The Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park is a world-class backpacking trip to the Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus.
This route passes through a spectacular rain forest valley, gradually leading up to the stunning alpine landscape. The Hoh River Trail terminates on a lateral moraine overlooking the Blue Glacier (17.5 miles from the trailhead). Experienced mountaineers continue onward to climb the three peaks of Mount Olympus; hikers stop to admire the view and have a snack. The Hoh River Trail is outstanding and worth multiple exploratory backpacking trips to enjoy the various campsites along the way. You begin hiking in a lush, green, mossy rain forest, then move through dry montane forest and subalpine meadows, and finally arrive in the spectacular alpine moonscape. The animals are well-adapted to living in this vibrant, protected ecosystem. Look for several kinds of birds plus large mammals such as the Roosevelt elk and black bear. The vast quantity of seasonal wildflowers and forest floor plants such as vanilla leaf will astonish.
Take the Coho Ferry from Victoria Inner Harbour to Pork Angeles, Washington, USA (90 min sailing). Advance reservations recommended. Black Ball Ferry Line. Drive 3 h 48 min (111 miles) on Highway 101 and Upper Hoh Road. Arrive at the Hoh River Trailhead in Olympic National Park. Google Map
All over night stays in the Olympic National Park wilderness require a permit year round. Backcountry areas with quotas need reservations. Wilderness Camping Permit fees are $8 USD per night per person. Persons 15 years or younger are free. Olympic Annual Wilderness Passes are $45 USD per person. Wilderness Passes cover your fees, but permits plus or minus reservations are still required. We find the best place to get permits is the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Centre (WIC). This location is convenient for us after driving off the Coho Ferry from Victoria. WIC rangers can answer your questions about permits, food storage, weather, trail conditions, or wildlife.
The Hoh Campground offers riverside camping in an old growth rain forest. The sites are a few hundred metres from the Hoh River Trailhead and Hoh River Visitor Center. The campground has 78 sites and is open year round on a first-come-first-served basis. Sites can accommodate RVs up to 21 feet; a few up to 35 feet. Facilities include flush toilets and potable water. There is no dump station. Fee is $20 per night, payable by cash via a self-serve envelope system and iron ranger fee collection box. We really like the Hoh Campground and have seen elk here on several occasions! The short Hall of Mosses interpretive walk near the Visitor Center is a fun leg-stretch after dinner. The Hoh River Visitor Center is open seasonally to provide information and display nature exhibits.
Hoh River Trailhead to Blue Glacier – August 30 – September 2, 2018
- Distance: 54.4 km (33.8 miles)
- Duration: 4 days
- Peak: 1564 m (5131 ft)
- Gain: 1975 m (6481 ft)
- Map: CalTopo
We were excited to finally execute our multi-year plan to backpack the Hoh River Trail to the Blue Glacier! Mike had been busy guiding all summer, but we managed to fit in this recreational trip on Labour Day Weekend. Our objective was the lateral moraine of the Blue Glacier. There were several itinerary options, but we chose to stay at two sites we had never camped together before: Olympus Guard Station and Glacier Meadows. Some people choose to base-camp from lower Hoh River valley camps and do a super long day-hike to the Blue Glacier and back. There are advantages to this plan because you don’t have to haul backing gear up the steepest parts of the trail. We opted for the more strenuous plan to base-camp close to the glacier and “day-hike” to the moraine early in the morning before backpacking out. Our daily mileage was balanced each day which was good for pacing and recovery. However, we carried our backpacks up and down all the steep sections. Here we go!
