A January 2005 trip
to Port Angeles by lcampbell
Quote: A journal especially for those who want to leave the four-wheeled gas machines behind and experience the Olympic Peninsula and wilderness coast on foot!
While there are many ways to visit Olympic National Park by car, this journal is for those who love to HIKE. Only on foot can the true wonders of the park come into full focus. Only on foot can one feel, smell, and hear what is missed when trapped behind vehicle glass.
There are over 600 miles of hiking trails at Olympic National Park, plus another 200 or so in Olympic National Forest. I have not even begun to tackle them all, but this journal covers over 250 miles of short nature hikes, coastal hikes, short and long (sometimes insanely long) day hikes, and overnight backpack trips.
I worked at Olympic National Park for three years, and learned many of the in and outs of the Park in this way. But ironically, I had to leave my employment with the Park before I actually had summertime days off in order to do many of the trips! I will try to add to this journal as I hit the trail more.
Check out this website for more Park information. Also, check out my other Port Angeles and Olympic Peninsula journals for more area information!
First things first, to be safe in the backcountry, you should always be sure to carry the Ten Essentials. The ten essentials are:
1. Extra warm-when-wet clothing (no cotton!) 2. Extra food 3. Topographic map 4. Compass (and know how to use it!) 5. Flashlight/headlamp with extra batteries 6. Sunglasses and sunscreen 7. Pocket knife 8. Matches in waterproof container 9. Firestarter 10. First aid kit
To this I usually add: water treatment tablets, emergency blanket, emergency rain poncho, small amount of duct tape, small amount of nylon rope, and a whistle or mirror for signaling.
Always tell someone your plans, and leave a note with your plans in your car. Be sure to store your food in a wildlife-proof container, available by small donation when you pick up your backcountry permit.
An ethical backcountry explorer always makes sure to follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. They are:
1. Plan ahead and prepare 2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces 3. Dispose of waste properly 4. Leave what you find 5. Minimize campfire impacts 6. Respect wildlife 7. Be considerate of other people.
See Leave No Trace for more information on how best to follow these guidelines.
And don’t forget the technicality of getting a Backcountry Permit – a necessary evil, for the good of the dismal National Park Service budget, and also for your own safety. Often times for Search and Rescue operations, a backcountry permit is the only clue as to where to start searching for someone who may be hurt or lost.
Backcountry permits are available at the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) at the main visitor center in Port Angeles, and they are also available at most outlying ranger stations (although it is recommended to go to the WIC). Call the WIC at 360/565-3100 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to make backcountry reservations before arriving at Olympic.
Car rental companies in Port Angeles are:
Enterprise: 800/736-8222 Budget: 360/452-4774
The websites for bus transport are:
Clallam County Transit Jefferson County Transit
This hike starts out with finding the trailhead. It’s a little tricky, but not too bad. The drive is about 1.25 hours from Port Angeles. Take Highway 101 east. About 2 miles east of Sequim, turn right on Palo Alto Road, which becomes Forest Service Road 28. Turn right on 2880 road, left on 2870, and then right on 2860. All of these road are clearly marked with brown Forest Service signs – follow the ones to Dungeness Trailhead. There is a fork in the 2860 road – stay left, and the trailhead is 2 miles from the fork. You will need a Forest Service permit to park here, and you should register at the trailhead, just for safety purposes.
The trail follows the scenic Dungeness River for about 1 mile until the junction of the Dungeness River and equally beautiful Royal Creek. Turn right at the trail junction here. You will follow Royal Creek for about ½ mile, then the trail goes through a section of forest with the most amazing "carpet" of moss that I have ever seen. It looks like someone spent the extra money for PLUSH. The trail up to this point gains elevation quite gradually.
At 3 miles, you will get your first glimpse at the high country that lies ahead. The trail then goes through alternating wooded areas and openings, with the scenery at the open areas getting better and better the further you go along. The trail gets steeper and rockier at this point, as do the ridges (Graywolf Ridge to the north) on either side of the valley that you are in. All throughout this hike, make sure to watch the surrounding peaks and ridges for mountain goats, and be aware that mountain lions live in this area. Two folks I know saw one up close and personal earlier in the summer.
The trail levels out and opens up more when you reach Lower Meadows, where you will see a sign for the Lower Meadow Campsites. From here, it is just a 15-20 minute steep uphill grind to get to Royal Lake at 5100 feet. I was prepared to see a beautiful alpine lake, but not one as breathtaking as this one. There was a thin layer over the lake from the previous night’s freezing temperatures, due to the early November date. Normally it is not really possible to hike to Royal Lake at this time of year; we just happened to have some unusual weather this fall.
We spent a full hour lounging by the lake. Our warm patch of sun, combined with the solitude (we had seen 0 people), made for a perfect day. Now we had to pry ourselves off our grassy spot and hike another 7 miles out. Who’s idea was this anyway?? Oh yeah, mine. The hike out was pretty quick, and we saw 3 brave backpackers heading up to spend a serene but below-freezing night at Royal Basin.
This is great hike that goes from Lake Ozette, the third largest freshwater lake in Washington, three miles to the Pacific Ocean at Cape Alava, along the coast three miles to Sand Point, then three miles back to Lake Ozette - a nine mile triangle. The hike takes 4-5 hours, plus a two-hour drive from Port Angeles to the trailhead. So plan for a long day or else camp at Lake Ozette campground, stay at the resort there, or get a backpacking permit and camp at the beach. This area of Olympic National Park is very popular in the summer, so solitude may not be a highlight of this hike. But the beauty of the coast, and the uniqueness of the 5-6 miles of boardwalk trail on the hike makes of for it in part.
My friend, a park ranger, and I did this hike in December, thus avoiding the crowds, but embracing the winter rains. There were 1/2 to 3 inches of rain forecast for the coast that day. But what better way to appreciate being warm and dry than to spend a day wet and cold? Ahem. OK, we’re just crazy hiking nuts. Seriously, bring rain gear and dry clothes to change into if you do this hike in winter. Summertime is dryer, but still be prepared. Also, try to plan your hike so that you do the coastal stretch at low tide (ask at the Park Visitor Center, or there is a tide chart in the local phone book).
The hike from the trailhead to Cape Alava is through very nice second growth forest. I always love seeing the ferns growing up from the forest floor, so tall they are up to my chest. About 2 miles in, there is a large meadow called Ahlstroms Prairie, which my friend says was made by a wildfire, not sure how long ago. We are able to hear the ocean from here, even though it is still one mile away.
Cape Alava is a great rocky area with lots of offshore islands and seastacks, which we could see clearly despite the rain. We also spotted lots of great birds. My friend tells me that Cape Alava is the most western spot in the mainland 48 states. That means that when we were there, every single person in the mainland USA was east of me at that moment!
I love hiking on the coast – watching and listening to the waves, the colorful rocks and beach glass, beachcombing, crazily-shaped seaweed, and sea critters. We even saw two deer enjoying the beach. There are two spots along the coast where you have to go over short overland trails. There are ropes to help you over these steep spots – a fun diversion. At the bottom of one overland trail, my friend pointed out some petroglyphs (one was a whale) on a rock. After the extra wet stretch from Sand Point back to the trailhead, we changed clothes and got some hot chocolate, happy with our soggy adventure.
This is a great year-round hike on the north side of Lake Crescent that can be done as a one-way hike (4 miles) or round trip (8 miles). Lake Crescent is the largest lake in Olympic National Park at 9 miles long and about 1 mile wide. It was carved by a large ice sheet and is very deep. With Storm King Mountain and Aurora Ridge rising up to the south, and Pyramid Peak jutting up to the north, the lake often reminds me of a loch in Scotland, especially when the weather is rainy and gray. When the sun is shining, Lake Crescent is the most incredible green-blue color.
