Thick with mist, the amphitheater through which this 60-foot waterfall tumbles feels like something out of a Tolkein novel. Though to be fair, almost everything in the greater Hood Canal region feels this way. Truly, the 2,500 feet of elevation gain over 7.3 miles is well worth it to experience one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Olympic National Park.
From the dense temperate rainforest that engulfs the trailhead to turquoise tarns underneath jagged peaks, the Royal Basin Trail packs in a staggering variety of landscapes. Begin at the Upper Dungeness Trail overlooking its namesake river (don’t leave your car without displaying your NW Forest Pass). After about a mile, hook up with Royal Basin Trail and settle into switchbacks, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers, and towering old-growth firs and hemlocks.
An arrival at Royal Lake is celebrated with sweeping views, massive boulders, and a number of backcountry camping sites (be sure to pack your fly rod). Push on along the trail past the Ranger Station for another quarter of a mile to get to the bottom of the behemoth waterfall.
Royal Basin Falls is a segmented horsetail waterfall that is almost as wide as it is tall. The flows originate in two small glaciers—one on the northeast side of Mount Deception and another that is tucked in a small valley that’s been carved between Mount Clark and Mount Johnson. Though the flows are much heavier in the springtime, there’s hardly a bad time to hike up to this gem.
For those that simply haven’t had enough, an extra mile and 500 feet of elevation earn hikers access to Upper Royal Basin—a rocky, talus-filled wonderland. Underneath jagged, rocky peaks and among squeaky hilarious marmots, this vast valley feels almost primordial. Enjoy views of Mount Clark and Mount Walkinshaw before returning back to Royal Lake.
Note: if you’re planning on camping at any point along the trail, a backcountry permit is required from the Forest Service. Additionally, be sure to bring bear canisters for nighttime food storage.