Glacier Meadows at the Hoh River Trail's end. For several reasons, it is a good idea to consider leaving your heavy backpack at camp to ascend this section of the trail. You'll begin your climb after mile 12.5 and cross Hoh Bridge in the next few miles. There is a large washout just past Glacier Meadows camp with a rope bridge to help you down. At the bottom, head right across a rocky area and back up again to the end of the trail at 17 or so miles. Spend some time exploring the blue-tinged glacier and views of Mount Olympus. Once you can finally pull yourself away from the spectacular views, head back down to Glacier Meadows camp for the night.
Much of your third day will be spent backtracking to the Hoh Lake Trail junction, about 1.8 miles back up the trail from Lewis Meadow camp. Enjoy downhill and flat hiking while you can. You'll be gaining nearly 3,500 feet along the 5 miles to Hoh Lake, you're resting spot for the night. Fortunately, there are many switchbacks along the way. Plus, the views of Mount Olympus, the Hoh River Valley, and Hoh Lake itself all make the climb worth it.
Start Day 4 by heading to the base of Bogachiel Peak, about 1.2 miles from camp, heading right at the fork and continuing on the High Divide Trail. Walk along the ridgeline for about 2 miles before reaching the Sol Duc River Trail, heading northeast instead of continuing straight on the High Divide Trail. With only a few miles to travel to Heart Lake and not much elevation gain, you can either relax once you reach camp or explore more of the Seven Lakes Basin area.
Be prepared for lots of descents down more switchbacks today as you lose almost 3,000 feet of elevation on Day 5. If you didn't do so the day before, be sure to check out the waterfall near Heart Lake before heading out. Enjoy the incredible views from the meadow areas before returning to dense woods. The switchback area begins as you head down to the Sol Duc River Valley. Take a break and enjoy the splendor of the 3-tiered Sol Duc Falls before continuing on the junction of the Deer Lake Trail. Head up more switchbacks, cross the bridge over Canyon Creek, and continue ascending alongside the creek until reaching Deer Lake in another mile.
From your campsite, head right and continue on the Little Divide Trail. You will head over a notch before descending gradually past Bogachiel Lake. Not many views are offered as you head down to flatter terrain and the Mink Lake Trail junction. Head right on a northerly course up the trail and enjoy a mostly downhill trek for the rest of your hike. You'll pass through both subalpine fields and marshy meadows as you approach Mink Lake. Tackle a few more gentle switchbacks as you make your way through more old-growth forest before reaching the trailhead behind Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.
What will I need?
With average lows hovering around the mid-40's between June and September, you might want to invest in a versatile down quilt. Due to the diverse nature of habitats on this trail, you may experience snow and colder temps one night and warm, rainy weather the next.
Sleeping pads are arguably even more important than sleeping bags or quilts when it comes to your sleeping comfort. With the length of this trip, try an ultralight sleeping pad that will keep you warm at night but not add a bunch of extra weight in your pack. A pump bag can also come in handy for inflating your sleeping pad and double as waterproof stuff sacks.
With the relatively varied temperatures and distance of this trail, look into a lightweight backpacking tent to spare your back.
Don't sit on your sleeping pad or mat (or hard, rocky surface, for that matter) ever again! Invest in one of these inexpensive sit pads and you won't be sorry. Even better, they weigh less than 3 ounces!
Although it can be a hassle and pricey to purchase the proper equipment, bear-proofing your food is a must here. Don't forget to order a bear canister for your trip if you don't already have one.
For a comprehensive list of what to pack for your trip, be sure to check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I need a permit?
You will need to obtain a wilderness camping permit ($6) from the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center in advance for your trip.
It should also be noted that most, if not all, areas along the trail fall into “50 percent quota areas”. This means that half of the designated campsites can be reserved in advance and the other half are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Due to the popularity of the area, it is advisable to make reservations for camping spots. Reservations for each site open up exactly six months in advance of your travel dates and are $8/person/night.
This unique hike through one of Washington's most diverse areas is one for the bucket list. Have you hiked in Olympic National Park? What were your favorite trails? Tell us about them, or other great hikes you would like us to write about, in the comments below!