To get to the eastern trailhead, drive west from Port Angeles on Highway 101 about 15 minutes, then turn right on the East Beach Road, which will be marked with a large brown sign. Just after Log Cabin Resort, turn left following the small brown sign for the trailhead. To get to the western trailhead, stay on Highway 101 through the winding curves to the west side of Lake Crescent. Just after the Fairholm Store, turn right on the North Shore Road (Camp David Road). After 5 miles this road ends at a turnaround, which is the west trailhead. A one-way hike will require someone to pick you up, or you need to have two cars. A round-trip hike can start at either end, but I will describe the trail starting from the east trailhead.
After a wooded and hilly first mile, you will come to a very scenic spot called Devil’s Point, with expansive views of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains. Here an interesting bridge crosses over a deep pool of emerald water called Devil’s Punch Bowl. In the heat of the summer, this is a great place to take a swim! After Devil’s Point, the trail stays near the water and the trail flattens out. There are sections in the trees but there are plenty of openings for enjoying the lake view. On the western half of the trail, the trail still follows the waterline, but the trail is rocky in spots and there are more cliffs to the north. It was rainy enough on the day I was there that tiny creeks were making miniature waterfalls down the rocky cliffs. This area also has a lot of madrona trees, one of my favorite trees on the Olympic Peninsula. These trees have foliage that resembles rhododendron, and they have a very strange bark. An outer red layer of bark comes off, and a smooth layer of bark remains, making it look like they don’t have bark at all. What remains is a beautiful golden color.
I highly recommend this trail for runners. This is also the only trail in Olympic National Park on which bicycles are allowed. For all: a rainjacket and shoes you don’t mind getting muddy are a must in the winter, but also be prepared for changing weather at all times of the year.
Attraction | "Snowshoe hike to Hurricane Hill"
While Port Angeles rarely sees snow, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy snow sports in the winter by driving 45 minutes up to the top of Hurricane Ridge. Olympic National Park works hard to keep the road open in the winter. It is typically open Friday through Monday, if the weather cooperates. The road is normally snowy and icy, even when plowed, so drive cautiously. Visitors can enjoy sledding, downhill skiing, snow boarding, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. There is not a chair lift, but a small rope tow can be used for downhill activities (or you can pick you own spot and hike the uphill parts!) There is a Visitor's Center open, with a snack shop and gift shop as well.
The day I went to Hurricane Ridge was a rare day of winter sunshine on the Olympic Peninsula. I started out with intentions to visit a ranger friend who was working that day and maybe take some pictures. Well, it is a good thing I also brought my outdoor clothes, because I couldn’t resist the sparkling snow and blue sky. My friend loaned me her snowshoes and poles and off I went to tackle the 6 mile round trip trek to the top of Hurricane Hill. I haven’t done a lot of snowshoeing, but it is so easy that anyone could do it. It is just like hiking but the stance is a little wider and you have to be careful not to step on your opposite snowshoe. I highly recommend ski poles – they really help.
The first mile of this trip follows a road bed that is open in the summer for driving. This first mile is fairly flat, but the second two miles are mostly uphill, gaining about 700 feet in elevation. Since there hadn’t been fresh snow for a few days, there were plenty of ski and snowshoe tracks for me to follow. Once I started heading uphill, the views got better and better. The trees were all caked with snow. Some of them looked like they could be out of a Dr. Suess book. I kept trudging uphill, following three or four different ridges until I made it to the top (or pretty close to it). From the little nob that I climbed up, I had a 360-degree view, which was fantastic. The Olympic Mountains were shining with snow to the south, west, and east. To the north, I had a clear view of Port Angeles, the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island in Canada. I watched a big ship moving slowly through the blue water before heading back downhill. What a perfect day!
Snowshoes equipment can be rented in Port Angeles at Olympic Mountaineering, 140 West Front Street (downtown). Cost is $12 per day for snowshoe/pole package, and they also have a cross country ski package for $16.
Call (360)565-3131 ahead to make sure the road is open and get an update on conditions on Hurricane Ridge.
Hurricane Ridge/Olympic National Park
Hurricane Ridge Road, Off Mount Angeles Road
Port Angeles, Washington
It was a sunny and blue day on the Olympic Peninsula--in JANUARY?? Yes, it really was! A day like this could only mean one thing – a hike on the beach!! Some say that Shi Shi is the best beach in the park. One fellow IgoUgo guide even wrote that he (and many others) lived at Shi Shi before the National Park Service took it over in 1976. I’m not sure if it is the best beach in the Park, but it quite lovely the day I went. Besides the great weather, my friend and I had the whole place to ourselves, and the long drive to the trailhead (2 hours from Port Angeles) was filled with fun and loud music.
This is a confusing trailhead to find. If my friend hadn’t been there before, I’m not sure I would have found it. This is mostly because the trailhead is on the Makah Reservation, near the town of Neah Bay, and is not part of Olympic National Park (although Shi Shi beach is inside the park). Take Highway 101 to 113 to 112 to the Makah Reservation. Stop at the Makah Museum for a Recreation Permit, required to park and hike on Makah land. If you have time, stay for a bit and see the museum, which is excellent. This is a good place to ask for directions, but basically drive through Neah Bay and follow the signs to the Fish Hatchery. This sounds easy, but there are goofy turns and the signs are easy to miss. The trailhead is just before the Fish Hatchery on the right. If you are backpacking, your car will be safer parked at Tilly’s house, who I haven’t met, but she has gated parking for $5 per day. This location will be obvious when you get there.
It is about a two mile wooded hike to reach the boundary of Olympic National Park, where the trail drops steeply down to the north end of Shi Shi beach. Shi Shi is wide, flat, and sandy, unlike many of the other rocky and log-strewn beaches on the coast. It is very large, maybe 1.5 miles long. The north end is more sheltered from the wind and has fewer logs on the beach. To the south, near Point of Arches, there are more beach logs and there is more wind.
Point of Arches is one of the greatest collections of seastacks and arches that I’ve seen on the Washington coast. The tide was pretty high when I was there, but apparently when the tide is very low, you can walk quite a ways out among the rocks and arches. My friend said she has seen the best tide pool critters here, including some unusual sea stars.
When the tide is low enough, you can continue hiking around Point of Arches, and you can even continue hiking all the way to Lake Ozette. There are some great campsites at Shi Shi, which you can register for at the trailhead or by calling ahead to the Wilderness Information Center at (360)565-3100.
This was a short backpack of the spontaneous kind. I had called my friend and Park Ranger one evening to ask about a trail that I was thinking about hiking that weekend. She has hiked almost every trail in Olympic National Park, so I always go to her for advice. She told me she was leaving the next day for a five day backpack, but by Saturday she would be at a spot where I could hike in from the opposite direction and join her crossing snowy Constance Pass. She told me to bring an ice ax.
I started my hike in on Forest Service Road 2610, which heads west off of Highway 101 just north of Brinnon (on the east side of Olympic National Park). Before spring of 2002, visitors could drive all the way to the end of the road to the Dosewallips Ranger Station. But a section of road has since washed out, so hikers need to start walking about 5 miles back from the Dosewallips Trailhead. It is a pleasant walk along the road, with views of the Dosewallips River and some nice waterfalls. At the end, near the Ranger Station and Trailhead, is a campground. Once a drive-in campground, it is now great for bikers, as bikes are allowed on this 5 mile stretch (since it is technically not a trail).
The washout is on Forest Service land, and they are discussing options, with no immediate plans to fix the washout.
From the trailhead, I had only 5 more miles to go to meet my friend at Sunnybrook Meadows. The first 2.5 miles were fairly tame, following the drainage of the Dosewallips River. I kept trying to call my friend on my Park Service radio – she said she would have hers turned on. I wasn’t having any luck, but I wasn’t worried – YET. She had done a solo crossing of Graywolf Pass (also snow-covered) the day before, but I had heard her on the radio after she crossed giving a report of the conditions.
