Backpacking Olympic National Park’s Hoh River Trail is an excellent hike for backpackers of all levels and offers some amazing diversity.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 17.3 miles one way
Trailhead(s): Hoh River Trail Trailhead
Elevation Gain: 3,700’
Trail Type: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Permit Required? Yes
Considerations: Bear Hang or Canisters Necessary
Season: April through October
Backpacking Olympic National Park’s Hoh River Trail is an excellent hike for backpackers of all levels. The trail traverses the Hoh Rainforest, then rises into sub-alpine terrain on Mount Olympus, offering backpackers some amazing diversity.
The first 14 miles of the 17.3 mile Hoh River Trail are virtually flat. The final 3.3 miles gain 3,100 feet as the trail climbs the west side of Mount Olympus to the Glacier Meadows campsites. Along the trail there are 8 designated camping areas, creating the ability to plan any number of days and mileages between campsites.
The last of the camping areas along the Hoh is Glacier Meadows, which sits just below Mount Olympus’s Blue Glacier.
It is, of course, not necessary to hike to the end of the trail at Glacier Meadows to have an outstanding backpacking experience and enjoy this unique rain forest. One can plan a shorter trip, even spending only one night, to get a feel for this area of Olympic National Park.
For those who wish to reach Glacier Meadows and move from the rain forest up into the sub-alpine environment higher on Mount Olympus, there are two ways to do the hike. The first is to book a camping reservation for Olympic Meadows and carry all of your gear the full length of the trail. (Note that only Glacier Meadows requires a specific camping reservation, the other 7 camping areas are non-quota, meaning you do not have to have a specific reservation for the area to camp there, just the wilderness permit.)
If you intend to camp at Glacier Meadows, be aware that there is a rather wicked ladder you must descend into a washout ravine before you make the final climb to Glacier (see slide show below for photo). The ladder is not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights. You will also be carrying a 30+ pound pack on your back, so beware. Additionally, understand that Glacier Meadows is a misnomer. It is actually not a meadow below Blue Glacier. It is a wooded glade with no views, but excellent campsites. The real benefit to Glacier Meadows is as a camp where climbers and those wishing to get an early start on the hike to Blue Glacier (an additional 1 mile hike and 700′ of elevation gain) can spend night and stage for their ascent.
The alternative to camping at Glacier Meadows, which we think is the better plan after camping at Glacier Meadows (especially for us “older folks”), is to camp at Martin Creek or Elk Lake for 2 nights (you can have a campfire at Martin, but not Elk) and plan a day hike up past Glacier Meadows to Blue Glacier. By doing this, you can leave your gear behind and only carry a day pack for the 3,100′ ascent and 3.3 miles to Blue Glacier from Elk Lake (slightly further from Martin Creek). Which ever option you take, you will not be disappointed for your efforts.
Our assessment: The Hoh River Trail is an excellent backpacking destination with a unique environment and ample opportunities to design your own outventure. We hope you enjoy it. We certainly did!
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Backpacking the Hoh River Trail Slideshow
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