This 26-mile thru-hike in Olympic National Park encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems and offers an excellent sampler of some of the highlights of this unique park. Plan on four to five hiking days to complete the trip, and consider a layover day at Hoh Lake or in Seven Lakes Basin in order to explore this alpine wonderland without a pack.
This trip runs through some of the most popular destinations in the park. There is a quota for permits to camp overnight at a number of the sites on this route. Some of the permits can be reserved in advance, and the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles up to 24 hours in advance of your trip. Bear canisters are required in Seven Lakes Basin and at Heart Lake, and they are available to borrow at the Wilderness Information Center in limited numbers. See the Olympic National Park Wilderness Trip Planner for more detailed information.
Most backpackers travel this route in the opposite direction, from Sol Duc to Hoh, in order to take advantage of the overall elevation loss when hiking that direction. Starting at Hoh, however, puts you two hours closer to Port Angeles and Seattle when you end your trip; additionally, while a steep section on the Hoh Lake Trail is physically demanding to climb, it would be very hard on the knees to descend.
It is worth paying for a shuttle from one trailhead to the other. Plan the shuttle for the beginning of the trip so that you arrive at your car when you come out. All Points Charters & Tours is the sole provider of trailhead shuttles that is licensed to operate in the park. They offer great service at reasonable rates.
The trip has four distinct sections, each with their own unique charms and challenges, they are:
The Hoh River drains the northern flank of Mount Olympus and the western side of the Bailey Range. This glacial stream winds in braided channels through gravel bars in the center of a flat valley. There are crowds of day hikers near the visitor center that thin to a more occasional stream of backcountry explorers the further upstream you travel. A dip in the Hoh's turbid glacial runoff is a bracing experience, to say the least. Five Mile Island has great campsites on the river.
This sheltered subalpine lake sits 800 feet below the High Divide Trail and 3,500 feet above the Hoh River. There is great swimming, and the views of Mount Olympus through the trees from some of the campsites is excellent. The sites here are close together and are popular in the summer. Hoh Lake makes a great place to spend a rest day after climbing up from the Hoh River.
This alpine basin and ridge area is one of the most popular destinations in the park. Permits for overnight camping are in short supply, and bear canisters are required. Both areas can be accessed by intrepid day hikers, so expect plenty of traffic on the trails. High Divide Trail is especially scenic, with a view into the basin and across the Hoh River valley to Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park. Heart Lake has wonderful swimming and campsites just below the eastern end of the High Divide.
This narrow stream tumbles through a steep canyon in a drier mid-elevation forest on its way down to Sol Duc Trailhead. The river is out of view for most of the hike, but numerous side creeks add plenty of interest. Sol Duc Falls is less than a mile from the trailhead and draws throngs of visitors throughout the season. Campsites are strung out along the Sol Duc River Trail, mostly adjacent to smaller side creeks.