The hardest part of the trip came when I left the Dosewallips Trail for the final 2.5 miles to Sunnybrook Meadows, where we planned to camp just below Constance Pass. The nearly 3,500 feet of elevation gain (on top of the 1500 I had already done) almost did me in.
I finally made it to Sunnybrook Meadows, a beautiful spot. Even though it had sprinkled on and off the whole way up, it was temporarily clear and I had majestic 360 views of the glorious Olympic Mountains. I changed into dry clothes and had a snack and waited for my friend. I promised myself that I wouldn’t worry about her until 7pm. She showed up about 6pm and said that she had set up camp about ½ mile back (Sunnybrook Meadows was under snow). Great! And she got the tent up before the hail and sleet started to fall. Luckily, the bad weather was short-lived, and we had dry conditions for dinner, complete with the beer and chocolate I had packed in.
The next morning was sunny, and we were relieved as we headed toward the pass. The good visibility would make route-finding easier. We took some compass readings and knew where we needed to go. Slowly and methodically, ice axes in hand, we made our way up the snowy ridge just west of Constance Pass. The ridge (6000 feet) is actually higher than Constance Pass, which I found strange. Anyway, while the trip up was snowy, the top of the ridge to the pass was snow free, so we could enjoy view of dramatic Contance Peak without worrying about slipping and falling.
From Contance Pass (5800 feet), we dropped down into the snow again on the northeast side. We hiked on snow quite a while before coming to an area where the trail was supposed to go back into the trees. We struggled a bit to find the trail, and we were just getting nervous, when we found it. Hurray! We are Badass Backcountry Babes!
The rest of the hike down was long (it was a 13 mile day) but pleasant, with conversation something like this:
"No, you’re a badass!"
"No, you are!"
"No, we both are!"
The clouds and fog came in, so I’m not sure what the normal views are. Our scenery was of woods and blooming wild rhododendrons, and a pile of bear scat (we didn’t see the bear, though).
The last three miles along the Dungeness River were peaceful but painful (my feet were killing me). See my separate entry on Royal Basin for directions to the Dungeness Trailhead).
I highly recommend this as a short backpack trip, but it would be better done in late July or August. The area is a stunning example of what the Olympic high country has to offer.
This is a classic high-country hike, and it is even a loop, so no ground needs to be repeated. Start by driving from Port Angeles up Hurricane Ridge Road. Just before arriving at the Visitor Center (5000 feet), take a left on Observation Point Road. This is a dirt road that heads due east. The drive on Hurricane Ridge and Observation Point Roads alone is an eye-popper, and most people end their experience at Olympic National Park with just a drive. This hike takes the experience up a notch! The subalpine world comes alive as soon as you step from the vehicle.
Observation Point Road ends at a trailhead, with three different trails coming off of it. This hike starts at one trail (Lillian Ridge), and ends on another (Badger Valley). A third trail, Grand Ridge, is covered in another journal entry.
Heading out Lillian Ridge, the first thing I notice is the wind. The plants evidently feel the wind often themselves, as there are few of them, and the ones that are there hug the ground for protection. Small twisted trees do their best in this harsh environment.
The views from Lillian Ridge are unsurpassed. Each time I hike out the ridge, and I arrive at the point where the trail drops down to Grand Lake, I am torn. Part of me wants to stay as high as possible for longer, and the other part of me is cold, and wants to drop down out of the wind!
One good part about dropping off Lillian Ridge, is that in the shelter of the valley, wildflowers are free to flourish. Switchbacking down to the lake would be tedious if not for the colors and smells of the meadow flowers.
Before long, the trail comes to a junction at Grand Lake. After enjoying a break at the lake, I take a left on the trail to head back up Badger Valley and Observation Point trailhead. Turning right at said junction goes to Moose Lake, and farther on (and up!) to Grand Pass. On a more energetic day hike, or overnight backpack, I would head in that direction.
I have never seen a badger in Badger Valley, but I have seen many marmots. These furry and chubby critters are related to groundhogs, and are quite adorable. They are not afraid of humans, so they often pose on rocks nearby. Thankfully, most visitors are careful not to feed them, and keep the wildlife wild, as it should be.
The flowers in Badger Valley are incredible, as they grow next to the meandering Badger Creek. Take time to enjoy the scene as you climb uphill – by that I mean: take plenty of water and breathing breaks, so as to have an enjoyable climb and not a TORTUOUS one!
I glance back down the valley once more before the final stretch to the car. I can hear the marmots whistling from below, and I whistle a happy little tune myself as I head back home.
This beautiful hike has it all – waterfalls, forest, lakes, subalpine ridges, meadows, flowers, berries, short views, long views, and wildlife. All of this is along a 2- to 3-day backpacking trip on a loop trail so there is no need to retrace steps. There is something new and interesting around every bend.
I had wanted to do this hike for about a year and a half, but was so busy working I just never seemed to find the time. Finally I got two open days, and by some miracle my husband did also, and we jumped at it. A quick call to the Wilderness Information Center (see overview) confirmed my Backcountry Permit, which I picked up the morning of the trip.
We drove west of Port Angeles on Highway 101, past the Elwha River, and past Lake Crescent, then took a left on Sol Duc Road and up to the trailhead. The total drive is around one hour. From the trailhead, it is 8/10 of a mile to the first eye popper – Sol Duc Falls. Seen from a bridge over the river, the falls thunder underfoot in a scene found on pictures and postcards all over the Park gift shops.
From Sol Duc Falls, the trail continues 3 miles to Deer Lake. I found this to be the least enjoyable part of the trip – the woods did not have the typical green lush undergrowth of the Olympics, but rather a lot of down dead branches, making the woods a bit too dark and brown for my tastes. That all changed at Deer Lake, though. The lake was pretty and peaceful – we happened to be the only ones around.
Above the lake the magic began. It was subtle at first. The stretches of woods got smaller, with more and more openings giving meadow and ridge views. As the trail switch-backed up, the meadows got larger and larger. Close to the top of the ridge, we saw a group on horseback, dismounting to have their lunch.
After crossing a flat spot on the ridge, the trail contoured around the top of the Bogachiel River Valley. At a point around 3.5 miles from Deer Lake, a trail turns off to Lunch Lake and the other lakes and campsites that make up the actual Seven Lakes Basin. This is beautiful – but crowded – place to camp. We opted to continue farther on to High Divide. Although just before getting onto the divide, we took a very short (less then 5 minutes) trail to the summit of Bogachiel Peak. I highly recommend this!
Following High Divide was very beautiful, especially the views down onto the lakes. This area looked starker and more interesting – with very stunning colors to the lakes – than I thought. The view off the other side of the divide was to Mount Olympus itself: an eye-popper!
By this point, we were almost too tired to enjoy the view, but we did in spite of ourselves. We were relieved to get to our campsite near the trail junction to either Heart Lake (and back down to trailhead) or to Cat Basin and the Bailey Range (the premier cross country route – other than Mount Olympus – at Olympic National Park).
We were told that our campsite had a view to Mount Olympus, but it really didn’t, as there were too many trees in the way. Technically, there were spots in the campsite where we could see the peak, but overall, the view was not as we were lead to believe. Also, the mosquitos were terrible, and the closest water was ¼ mile away at Heart Lake. We had solitude, as only one party is allowed to camp at the site, but we may have been better off with the masses at Heart Lake.
The next day, we hiked again to Heart Lake, which we had visited the night before on a water run. This is a beautiful spot, detracted a bit by the damage done by hikers and campers overusing the place (the same is true at Lunch Lake/Seven Lakes Basin). Nonetheless, it was nice, and we saw plenty of wildflowers along the creek on our way down. After too short a time, we plunged back into the trees, for another one of those brown forest hikes. This one dragged on longer than the day before.
Just before getting back to the car, we did take another look at Sol Duc Falls. We were as awed this time as we were yesterday, and it was the perfect end to the trip!