- Day 1: Hoh River Trailhead to Olympus Guard Station
- Day 2: Olympus Guard Station to Glacier Meadows
- Day 3: Glacier Meadows to Blue Glacier to Olympus Guard Station
- Day 4: Olympus Guard Station to Hoh River Trailhead
Day 1: Hoh River Trailhead to Olympus Guard Station
- Distance: 14 km (8.7 miles)
- Duration: 5 h 41 min
- Peak: 293 m (962 ft)
- Ascent: 207 m (679 ft)
- Descent: 100 m (328 ft)
Our objective for the day was Olympus Guard Station. From previous trips, we knew this initial section would entail a lovely, slow, familiar ascent through mossy, old growth rainforest. The first few miles of the Hoh River Trail were busy with day-hikers and weekenders. As always, we took our first break at cold and clear Mineral Creek, complete with waterfall and logs to perch on. Not long after, we passed Mount Tom Creek Camp (2.7 miles). After a few more miles, we arrived at Five Mile Island Camp (5.4 miles). We have never camped at Five Mile Island, but we often take breaks here. The camp is beautiful, with many large sandy sites on the gravel bars. The sun came out while we had a snack, giving us a chance to dry sweaty shirts, refuel, and rehydrate. The birds were quiet as opposed to their more energetic behaviour in the spring time. After lunch, we hiked by Happy Four Camp (6.5 miles). The next few miles bumped us gently up and down the banks of the Hoh River. We passed a favourite section where we crossed one of the river braids on a big log and landed on an “island.” In the past, we rejoined the main trail by traversing a jog jam. Today, the water level was so low that we were able to stone-hop without getting our feet wet. We arrived shortly at Olympus Guard Station. Instead of setting up in the busy meadow area, we crossed a few thin river braids in the “elk zone” and set up on the gravel bar. The sky clouded over as we prepared dinner. The journey to the bear wire gave us the chance to stretch our legs. Highlights of the day included the beautiful mossy rain forest and close proximity to the Hoh River.
Day 2: Olympus Guard Station to Glacier Meadows Camp
- Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles)
- Duration: 6 h 44 min
- Peak: 1299 m (4260 ft)
- Ascent: 1215 m (3986 ft)
- Descent: 205 m (674 ft)
We started our big second day at around 0830 h. We had 14 km to cover, but that moderate distance included a cumulative ascent of 3307 ft! We stuck to our plan and backpacked up to Glacier Meadows. We passed our first trail junction, the Hoh Lake Trail. This steep, switchbacking connector trail leads to Hoh Lake, Bogachiel Peak, and the Seven Lakes Basin zone. Our old friend Lewis Meadow Camp (10.8 miles) appeared in short order. During the rain forest switchbacks, we noticed bright blue Queen’s cup berries. In the spring, we saw the white flowers of this plant. After crossing the High Hoh Bridge, we said goodbye to the Hoh and hiked south toward Martin Creek. The route became steeper and we remembered the effort from our previous trip. We passed Martin Creek Stock Camp and the Elk Lake Camp (14.6 miles). After Elk Lake, the terrain became rougher, rockier, and sharply steeper. Our legs and lungs were burning now, and we were grateful for the cloud cover. The trees became smaller and thinner. Our most formidable obstacle was a suspended ladder to aid the hiker down a slope failure (see photo in gallery below). Going down backwards facing the slope was challenging. First we had to climb onto the ladder because it was suspended from cables at the top of the slope. Once on the ladder, our body weight pushed it to the slope so we could climb down. The rungs were far apart and I crawled backwards down the structure. Mike did better than I did with his longer legs. I ripped my pants and got covered in dirt but survived! Glacier Meadows Camp was a short climb along the trail. This zone had several tenting areas, some large enough for groups. We had the entire camp to ourselves except for one other fellow. The fog and clouds were thick and cold as we set up and had dinner. We wondered how our view of the Blue Glacier would be in the morning, but maintained optimism as we went to sleep. Bird sounds and Jemrod Creek were our lullaby.
