Climb the tallest mountain on the Olympic Peninsula. You'll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the Olympics, the Cascades and the Ocean to the west.

Getting to the summit is no easy task.  The approach is long, you must cross a glacier, and once you are to the summit block the easiest way up is on loose 4th class rock, however a short pitch of 5.4 rock is recommended instead.

Getting there

On your way to the trail-head you will need to stop and get permits at the Wilderness Information Center in either Quinault or Port Angeles.  Driving from Seattle, we found the one in Quinault to be slightly more convenient.  If you plan to camp at either Elk Lake or Glacier Meadows be warned the permits are first come first serve and they do run out.  If you are going on a popular weekend (4th of July) it might pay to try and get your permit the day before your trip begins.  The other campground require permits but they are unlimited.  You can also rent a bear canister from the rangers at the WIC, you need to be able to store your food properly as there are many bears in Olympic National Park.  After you have all of that sorted you'll drive the rest of the way to the trail-head at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.

Hoh Rain Forest

Your journey begins in the Hoh Rain Forest on one of the most impressive lowland backpacking trails in Washington.  For the first 12 miles you'll be hiking through towering old  growth spruce trees alongside the Hoh River and there are ample campgrounds and dispersed campsites off the trail. You can find more details about this section of the trip here: Backpack the Hoh River Trail.

Getting to the Glacier Meadows

After 12 miles along the river you will begin to climb. There is one unlimited campground after leaving the river and then you come to Elk Lake, the first of the reservable campgrounds.  Between Elk Lake and the last campground, Glacier Meadows there is a washout on the trail with a rope ladder installed to help hikers get up/down the steep and loose slope.  Be careful not to know rocks down on other parties in this area.

The Climb

From Glacier meadows you'll follow the trail even higher until you eventually top out on a glacial moraine.  Follow the top of the moraine along the Blue Glacier until you find a suitable route down.  This section is very loose and some describe it as the 'crux' of the climb.  Again be careful not to knock rocks down on others.  Once you descend to snow it's time to rope up! You are now on one of very few remaining valley glaciers in the state. 

You'll head southwest across the glacier to the slopes beneath the snow dome.  From here chose your route up to the top of the snow dome, the easiest option changes over the course of the season.

Once you've crested the snow dome head south and if you are like most parties you'll take the crystal pass route to the summit.  This route traverses to the left over a pass and onto another glacier on the backside of the ridge in front of you.  You then ascend this glacier up to and over the false summit until you are below a steep snow slope and the summit block.  Ascend the steep snow to the summit block.

At the base of the summit block get ready to climb some rock!

The recommended route takes you up the North Ridge in a single short pitch which has a couple of low to mid 5th class moves down low.  One can climb it with just a few nuts and cams (up to a #2).  Once past the pitch there is a slung boulder that can be used to bring the remaining party members up.

Alternate: There is a 4th class scramble route up the east face of Olympus but it is reported to be very loose and unpleasant so it's not recommended.

Congrats you've gotten to the summit!

Getting down

It's possible to rap off the summit the way you came using a 30m rope but it requires a bit of shenanigans as the bottom anchor is a tiny bit lower than your rope will reach (but you can reach it).  A 35m or longer rope is preferred.

Once you've rapped off the summit, get ready for some glacier travel and retrace your steps.

Tips

This trip is best done over 4 days, this gives you plenty of time to enjoy the Hoh River trail which is pretty awesome in it's own right.  You can spend 2 nights camped along the river if you attack it this way.

There are some AWESOME bivy spots on top of the Snow Dome near Panic Peak.  This area does not have a limit for the number of permits issued (although it still requires permits).  There's even a research station with a spectacular alpine toilet up there.  Honestly spending a night bivied up here was the highlight of the trip, getting to watch the sunset over the pacific and being awoken by rays on your face absolutely made our trip.  I highly recommend it!

If you want to climb Olympus in 3 days it's best to get a permit to camp at either Elk Lake or Glacier meadows.  This will minimize the distance you have to travel on the 2nd summit day.

Sample Itenerary

  • Day 1
    • Arrange Permits at the WIC in Quinault
    • Drive to and park at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor center.
    • Hike in to Lewis meadows (12 mi)
  • Day 2
    • Wake up early for a long day ahead.
    • Follow the route description above all the way to the snow dome and instead of heading south towards Olympus, head north towards Panic Peak - it's only a 15 minutes walk out of the way
  • Day 3
    • Wake up with the sunrise and laugh at the people who had to wake up 3 am to cross the glacier down below.
    • Pack up camp and deposit extra items along the route to the summit
    • Summit and head back to grab your stuff and descend back to Glacier meadows.
    • Hike back down to the River
  • Day 4
    • Wake up at a leisurely hour alongside the rushing Hoh River  for your 10 or so mile hike back to the car.

Pack List

  • Wilderness Camping Permit Info
  • Backpacking Gear
  • Bear canister if you plan to sleep away from the designated campgrounds with bear wires.
  • 10 Essentials
  • Mountaineering gear 
    • Ice Axe
    • Glacier Rope
    • Helmet
    • Crampons
    • Prusiks
    • Pickets
  • Rock Climbing gear
    • Very light rack - set of chocks and a .5 and a #2 cam.
    • Belay device etc.
  • Camera - very important on this absolutely GORGEOUS trip
Show More
RT Distance 45 Miles
Elevation Gain 8000 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Beach
Easy Parking
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

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