We did this hike at the request of my father-in-law. He had tried this challenging hike twice before. The first time it was very early in the summer, and he turned around after encountering a large amount of snow on the trail. The second time he was drenched by rain and worried about how slippery the trail had gotten, as he was hiking alone. This year, he visited in late September, and his timing was perfect. All the snow was long melted, rainy season hadn’t started yet, but the majority of tourists were gone.
There are two routes up Colonel Bob. We started at the trailhead located near Quinault Lodge on the South Shore Road. The other trailhead is a farther drive, but a shorter trail. I don’t know the way to that trailhead – ask at the Ranger Station.
The biggest surprise to me on this hike, was the huge trees. There are plenty of huge trees in Olympic National Park, but this was Forest Service land… you know, logging central. Somehow they spared this stretch, much to my delight.
After 4 miles, we came upon a three-sided camping shelter. We stopped here for a water and snack break, and then the climb began. Just recently, my father in law described a long run and bike combo he did in the heat of Wisconsin summer. He said that "he hadn’t sweated that much since we climbed Colonel Bob." Colonel Bob is still fresh in his memory after two years!
So yes, the memory of the hot and grueling climb has held on, but so has the reward. After the shelter, we switchbacked up Quinault Ridge, until we came to a pass overlooking Fletcher Canyon. We took a rest and took in the view down the flower-filled valley. Beyond the pass was a bowl of subalpine meadows. I read later in Robert Wood’s hiking book that this area is called Moonshine Flats.
We forced ourselves up the final stretch, and found ourselves on top of the world. There were a few people perched with us on a flat rocky area which was the summit of Colonel Bob. Here we had a 360 view that included the Pacific Ocean directly to the west, the mountains of Olympic National Park to the east, and the entirety of Lake Quinault directly below.
It wasn’t too hot or too cold at the summit… nor was there too much of a breeze. Perfect for leisurely enjoying our spoils. I can’t wait to do this hike again – if only it weren’t 2.5 hours driving from Port Angeles just to reach the trailhead!
While there are three temperate rainforest valleys in Olympic National Park, the most widely known and visited rainforest area is the Hoh River Valley.
A rainforest is determined by the amount of rain it gets. The minimum amount of rain to be considered a rainforest is 60 inches per year. The Hoh gets 140-170 inches of rain per year. The "temperate" distinction refers to the mild climate – it rarely gets below freezing or over 80 degree F here. It is said that the rainforests of Olympic National Park have more biomass than any of the tropical rainforests.
The mainstays of the Olympic Rainforests are Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, but other trees include Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, big leaf maple, vine maple, and Red Adler. Always fascinating to me is endless depths of mosses, lichen, and ferns of the forest floor. The first rain of the fall brings fascinating mushrooms as well. You cannot believe the size of these trees until you see them. They can get up to 300 feet high, and 23 feet in circumference! Humbling, indeed.
I enjoy hiking in the rainforest when it is raining – it is a full demonstration of the ecosystem, for sure. But on this April trip, the weather was unusually dry. We did find some trail washouts from the flooding the previous October (which are now fixed). They demonstrated the power of the rain even though it was not in evidence during our backcountry days.
No matter how many times I visit the rainforest, I am always enchanted by two main things: nurse logs and elk.
Nurse logs are trees that have fallen down and started to decompose. Due to the huge number of plants growing on the forest floor, the seeds that fall on the forest floor cannot get sunlight to live. But when the seeds fall atop the downed logs, they can sprout and grow. The roots grow down around the log into the earth, leaving "trees on stilts" when the log finally rots. Various stages of this phenomenon are apparent in the rain forest.
Although elk are huge – just about as big as horses – with distinctive light-colored rumps, they are often hard to spot due to the density of the vegetation (more biomass than tropical rainforests!) Unlike the Rocky Mountains, there are few open meadow areas in the Olympics. So even though I’ve seen plenty of elk over the years, I guess I find seeing them in the Olympics more special due to their elusiveness. We were happy to find a group of elk hanging out directly on the trail on this trip. We almost had to walk through them.
There are a number of campsites all along the Hoh River. One particularly pretty spot to camp is in the meadow in front of the Olympus Guard Station, 9 miles up the valley. The Ranger Station is reserved for employee use (um, so yeah, I did stay in the cushy cabin instead of camping – maybe that is why I don’t mind hiking in the rain!)
A half mile farther past the Guard Station, there is a side trail that goes 5.5 miles over a ridge to Hoh Lake. Otherwise, the Hoh River Trail continues 9 miles farther to Glacier Meadows – the jump-off point for technical climbs of Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park at 7976 feet. Partway to Glacier Meadows, maybe 4 miles from Olympus Guard Station, is the High Hoh Bridge, a scenic spot for a day hike from Olympic Guard Station.
Because the Hoh River Valley is so flat, and because the rainforest is lushly beautiful in all parts, this is a great trail for beginner and veteran hikers alike. And don’t worry about it being a popular tourist spot – if you hike in farther than a mile or 2, especially in non-summer months, you will find solitude unending.
Thunder boomed and lightening flashed as we pulled into the trailhead. We had watched the cumulus clouds building on the two-hour drive from Port Angeles to the Staircase area of Olympic National Park. And now we were under them. My inner firefighter was thinking that I was glad I had my fire gear in the car – maybe I’ll hike up the trail with my fire pack instead of my backpack. But my inner hiker just wanted to camp and not work. Such a dilemma.
The storm passed quickly, and the sun was shining again, so we headed up the trail – without fire gear – for a weekend of subalpine camping at Flapjack Lakes (3900 feet). The first four miles of trail were essentially flat and follow the North Fork of the Skokomish River. The river valley was very pretty and I enjoyed seeing the regrowth of the 1985 Beaver Fire (what can I say? I have the fire bug!)
We reached the trail junction to Flapjack Lakes and headed uphill. Suddenly, my pack felt heavier and my legs felt weaker. It was a long, slow slog up a seemingly endless ridge. I distracted myself by scanning the surrounding ridgelines for smoke plumes (none spotted, to the disappointment of my inner firegirl).
We were hungry and tired when we reached the lakes. It was a busy weekend, so we took one of the only remaining campsites. Fortunately, the sites are spaced out enough that even when filled to capacity, there is plenty of solitude and privacy for all. I highly recommend trying to get one of the sites with a view of the dramatic Sawtooth Ridge.
Our evening was restful – one of the best nights sleep I’ve ever had in the backcountry. We woke the next morning refreshed and ready to tackle the short but uphill hike to Gladys Divide (1.5 miles each way, 1100 feet elevation gain). After a short distance through the dark woods, we came out into the subalpine meadows with a full view of Sawtooth Ridge. Small snow patches were easily negotiated, with carpets of Avalanche and Glacier lilies all around. The highlight of the trip up was definitely seeing two black bears looking down at us from a meadow 100 yards above.
Gladys Divide is extremely lovely, flower-filled in the morning sunshine. It sits between Mount Gladys and Mount Cruiser. The Sawtooth Ridge is gorgeous from here. The back side of Gladys Divide is the Hamma Hamma River Drainage. If desired, the summit of Mount Gladys is a fairly easy hike from here.
To get to the Staircase Ranger Station to start the hike, drive east from Port Angeles to the town of Hoodsport. Turn right, following the brown signs to the Staircase Ranger Station. The drive is about 2.5 hours.
This is a one-way coastal hike that is a stunner! The only low point is arranging the transportation so as to make it a one-way hike. Another option is to hook up with another party hiking it in the opposite direction, and meet in the middle to swap keys.
We started our trip at Oil City Trailhead. From the town of Forks, head south on Highway 101 until you see the sign for Oil City. Turn right. Follow the road until it ends at the trailhead.
The very short hike from the trailhead to the actual coast is interesting in that you see where the Hoh River empties into the ocean. There is all sorts of interesting wildlife to be seen here. In fact, we stopped to watch some otters playing in the estuary before heading north along the "beach." There is great birding here too!