Day 3: Glacier Meadows to Blue Glacier to Olympus Guard Station
- Distance: 14.4 km (8.9 miles)
- Duration: 5 h 23 min
- Peak: 1564 m (5131 ft)
- Ascent: 456 m (1496 ft)
- Descent: 1467 m (4812 ft)
Our objective for the day was to rise early and hike up to the lateral moraine of the Blue Glacier. Afterwards, we would break down camp and return to Olympus Guard Station. We woke to a cold, sunny morning. We grabbed breakfast and our small summit packs then made our way up the subalpine. The terrain above Glacier Meadows was pristine and beautiful. A subalpine landscape with wildflowers and crystal tarns gave way to stark moraine in just under a mile. We saw a couple of chipmunks on our way up. After enjoying the landscape, we popped onto the crest of the moraine and saw the Blue Glacier (17.5 miles)! The sun was just rising over the surrounding peaks, warming the air. The sky was brilliant blue, and we could hear the glacier cracking and moving far below. We went to the very end of the moraine where the hiker’s route terminated. We saw where experienced mountaineers would continue onto the three peaks of Mount Olympus. It was surreal to see the mountain from such a close vantage point. On clear days, we can see the massif from the waterfront in Victoria. Now we were right in it, having breakfast on a pile of rocks deposited by the Blue Glacier. It felt great to finally achieve our objective. We were lucky that we stuck to our plan of camping at Glacier Meadows. If we had tried to see the glacier as a day-trip from Olympus Guard yesterday, our views would have been fogged in. After lots of photos, we turned and started our descent to Glacier Meadows. We packed our gear and continued down to Olympus Guard Station. The ladder obstacle was a lot easier going up than down. Now that we could see the surrounding peaks and valleys, we noticed the beautiful Glacier Creek to the west. The open views that we missed yesterday were highlights of the day. After Elk Lake, the route descended into the forest again. The loaded downhill effort took its toll on our toes and quads, and we arrived at camp ready for rest. We set up at the exact same site because we liked it so much.
Day 4: Olympus Guard Station to Hoh River Trailhead
- Distance: 14 km (8.7 miles)
- Duration: 3 h 53 min
- Peak: 293 m (960 ft)
- Ascent: 98 m (320 ft)
- Descent: 205 m (671 ft)
Today’s objective was to enjoy the easy egress. We were super tired from yesterday’s downhill route, but we still had energy to enjoy the rain forest. The weather was sunny and warm again, making for pleasant conditions. We took some photos in the morning light around camp. I shot a short 60 minute video memory of the Hoh River with my phone for a nature break when I am at the office. A little American dipper joined me at the shore, hopping around the smooth stones. After a final gear check, we headed west towards the trailhead. The sun made the leaves and moss shine with emerald green. Early that morning, I heard elk crashing in the forest behind the bear wire, but we didn’t see them the whole day. We stopped for lunch once again in a sunny zone at Five Mile Camp. The warmth was nice, but we didn’t stay long so as not to stiffen up. Day-hikers started to appear as we passed Mount Tom Creek Camp and Mineral Creek. They looked fresh and clean, we looked tired and dusty. We finished the trail at 1220 h with lots of time to change into new clothes and make it to the New Day Eatery. In summary, completing the Hoh River Trail as a 4-day backpacking trip was excellent and rewarding. We loved visiting familiar spots in the Hoh Valley, and seeing new zones in the alpine. You can go as far as you like as an out-and-back trip and experience incredible forest and mountain ecosystems. Even after multiple trips, we never lose interest in the spectacular Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park!
Our trip up the Hoh River Trail to the Blue Glacier was 4 years in development! We have explored the Hoh Rain Forest a total of six times together. Our first visit in May 2014 involved a refreshing day-hike in the rain to Happy Four Camp and back. We enjoyed a great day and promised to return for a backpacking trip. Since that experience, we have completed three backpacking trips on the Hoh River Trail: June 2017, June-July 2017, and August-September 2018 (the subject of this report). Two trips to the Hoh Rain Forest only counted as “rain delays.” In wet April 2015, we drove into the valley for a quick look before backpacking the North Coast Route. In wetter April 2018, we stayed at the Hoh Campground in drenching rain. We managed a quick hike around the gorgeous Hall of Mosses loop during an evening weather break.
