Backpack the Hoh River Trail
Washington › Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center
Added by Andrew Sporrer
Be blown away, turn after turn, at the magic that is the Hoh. Year round, this low elevation trail makes a great beginner backpacking trip full of wildlife and huge views of the Hoh River valley.
Grab a permit on your way in at the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles or at the Quinault USFS/NFS Recreation Information center before parking at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center and use the wash station and rest room before you head out on the trail.
The first five miles of the Hoh are wonderfully maintained (high-five to all the trail crew workers out there!). The trail rolls through some massive old growth spruce, many upward of 12-15 feet in diameter, and follows the river closely, giving you wide open views of the valley every mile or so. There are ample opportunities for you to stop for snacks, naps, photos, etc. at the camp grounds along the trail: Mount Tom Creek is 2.9 miles in, Five Mile Island at 5.0 miles, Olympus Ranger Station ~8.6 miles, Lewis Meadows at 10.0 miles, and Elk Lake at 14.6 miles from the parking lot.
I camped at Lewis Meadows and had the pleasure of being the only one there. Olympus Ranger Station tends to be more crowded as it's a larger site, staffed by a Ranger in the summer, and is a little closer to the Hoh Lake trail, which is a back door to the Seven Lakes basin some 4,500 feet up. I highly recommend camping at Lewis Meadows for the solidarity and the views of the valley. I was totally blown away when I stood on the rock banks of the Hoh River and had 360 degree views of the valley all to myself as the clouds rolled over mountain sides to the south and crawled back up the slopes of the north. The Spruce trees here dwarf the 50-60 foot Birch that congregate closer to the water and fight for sun light.
The next morning, I left camp early for Bogachiel Peak just above Hoh Lake and was hiking by 7. As I crossed the meadow to get back to the trail, the forest was warming up; I moved silently through the mist rising from every green thing hoping to see some elk. They were elsewhere though, and I was starting to get into a rhythm as I began climbing to Hoh Lake.
I am a strong hiker and play around a lot on the I-90 hills west of Snoqualmie Pass. Many of those, as some of you know, are around 1000 ft. gain per mile. The Hoh Lake trail is similar to those numbers. I didn't take a GPS unit with me, but in looking at a topo map, the first stretch has a section with 11 switch backs and gains +2,000 feet in what could be 1.5 miles and tops off on an awesome exposed knife ridge around 3,400 feet. I was definitely hiking at my capacity with snow shoes, food, water, and layers. The second section of that trail heads back down into a smaller creek valley, levels out briefly, and then rises another 1,000 feet to Hoh Lake. I went in the spring and the lake was still frozen over save for a small section that caught some morning light.
Onward via snowshoes to Bogachiel another 1.2 miles and 1,000 feet up for a picture and some wind burn, then back down to the lake for a rest before heading back to camp. There was some light snowfall (in late May!) at this point that turned to sleet and heavy rain as I descended. The forecast called for a 20% chance of precip--so be prepared. I was fully soaked by the time I got back to Lewis Meadows, and with very low morale, started a fire and boiled some water for tea. The weather ended up clearing out that evening with light rain on and off. I watched the systems come over the ridge to the south and rise back up in the north until the light faded and I turned in for the night.
I crashed camp early the next day and did end up spotting a few deer on the hike out--no elk this time, but still plenty of wonder to be had. I am already planning a return trip and counting down the days.
- Wilderness Camping Permit Info
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Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier
Takes quite a while to get to the Hoh trailhead from Seattle. There are multiple campsites along the trail with very nice bear wires if you prefer to hang your smells. The final two camp sites on the trail (Elk Lake and Glacier Meadows... closest to Mt Olympus) require advanced reservation. Weekends it might get to capacity so do it in advance instead of when you get there. We started out with an average mileage day doing a little over 9 miles with really no elevation gain to the Olympic Guard Station. Keep in mind you're camping IN a rainforest so it'll be humid. Bring deet. We took an easy day the next day hiking to Elk Lake. After you cross the Hoh Bridge the elevation gain starts, but it's nothing you can't handle if you're a regular hiker. Elk lake was great. Tons of Rainbow Trout and Tadpoles that were swimming with us, they enjoyed having us in their lake. Spent most of he day hanging out there. Next day did the last couple miles to Glacier Meadow. The rope ladder is there and useable, but toward the bottom there is a rung missing and you can tell a few others are about to give out. Just take your time. Its easier going up than down. After you reach Glacier Meadows camp it's a short walk up the meadow pass to the ridge of the lateral moraine where you are presented with a stunning view of the Blue Glacier and Mount Olympus. Getting down the moraine to the glacier is tricky when there isn't snow to make your descent easier. It's best to walk to the end of the lateral ridge as it's the lowest point. Our last day we elected to complete the length of the trail. Did the full ~18 miles in 9 hours at an average pace. You can do this trail either way... Take your time and take it easy over a few days or haul through it all in one day. You'll see tons of wildlife, flora, and fauna. You get the experience of hiking and maybe even camping in a rainforest but you also get to see one of the most unique mountain vistas in the country. Multiple rewards make it well worth the time and miles. Put it on your list!
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