We picked our way north along the rocks briefly before heading onto an inland trail around Hoh Head. Overland trails along the coast are common when headlands are unpassable, even at low tide. The trails are marked with orange and black markers, and often have ropes or ladders to assist hikers up and over. The ladders on this stretch of coast are particularly impressive, and not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights!
I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to head inland so soon after getting out to the coast. And this inland coast stretch is 3.5 miles long. Luckily, the woods were quite lovely, and occasional lookout points were great. We dropped down off of the overland trail to where Mosquito Creek runs into the ocean. This can be an easy or difficult ford, depending on rainfall and time of year.
Along the stretch of open coastline, we marveled at the solitude. I’m sure there are not many beach areas that are so remote that you have it all to yourself. How lucky we are here on the Olympic Peninsula to have over 60 miles of wilderness coast protected from development!
The next overland trail was again very exciting with ladders taking us high above the beach. There are two creek fords – Goodman Creek and Falls Creek. It might be good to have sandals for these! The area around Goodman Creek was especially pretty, and we hung out by the creek for a while after drying our feet and putting our boots back on.
My favorite piece of the South Coast came next. Toleak Point to Strawberry Point has many great campsites and views of picturesque sea stacks. If you get there early enough in the season, there should be driftwood left to burn for a campfire, and enjoy the sunset.
The next day, two more overland trails took us up and over, up and over. In between, small beaches were nestled between rocks and trees. The last beach we reached was Third Beach, where we saw tons of people. From Third Beach, it is just 1.5 miles more through the woods to the trailhead, so this area is popular with those on short day trips.
Out we went toward civilization, although I don’t know of anything more civilized than enjoying our protected lands, appreciating them and what is done to keep them wild.
What better way to start a long hike than with a surprise visit from a friend I hadn’t seen for a while! She knew me well enough to bring her backpacking gear, so the morning after she arrived, my planned solo backpack trip became a sojourn for a happy duo.
The most difficult part of this one-way hike is arranging transportation. If you have access to two vehicles, you can leave one at each end of the trail, but this ends up being very time consuming. Another option is to drop a vehicle at the end point, then get a shuttle to the start (who does this??) Or, the best option really, is to hook up with someone hiking the opposite direction and swap keys in the middle.
My friend and I got our permit and bear canister, and off we went. Port Angeles was flooded with sunshine, and the forecast for the coast was the same, so we were surprised to find the coast covered in clouds. Actually, we weren’t really surprised – this is a common occurrence on the coast. We were more surprised at our stupidity – we hadn’t brought a tent, intending to sleep cozily on the sand under clear skies. We crossed our fingers and pressed on. Did I mention that I do this for a living??? Geesh – do as I say, not as I do!
After parking the car at the Ozette Ranger Station (around 2 hours from Port Angeles), where we would end our hike, and getting a shuttle from friends to the starting point at Rialto Beach (another 1.5 hours), we heading onto some of the finest wilderness coast in the lower 48. Free from development and motorized vehicles, the Olympic National Park coastal experience is one of crashing waves, colorful tidepools, towering seastacks, and plenty of wildlife. The footing during our hike alternated between smooth sandy beach, gravel, rock-hopping, and carpets of seaweed.
Day one started with the easy stuff – sand. Along the six mile stretch, we passed Hole-in-the-Wall and Chilean Memorial – a memorial to a 1923 shipwreck. It is possible to camp at Chilean, which was our original plan. But we decided to press on around rocky Cape Johnson, as the tide was low, which was necessary to pass around the cape. After making our way around, we found that the beach had only one good camp spot above high tide line. Good thing we were the only ones there!
There was one minor problem with the situation, though. The high tide at 11:15pm was expected to be three feet higher than the last one – was our camp spot high enough?? Again, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Well, the tide behaved, but the sky did not. The rain didn’t pour down, but it did mist and drizzle. We were able to improvise a shelter with beach logs, plastic garbage bags, and an emergency blanket. We stayed dry enough to happily press on.
On day two, we covered 11 miles. It started out easy, with pretty sand beaches until we reached Norwegian Memorial, where the way became more rocky. Norwegian Memorial was built by 2 survivors of a 1903 shipwreck, in memory of the 18 crewmembers who were lost.
The going got rough when our hiking route turned to rock. We spent so much time concentrating on our feet that we could barely look around. We had to make sure to take extra breaks to take in the scenery. Good thing we did, too! This stretch of coast is where we saw some great wildlife. Sea otters, seals, eagles, deer, and even a snake, an oddity on this sort of beach. We also saw the sun, very welcome after our damp night.
"She slips on slimy sea salad by the sea shore."
This was the ditty I made up as we slogged through what we named "sea salad." Sea salad included a variety of sea weed, mixed together and ankle deep, that was our treacherous footing in this stretch of coast, when we weren’t teetering on rock. Our feet and ankles did survive, though, and we camped near Yellow Banks under stunning stars and a full moon.
The last day of our trip was only four easy-cruising miles. The first mile had amazing tide pools. This was the first time I had seen sunflower stars, which are red and purple sea stars with around 20 arms. We also saw leather starts and oodles of ochre stars. Our trip ended with three miles through the forest back to the Ozette Ranger Station. The path was primarily boardwalk, an impressive feat of the Olympic National Park trail crew.
We had thought ahead, and had clean dry clothes in the car for the trip home, and we also stopped for well-deserved milkshakes on the way!
When hiking on the coast, there will some areas that are not passable until low tide. Check tide tables and get advice from the Wilderness Information Center or Ranger Station ahead of time, so you can plan the route properly with the tides. Also, there are sometimes overland trails around unpassable headlands. These are marked with orange and black markers. There are sometimes ropes and ladders to help along the way!
This is a challenging day hike, not so much for the mileage, but for the elevation gain and loss. To reach the trailhead, drive up Hurricane Ridge Road from Port Angeles. Just before the entrance station, turn right, and park in the lot where the road ends. There are two trailheads here: Heather Park and Lake Angeles. I started up Heather Park Trail (and later came out on the Lake Angeles Trail).
The first 3 miles or so of the Heather Park Trail are brown and boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like forest hikes normally. But this was no an attractive forest. I plowed ahead as quickly as possible, to be rewarded at Heather Park. This flowery meadowland between First Top Peak and Second Top Peak, was just the beginning of my high country experience that day. I had a snack at lovely Heather Pass, then dropped precipitously down the back side, where the trail continues on a sidehill on the low western slope of Second Top. The views from here are down into the Little River Valley, across to Griff Peak, and even father across to the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The evidence of a fall 2003 fire on Griff Peak was visible from here as well.
I was getting closer and closer to Mount Angeles, hiking between various rock formations. Finally, the climb to Victor Pass began. A whole new world opened up to me at the top! This time, I was looking down into a very wide bowl, with Klahane Ridge on the opposite side. I could already see the mats of wildflowers – although they were just large patches of color from where I stood. I eagerly dropped downhill to frolick in the flowers, then trudged uphill once again to the ridge.
Throughout all this up and down, of course, there were plenty of distractions to keep my mind off the status of my lungs and legs. Besides the flowers, there were panoramic vistas of the Olympic Mountains, distant boats on the Strait, and more unique rock formations on the side of Mount Angeles.
I also was constantly scanning the landscape for goats, marmots, and bears – none of which I saw, but not for lack of trying (trying to get a rest for my lungs, that is!) Taking pictures is good for that too…. did I mention that I took a LOT of pictures on this hike?!?
Traversing Klahane Ridge was also a series of ups and downs –why can’t I find some flat ground for a bit? The Ridge is, of course, gorgeous in every direction.
Before dropping down into the woods again, I was given a great view of Lake Angeles, my next destination. Dropping down to Lake Angeles was difficult – it was very steep, which my knees hate, and some loose material on the trail made is very easy to slip. I was wishing I had brought my hiking poles.
When I got to Lake Angeles, I had to take off my boots and socks to soak my feet in the freezing water. The ache was frozen away as I watch fish jumping and admired the dramatic vertical cliff on the south end of the lake.