Hoh River Trailhead to Lewis Meadow – June 2-3, 2017
Our June 2-3, 2017 trip was supposed to be a quick and easy 2-day weekender. We returned to the Hoh River Valley to explore and train. We pitched our tent at Lewis Meadow Camp (10.8 miles) on Saturday night at a beautiful riverside spot. Unfortunately, I had a foolish accident on the Sunday hike out. We packed up and hit the trail at 0600 h to finish the day by 1300 h. We were a little stiff, but otherwise excellent. The sky was cloudy and the temperature was 11 degrees C. After twenty minutes of moving, we stopped at a creek for a tooth brushing and water collection. As I climbed back up the opposite creek bank, my ankle inverted over a small tree root and I felt a pop. The pain was immediate and the ankle started to swell.
We were about 10 miles from the trailhead. Mike jumped into Wilderness First Aid mode. I rested and elevated with an “ice bag” of cold creek water while Mike did assessments. Our main concern was that my ankle was broken. There was no point tenderness and I could weight bear a little, but the swelling made it hard to examine. We discussed evacuation options and decided the best approach was to self-evacuate. Mike created a splint that was a sort of “wilderness walking cast.” We ended up calling it the “10-Mile Splint.” Mike put both of our gear into his backpack, strapped my backpack to his, and carried all of our stuff out by himself. Our dream of enjoying veggie burgers at the New Day Eatery in Port Angeles had evaporated. The day’s goal changed to getting out before dark. After a tiring ordeal of limping, log shimmying, and piggy-backs through creeks, we made it to the car by 2100 h. We missed our ferry and stayed the night in Forks. Back home the next morning, an X-ray revealed no broken bones. That sprain would prevent me from hiking for a month.
I learned many things from that trip. First, my ordeal was a reminder to pay attention to the feet, even on “easy trail.” Don’t get cocky and start looking up at the birds while moving! Second, wilderness first aid takes much longer than you think. Between the time I injured myself to the time we got moving, two hours had elapsed. We were lucky the weather was good, and I tried to imagine a similar scenario in the pouring rain. Third, I was VERY glad that both Mike and I had Wilderness First Aid training. Mike must be certified as a professional guide, but I have also taken the training to be more useful in these situations. Even though I was the patient, it helped that we both knew the protocols. We obtain certification from the excellent Slipstream Wilderness First Aid. Last, I learned I was tougher than I thought. It was a mental ordeal to keep going through the pain and uncertainty. Mike supplied excellent support and encouragement.
Hoh River Trailhead to Elk Lake – June 30 – July 3, 2017
To prove that I could still hike, Mike and I returned to the Hoh River Trail four weeks later. We didn’t want to miss out on a rare summer 4-day weekend. The physiotherapists at Cedar Hill Sports Therapy Clinic (the best in town) prescribed ankle exercises. The ligaments were still tender and swollen, but I wore solid hiking boots for more stability and compression. We spent three nights at the following camps: Lewis Meadows (10.8 miles), Elk Lake (14.6 miles), and Happy Four (6.3 miles from trailhead). Elk Lake Camp is at an elevation of 2600 feet. The camp was busy, mostly climbers base-camping before an attempt of Mount Olympus. We swam in Elk Lake with hundreds of tadpoles. Bear tracks were all over the shoreline. Massive fish hung like statues in the shadows, hunting baby frogs by ambush.
We had a tentative, overly-hopeful plan to day-hike to the trail terminus overlooking the Blue Glacier. However, we got beta that conditions were still snowy. We knew that the trail became steeper and rougher after Elk Lake. It felt good to get out again, but my ankle didn’t feel 100%. I could push through some discomfort, but I was hesitant. After we got home, I spent the next three weeks resting for our guided trip on the West Coast Trail. I wanted to be strong and capable for that group. Ultimately, I completed that trip successfully with minimal pain. Side note: it would take a full year before my ankle felt 100% “normal.” The Blue Glacier would have to wait until 2018, when perfect conditions and fully functional ankles made it possible to achieve our shared objective!