With over 3 million annual visitors, Olympic National Park is the most visited national park in the Pacific Northwest, making it likely you'll share the famous viewpoints and trailheads with the hordes of other people there to bask in the area's natural beauty. But head out for a multi-day trip into the park's backcountry, and the crowds quickly dissipate. These backpacking trips always require surmounting a physical, and at times an emotional challenge, but they will be well worth the effort to find your own private spot in this immense and beautiful wilderness.
The three-day itinerary is just enough time to plan around clear weather, take a long weekend, and pack light enough to include some treats to go along with your daily caloric needs. Here are four 3-day itineraries to help you plan the perfect quick backpacking trip through Olympic National Park.
As a rule of thumb, black bears are prevalent in the Olympics, and unless otherwise noted, you must always use an approved bear canister to store food for all backpacking trips. A wilderness camping permit is also required for all overnight stays in Olympic National Park, and some areas limit the number of permits they'll issue. You can get more information here or by calling the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) at 360.565.3100.
This valley is said to be enchanted for a reason. Hike through temperate rainforest fed by glacial runoff. Waterfalls, old-growth forests of cedar, maple and hemlock, elk, deer and bears are all a part of the journey as you make your way deep into the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. The famed Enchanted Valley Chalet was recently moved to save it from collapsing into the nearby river. There are a number of campgrounds to hike into to split the trip into three days. Some come with bear wires to use, but bring a bear canister to be safe.
One way to experience the majesty of the High Divide section of Olympic National Park is by way of an 18-mile loop trail that starts at the Sol Duc trailhead. The trail passes Sol Duc Falls on the way up to Deer Lake, on the way up to High Divide, and from this point the crowds diminish. Up at higher elevations, there are a number of amazing backcountry campsites to choose from as the loop continues into the Seven Lakes Basin, up to Bogachiel Peak (with unimpeded views of Mount Olympus), and alongside Heart Lake. Berries, and black bears searching out their delicious sweetness, are both common in the High Divide, especially around Heart Lake, and bear canisters are required.
Another way to get the most of the High Divide is by thru-hiking it's extent from Hoh to Sol Duc. The climb from Hoh Valley is, to put it mildly, steep and challenging, but that just means you'll have more trail to yourself. Note that some hikers choose to do this route in the opposite direction to make it more heavily weighted to downhill travel, knees be damned. Many also choose to do this trail in four to five days to spend more time resting and enjoying the scenery. Those who prepare a shuttle in advance and do take on this route will be rewarded with a trip through four distinct and incredible sections of Olympic National Park, starting in the Hoh River's temperate rainforest and going through high mountain lakes and glaciated valleys.
You would be missing a major draw to Olympic National Park by skipping the sections that run along the Pacific Ocean. The sliver of trail on the northwestern coastline is remote, unpopulated, and due to the inherent challenges of hiking its length, largely uncrowded. You'll have to ford a few creeks, avoid high tides at a few key spots, and you'll want to take your time exploring the tide pools along the trail, making for slower travel than the distance would suggest. Bald eagles and other birds perched on sea stacks make for great birdwatching along the way. Shuttle service will need to be arranged ahead of time for this stretch of trail as well as wilderness permits and bear canisters.