The final 3.5 miles back to the trailhead was again brown and boring. At least there were a couple creeks to cross to break it up a bit. Back at the car, I was happy that my body had lived up to this challenging hike.
From Port Angeles, drive 8-9 miles west on Highway 101 until you see the brown signs for the Elwha River Entrance of Olympic National Park. After going through the entrance gate, continue up the road past Lake Mills until the road ends at the Appleton Pass trailhead.
The first two miles of trail are mostly paved. That is because the trail used to be a road heading to the Olympic Hot Springs at Boulder Creek. Olympic Hot Springs was the site of a popular health resort in the 1930s. But its popularity declined and the resort was eventually removed, but the hot pools still remain, and are a popular hiking destination for many (too many, in my opinion, for sanitary use of the pools – I have avoided the experience on purpose).
From the hot springs, the trail becomes narrow and dirt, and winds peacefully through the forest. There is a trail junction for Boulder Lake about ½ mile past the hot springs campsites. Stay on the main trail and do not turn at this junction.
At one point, the trail is essentially gone, and we ended up following what looked like a dry creek bed, then crawled over some logs, and then found a normal looking trail on the other side of the wash. The trail remained in good shape the remainder of the trip – this had been the only problem spot.
Make sure to hike the short side trails to Lower and Upper Boulder Creek Falls. The side trails are well marked.
Above the falls, we crossed Boulder Creek on a footlog, and spent even more time cruising through the forest. It seemed like forever until we got a glimpse of the surrounding peaks. But then the trail headed back into the woods again. It was at this point that I realized that we hadn’t reached the "No campfires" sign that is usually posted on Park trails at the 3500 foot level. I hoped we had just missed it, but soon we saw it. We had started at 2000 feet, and had come at least five miles, which meant that we would likely be going up steeply, gaining still another 1500 feet to reach Appleton Pass. I braced myself for the climb.
Not long after the sign, we broke out into the meadow. Finally! This is what I came for, but it sure took a long time to get there! The flowers were mostly done for the season, but the blueberries for at their juiciest ripeness. We perfected the art of berry sampling without missing a stride. We saw one bear feasting about 100 yards off the trail. He didn’t even give us a second glance. The foliage on the blueberry plants was also starting to turn red, and entire hillsides higher up were cherry red.
The climb wasn’t as grueling as I feared, and soon we were lunching at the top of the pass, contemplating a future hike in to summit Appleton Peak. We studied possible routes as we ate. If you crave more time in the high country before heading back downhill, follow the trail behind the "Appleton Pass" sign to Oyster Lake and Oyster Point for some vistas (and the beginning of a cross-country route to Cat Basin).
I enjoyed this trip, but would not put this hike at the top of my list of greatest hikes at Olympic National Park. The time spent below treeline was too long for my taste, especially when the time above tree line was so short. The views from Appleton Pass are okay, but there are better ones out there. But the whole package of hot springs, waterfalls, and subalpine pass is attractive, and I recommend a visit. Appleton Pass can also be reached from the Sol Duc side, but I have also hiked that one, and that trail is less attractive – if you hike it at all, do it from the Elwha side.
There are two ways to access Grand Ridge. One is via Hurricane Ridge Road and Obstruction Point Road – directly south of Port Angeles. The trailhead is at the very end of Obstruction Point Road. The other way is to head east out of Port Angeles on Highway 101, then take a right turn at the cinema at Deer Park Road. Follow Deer Park Road all the way to the top and park at the Ranger Station. Both ways take a little over an hour to reach the start of the hike.
The ridge hike is around 7 miles from trailhead to trailhead. A good way to do the hike is to hook up with someone hiking it from the opposite direction and swap car keys in the middle. That is what we did on this trip.
Robert Wood, in his hiking book "Olympic Mountains Trail Guide" says that Grand Ridge was originally planned to be a road. As we hiked, I tried to imagine how the landscape would be different if it had been a road instead of a trail. There are few plants, due to exposure to the harsh winter winds and high elevation. If tourists were allowed to drive up here, besides the road, inevitably there would have ended up being pullouts and viewpoints. And despite all this view-giving surface area, the masses would have walked off the pathways and trample the delicate vegetation, which would never recover. As stark as the area looked as I was hiking, I imagine it would have ended up being a wasteland. I smiled in the sunshine, happy to use my own power to experience the encompassing view of the wild Olympics.
We were hiking from west to east on the trail. In the first stretch, we had Elk Mountain on our left, and looked down into Badger Valley on our right. I was reminded of other hikes I had done into Badger Valley (see separate journal entry).
Robert Wood also says in his book that this trail is the highest in the Olympic Mountains, referring specifically to the stretch of trail we were on. We were around 6500 feet on the side of Elk Mountain. As we passed Elk Mountain, we skipped the spur trail to the summit (6575 feet) and ended up going downhill for a while. This area was more protected and there was more vegetation. We also saw a huge hawk, coasting on the breeze. It was not moving forward or back, but was stalled in front of us as it watched the ground for lunch. The view from one notch allowed us to look down a drainage to the town of Port Angeles, the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and across to Canada.
As we started climbing back up again, we ran into some folks we knew from town. I love living in a small town! They were also on a key swap. Beside our key swap friends, these we the only people that we saw on this Labor Day holiday hike.
After having lunch with our friends, we climbed a bit more and then contoured around the side of Maiden Peak. There is also a spur trail to the summit of this 6434 foot peak. Heading east again from Maiden Peak, we lost our views and dropped in to the woods. We took turns trying to identify trees, and just when that got boring, we found ourselves at the edge of a huge burned area from a fire many years ago. Since this burn went around the Deer Park ranger station, we knew we were near the end of our high country hike. It was a great day of meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and seeing no tourists at all!
This 39-mile loop backpack trip is only for the most fit and intrepid hikers. While the trail is quite easy to follow during the summer, there are definitely challenges: the length itself, down trees to climb under and over, sketchy log crossings over rivers, overgrown meadows where the path all but disappears in shoulder-high plants, bears aplenty, and Cameron Pass, with its treacherous slope of loose sliding material and steep snowfields.
Now that I’ve said all that, I highly recommend this hike to those who are physically able. This was my first overnight backpack of the season, and I must admit to being marginally physically able myself. I hadn’t yet conditioned myself for my heavy overnight pack combined with the insane elevation gains and losses – but if I wasn’t conditioned when I started, I sure was when I got done! My husband and I did this hike in 4 days, but 5 days would be even better.
Day one started by driving up to Deer Park Campground. To get there, drive east out of Port Angeles a few miles, then turn right (south) onto Deer Park Road near the Deer Park Cinema. The elevation at the trailhead is 6007 feet.
Unfortunately, I knew by studying the map ahead of time, that there was nothing to be gained by climbing this high with the car. The trail drops 3300 feet from the trailhead down to Three Forks (the confluence of Grand Creek, Cameron Creek, and the Gray Wolf Rivers). I was left with the knowledge that I was indeed going to go back up substantially to get to Gray Wolf Pass the next day. More importantly, I knew I was going to have to climb over 3000 feet to get back to my car at the end of the backpack trip!
At Three Forks I was left with knees already hinting for Vitamin I. Ibuprofin, that is… don’t forget to pack it! At Three Forks, the trail divides. The choices from here are to go upstream in the Cameron Basin, upstream in the Gray Wolf Basin, or downstream in the Gray Wolf Basin. We went upstream on the Gray Wolf. Fortunately, we weren’t going all the way to Gray Wolf Pass on this day. But we did go 5 more miles upvalley, steadily gaining elevation to Falls shelter, where we set up camp. This was a peaceful spot next to the river. No one else was camped at this spot, and we hadn’t seen anyone else the entire day. I remembered that this is one of the reasons that I backpack – to take a break from humanity.
The next morning, we were feeling rested enough to tackle Gray Wolf Pass. But not for long! The climb was grueling, but we eventually popped out of the woods into wide open expanses of meadows, complete with the oh-so-boring stereotypical babbling brooks, explosions of wildflowers, and stuff like that. Yuck, huh? Oh yes, and the sunbathing marmots, jagged peaks, and all that ugly stuff.
An alternative route from Falls Shelter to Graywolf Pass is to follow an unmarked trail behind the shelter for 2 miles to Cedar Lake, then go cross-country (or perhaps there is a way trail) to Graywolf Pass. I have not done this, so get advice from a Park Ranger before trying it!
Graywolf Pass itself was pretty chilly, but we took a few moments to admire the Graywolf Valley behind us, the Dosewallips Valley below us, and Mount Deception directly to the east.
After starting our descent into the Dosewallips Valley, we ran into our first fellow hikers. This was as we were switchbacking down through flower-filled meadows once again. When we reached the trail junction with the Dosewallips trail, we decided to lose our shoes and take a rest in the soft and sweet-smelling meadow. I felt like Dorothy falling asleep in the poppies or something.
We eventually dragged ourselves up and headed upvalley once again. We alternatively were stepping over small creeks, and pushing our way through chest-high meadow plants. Before long we came upon Bear Camp. This was a beautiful camp, with an open valley view and plush grasses and flowers. After almost 2 miles more of the same, we came to Dose Meadows, our camp for the night. The advantage of Bear Camp would likely be that fewer people camp there than at Dose Meadows. But Dose Meadows was gorgeous, and as it was, we were the only campers there that night.
We set up camp and prepared dinner under the watchful eyes of about half dozen gigantic marmots. They whistled away at us, and got close, but never approached or begged for food. As evening fell, we watched a bear come down off the ridge, pass high in the meadow above us, and continue on downvalley.
In the morning, we again felt rested enough to tackle the next pass. Lost Pass was only one mile away, but just over 1000 feet uphill. We moved slowly but steadily, and made it to the top in time to see our bear friend again. Again he was safely a ways away, on the side of Mount Claywood, munching grubs he was digging up. The mosquitoes were terrible here, so we moved quickly on, en route to Cameron Basin.
I can honestly say that the area between Lost Pass (5500 feet) and Cameron Pass (6450 feet) was as close to heaven as I think I’ll ever get. It was perfect alpine bliss, with not another soul in sight. Except the two more bears we saw. I love it when the wilderness feels deserted and wild, just as it should be. There were blankets of avalanche and glacier lilies, and the pink heather happened to be blooming at the same time.
After lunch at stark Cameron Pass, and a scary descent into Cameron Basin, we finally lost the solitude we had had for days. As we approached our camp for the night, we saw a group of 8 teenagers and their leader. We quickly made the decision to continue downvalley to an old shelter on the river that I had seen on the topographic map. While it pained our feet – and everything else – to continue on, it was the right decision. The mosquitoes were horrid in Cameron Basin, but not so bad farther down in the woods. Plus, if we hadn’t gone further on day 3, day 4 would have been a 15-miler… a distance I’m not sure I could have done. We met our forth and final bear on the trail down. Both parties reversed direction, but after a few minutes, the bear was gone and we were able to continue on.
The old shelter was collapsed, which I had suspected it might be, since our Park Service map didn’t show it at all. But there was a great flat space to put our tent. We could tell that deer had been sleeping nearby, and it turns out that our presence didn’t deter them from using there spot this night either. We had a bear-proof canister for our food, so the only thing we found disturbed in the morning was that they had carried my socks a ways off and left them.
Day four was uneventful, culminating in the four mile ascent-from-hell back to Deer Park. We told ourselves we would climb in 15 minute stretches, with brief breaks for snacks and food. Our strategy works, and we survived to the top, where we headed straight for a hot shower at home – and a great big, cheesy, well-deserved pizza!
While the highlands are covered in snow for most of the winter, just one annual snow in the lowlands of Olympic National Park is about the best we can expect. When it happens, the local folks do their best to take swift advantage of the white bliss at our backdoor. While my first attempts to enjoy the unusually wintery conditions were some ventures into unskilled cross country skiing, I caught the last bit of snow before it melted with a hike along Lake Mills.
The snow had not yet fully melted – around two inches remained - and it still hung heavy on the trees. It was haunting and beautiful as I left my snowshoes in the car and hiked only in regular boots. This was only going to stay around maybe this day yet, or perhaps one more.
Even though it was covered in snow, the trail was easy to follow. The blanket of white insulated the world and made it astoundingly silent. The trail weaved closer to the lake, then farther away, in gentle rolling hills. About half way through the hike, light snowflakes floated down ever-so-slowly. It turned out to be the last bit of precipitation to be coughed out for the winter.
This is a short trail, close to civilization, and therefore one that I wouldn’t normally explore. But today, how lucky I felt to be able to hike on it now, under these peaceful conditions.
The trail ends abruptly after around two miles. But we were able to negotiate our way down the bank to Boulder Creek, where it empties in the lake. The area next to the creek was wide open and flat, giving wide lake and mountain views. Out in the open, the falling snow was more evident. It was now sticking to my eyelashes, and I let it fall on my tongue.
Sadly, the snow stopped shortly after, and we meandered back along the trail to the car. I remembered that day for long after. And as the typical winter rains fell for the remainder of the season, I looked up at the gray sky, wishing that just one more time, it would turn to white flakes.
To reach the trail, drive west out of Port Angeles around ten miles. Take a left just before the bridge over the Elwha River, following the signs for the Elwha area of Olympic National Park. Drive through the entrance gate, and continue up the main road until you see the Glines Canyon Dam and Lake Mills. Take a left to the boat dock, where the trail begins.
This hike is not actually inside Olympic National Park, but nearby on Forest Service land. While much of the hike is in previously logged land, leaving less-than-impressive forests, the highlight is the emcompassing view from the top. On a clear day, hikers are rewarded with views of Lake Crescent to the east, the Olympic Mountains to the south, and the Straight of Juan de Fuca to the north. And because much of the hike is on a ridgetop, the views are continuous, not crammed into one high view before descending, like on other hikes.
To get to the trailhead, drive west on Highway 101 out of Port Angeles. Go past Lake Crescent and the turnoff to the Sol Duc area of Olympic National Park. Keep driving until you see a brown sign for the trailhead – turn right. This dirt road will end at the trailhead.
I did this hike in April. It was a particularly dry winter, so the loop was hikable at this time, although we did hike on top of many snow patches, occasionally post-holing through the snow crust and filling our hiking boots. In a normal year, this hike is better done in late June to October.
I recommend hiking this loop clockwise, starting with the big climb, which leaves a long flat stretch for the end when you are tired. Start up the trail, then turn left and begin climbing through second-growth forest. Climb until you reach a trail junction – you will be turning right (a left turn will take you up and down along a long ridge to another high spot, which I have heard is not a scenic at Mount Muller). The surroundings start to open up now – there are some gloomy forest stretches, but the meadow openings are spectacular. At around 5.5 miles, there is a short spur trail to the summit of Mount Muller at 3748 feet. There is another spur trail off the main trail to Panorama Point, another viewpoint.
After the summit, which is a great place for lunch, continue east on the main trail. Around mile 7, there is a short spur trail to a rock formation called Fout’s Rock House. After the rock house, the trail descends into second growth forest again. The final stretch of trail parallels Highway 101 and is flat. Some folks don’t like this stretch of trail, but I found it to have some very lovely spots, and some peaceful ponds, despite the occasional sounds of logging trucks on the highway.
There is little water on this trail, so make sure to bring plenty of water – and sunscreen!
My friend told me this was one of her favorite hikes. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it, but I guess I often don’t focus on hikes outside Olympic National Park. I won’t make that mistake again! It was wrong not to explore the many offerings of Olympic National Forest’s Buckhorn Wilderness.
There are three trails to Marmot Pass, but only one way to make a loop. It involves 16 miles of hiking and 4 miles of biking, or 20 miles of hiking. It is a great overnight backpack, but we did it as a day hike. Ouch!
First, we drove to the Upper Dungeness Trailhead – see directions to the trailhead in my "Royal Basin" entry in this journal.
I left my friend and our packs off at the trailhead, then I drove 4 more miles up the same road to the Tubal Cain trailhead. I parked, pulled out my bike and biked down to the first trailhead, where I stashed my bike in the woods until later. Note: you won’t want to do this trip the opposite way…. the bike ride was mostly downhill the way I did it.
The hike starts out peacefully following the Dungeness River at a modest grade. We crossed Royal Creek on the footbridge, then crossed the Dungeness River on another. After passing Camp Handy, the trail gets steeper. We pushed our way up, knowing the reward would be worth it. We barely broke out of the trees when the trail split. Strait ahead was Boulder Shelter – a great camping spot (and a continuing trail to Constance Pass (see separate journal entry).
The trail to Marmot Pass goes almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and starts with long switchbacks through patchy woods. The views opened as we went up, until we got a good look at Constance Peak. Farther along, the main view changed to encompass the whole of the Dungeness River Valley. The landscape became more rocky as we neared Marmot Pass. We saw another hiker (our first of the day) perched on a pointed pinnacle a ways off the trail. We met another man at Marmot Pass – he had just come up the third trail to the pass, the one that starts in the Quilcene area. We looked down onto a beautiful meadow-covered bench and saw his hiking partner on his final push to the pass.
At the next rise past Marmot Pass, we gratefully spread out on a rock outcropping for some well-deserved lunch. But after only minutes, we realized that we were hearing thunder in the distance. There were a few far off lightning flashes as well. While we likely had plenty of time before the storm came close, we were still pretty uncomfortable, so we rushed through some food and heading down the other side of the pass.
We were able to enjoy the flowery meadows on the side of Buckhorn Mountain on our way downhill back to the Tubal Cain Trailhead (and my car)…. until the rain started just above tree line. We hunkered into our raincoats and dropped into the trees. We thought we’d get some shelter there, but it just rained harder and harder. For the last three miles of the hike, we alternatively griped about how wet we were and how gorgeous the wild rhododendrons were that day. We were hiking in a downpour through a tunnel of pink flowers. Unreal. We barely glanced at the side trail to Tubal Cain mine and Tull City – a mining area between 1899-1911.
At the Tubal Cain trailhead, just as we reached the car, of course the rain stopped. We drove down the four miles to pick up my bike, then continued home. Despite the rain, this is now one of my favorite hikes. I hope my friend dries out enough to suggest it again next year!
This is another glorious hike – NOT inside Olympic National Park. It took a new friend to inform me about this great hike (as well as the hike to Marmot Pass) that is in the Buckhorn Wilderness Area of Olympic National Forest.
The summit of Mount Townsend has some of the finest panoramic views anywhere around. On a clear day, all of the islands of the Hood Canal are visible, as is the Straight of Juan de Fuca, Seattle, Canada, the Cascade Mountain Range, and of course, the fine Olympic Mountain, up close and personal.
To reach the trailhead, unfortunately a 1.25-hour drive from Port Angeles is first required. Take Highway 101 east from town toward Sequim. About 2 miles east of Sequim, turn right on Palo Alto Road, which becomes Forest Service Road 28. Turn right on 2880 road, left on 2870, and then right on 2860. All of these road are clearly marked with brown Forest Service signs – follow the ones to Dungeness Trailhead. There is a fork in the 2860 road – stay left.
You will actually pass the Dungeness Trailhead, and continue along the same road another 4-5 miles. When you see the Tubal Cain Trailhead, it is then just a bit further. But there is no real trailhead, so keep a careful watch on the left for a small sign saying "Little Quilcene." The sign is up on a steep bank, making one wonder what the heck kind of trail starts out like that! Well, we started the loop in the opposite direction, so we didn’t need to worry about that for a few hours!
We started by walking up the road for around a mile. On the left, there is an unmarked trail, which we took. There actually was a trail marker board a couple hundred yards up the trail. I have no idea why it was way up here instead of at the road - huh. It says "Silver Lakes Trail."
This trail is pretty, but rough and unmaintained. After two miles, the trail joins a wider and maintained trail. Turn left to continue up to the summit of Mount Townsend, and right to go to Silver Lakes. We decided to take the side trip to Silver Lake. It was any easy mile to the lower lake. We basked in the sunshine on a big rock, and had a snack. While we were eating and chatting, we noticed a HUGE number of HUGE fish in the lake. I have been to plenty of subalpine lakes before, but I’ve never seen as many fish as this!
When we finished our debate about how best to catch and prepare fish to eat on our next trip up to Silver Lakes, we went back down the way we came to the junction, and then continue ahead toward Mount Townsend. After a short bit, we started gaining more elevation, with some mellow switchbacks. We passed another trail coming up from a trailhead on the other side of the mountain, and starting seeing more people. On the final push up the mountain, the flowers were magnificent, and the view just got better and better.
We stopped for a breather and then made one last grunt to the summit. As I said before – this vista is GLORIOUS. Sunshine was glinting off of the water of Hood Canal. We could see all the green islands in detail, and could even see one of the ferries crossing over the Seattle. Next we turned west and examined the green Olympic mountain peaks.
Then last stretch downhill was a bit brutal. After descending the top of the mountain to yet another trail junction (to a forth trailhead down below), the last downhill was a drop of over 2,000 feet in two miles. Trust me, it is equally brutal to drop this sort of elevation as it is to climb it!
Sol Duc Falls – 1.5 miles round trip. These falls are seen on posters and postcards all over the park. Start at the trailhead at the end of Sol Duc Road (1 hour drive southwest of Port Angeles). A short hike takes you through a pretty forest to the thundering falls, which are seen from a wooden bridge over the Sol Duc River, so you look down at the falls.
Elwha River Valley - as long as you want! West of Port Angeles, drive up the Elwha Valley to the Whiskey Bend trailhead. From here, the trail parallels the Elwha River for over 20 miles! A nice way to visit is to do a loop down to Goblins Gate, Krause Bottom, and Humes Ranch – and over to the bridge over the Elwha, and back out to the trailhead. I believe this is approximately 6 miles, but there are ways to shorten the trip. Ask at the Ranger Station for a detailed map.
Hall of Mosses – 0.7 mile loop hike. This is a nature hike in the Hoh Rainforest. Start at the Hoh Visitor Center (45 minute drive southeast of the town of Forks) and followed the well-marked path. This trail will give you an introduction of what the rainforest has to offer – monstrously huge trees, layers and layers of plants, nurse logs, and moss-covered old-growth stands.
Kalaloch Beach and Kalaloch Nature Trail - varies. At it takes to reach the wide sandy beach at Kalaloch is a walk down some steps. From there, you can explore north or south for miles. While there are no sea stacks here, this is a great place to play on the beach. It is especially great for kite flying! Across from the Kalaloch campground, there is a 1 mile nature trail (loop) that will also give visitors a look at the rainforest ecosystem hugging the coast.
Ruby Beach - 0.25 miles. North of Kalaloch on the coast. Take a short meander down the trail to a gorgeous beach, complete with sea stacks, a small sea cave, and a scenic river.
Second Beach -0.7 miles each way. Said to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the Olympic Coast. Seastacks and a flat sand beach for endless playing await. To reach, follow Hwy 110 west out of the town of Forks. At the split in the road, follow the signs to La Push. The trailhead is on the left side of the road, marked with a brown sign.
Third Beach - 1.4 miles each way. Another beautiful beach. If you want to get a little more, follow the overland trail at the south end of the beach over to another hidden gem. To reach, follow Hwy 110 west out of the town of Forks. At the split in the road, follow the signs to La Push. The trailhead is on the left side of the road, marked with a brown sign.
Port Angeles, Washington