Top 3 Olympic National Park Backpacking Trips
Hiking in Olympic National Park is an incredible adventure. Experience the grandeur of the country’s only temperate rainforest ecosystem and the beautifully rugged Olympic mountains. Or head towards the coast to explore bustling tide pools and watch sea otters and seals slipping between the awe-inspiring rock formations jutting from the chilly water.
As you may expect, epic backpacking opportunities are everywhere in such a beautiful wilderness landscape. But which are the best? Don’t worry about digging through lists and reviews! I’ve picked out the top three backpacking trips to Olympic National Park so you can jump straight to planning your next incredible hiking vacation.
Remember that Wildland Trekking offers a wide range of backpacking trips to Olympic National Park. We’ll be happy to handle all the gear, permits, and trip transportation logistics so you can enjoy the adventure.
|Hoh Valley – Blue Glacier||Moderate – Strenuous||~37||5|
|The North Coast||Moderate||19 – Thru-Hike
1. Hoh Valley To Blue Glacier
This incredible backpacking trip includes almost everything Olympic National Park has to offer. Lush rainforest packed with wildlife, beautiful lakes, alpine meadows, and stunning glaciers. You’ll start in the Hoh Valley along reasonably level trails as you hike through one of only seven temperate rainforest ecosystems in the entire world! Plant and animal life abounds in this moss-covered wonderland, and this is the only place in Olympic where I’ve spotted an elusive bobcat. You’ll follow the glacier-fed Hoh River during this section, and camp on its shoreline as you look for the resident herd of Rosevelt Elk.
The hike will become progressively more difficult as you head upwards towards the alpine reaches, but the views never disappoint. Stunning alpine meadows grow right up to the edge of Blue Glacier – one of the largest glaciers spawning off Mount Olympus.
Day 1: Trailhead To Olympus Ranger Station (Alternate: Lewis Meadow)
Hiking Distance: ~9.7 Miles
Elevation Change: Minimal – Expect a few up-and-down hills
This day is your chance to soak in the splendor of the Hoh Rainforest. The trail is very well maintained and easy to follow while the views are stunning. You’ll see absolute giants of moss-covered hemlock, spruce, and cedar soaring up towards the clouds. Keep an eye out for Rosevelt Elk – not to be found anywhere else outside of Olympic National Park. You may also spot coyotes or a curious black bear (bear safety discussed below).
Day 2: Olympus Ranger Station To Elk Lake (Alternate: Glacier Meadows)
Hiking Distance: ~5.5 Miles
Elevation Change: +1675 Feet
Start the day with a little more level hiking along the Hoh River, but don’t expect it to last. You’ll soon hit a series of switchbacks, and the upwards incline will remain constant until you get to your camp. The High Hoh Bridge, however, is the perfect place to take a lunch break as you marvel at the thundering Hoh river far below and admire the surrounding mountains – where you’ll soon be going.
I’ve found Elk Lake to be an excellent stopping point for this hike. There’s a downed tree jutting into the lake straight down from the campsite. Dip your legs in the water, or slip all the way in for a relaxing rinse. If you haven’t had enough sweat, however, you can keep heading up past Elk Lake towards Glacier Meadows. This extra work will cut down your mileage for tomorrow’s day hike but will add 2.5 miles and around 1000 feet of elevation gain to your day.
Day 3: Day Hike To Blue Glacier
Hiking Distance: ~6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change: +1700 Feet
Do a happy hiking dance as you leave all your heavy gear behind for the day and head up to Blue Glacier with cameras, water, snacks, and layers. The first section of this hike involves switchback after switchback. But keep an eye open for thimbleberries and salmonberries as you go!
Soon enough, you’ll break above the treeline for absolutely stunning views of Mount Olympus and the valleys beneath it. Just beyond Glacier Meadows, you’ll come to a sign directing you to either the Terminal Morain or Lateral Morain. Keep to the left for the Lateral Morain and soon find yourself in a beautiful – but steep – alpine meadow bursting with wildflowers. After another mile climbing up through this meadow, you’ll see the trail zigzagging up to a rocky ridge. That ridge is the goal! One final push, and you’re there for absolutely breath-taking views of snow-capped Mount Olympus and the dazzling ice of Blue Glacier.
When you’ve soaked up the views, it’s time to turn around and head back to camp.
Note: Rangers often recommend leaving your hiking permit attached to your tent while you complete this day hike. I typically take a picture of the permit beforehand so I can produce it if asked by a ranger on the trail.
Day 4: Elk Lake To Five Mile Island (Alternate: Happy Four)
Hiking Distance: ~10 Miles
Elevation Change: -1675 Feet Lost
Today can be a long day, but mostly downhill. Take your time, enjoy the views, and slowly make your way back down to the Hoh Rainforest and again explore its mossy wonders.
Day 5: Hike Out
Hiking Distance: 5 Miles
A quick 5-miles hike, and you’re out!
Protip: You’ll know you’re getting close to the trailhead when clean folks with only daypacks give your smelly hiking crew a wide berth on the trail.
This out and back hike begins at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center. The drive out here is stunning, albeit very long. Plan to get on the road very early your first day and aim to beat the crowds. You’ll undoubtedly find the Visitor Center, parking lot, and nearby trails to be reasonably busy, but don’t worry! The masses will disperse as you hike deeper into the rainforest.
Permits & Fees
This backpacking trip requires an Olympic National Park backpacking permit along with a park entry fee. The permit rules are different for different sections of this hike, so I’ll discuss them separately:
Hoh Valley (Brown Campsites On NPS Map)
- Five Mile Island
- Happy Four
- Olympus Ranger Station
- Lewis Meadow
Permits for these campsites are not reservable and are issued from the Wilderness Information Center on a first-come-first-served basis. There are plenty of tent-sites at each camp, and I’ve never had any problems finding a reasonably secluded spot for the evening.
Alpine Camps (Yellow With Red Border Campsites On NPS Map)
- Elk Lake
- Glacier Meadows
50% of the available tent-sites at these camps are reservable. Visit the National Park Reservation System to check permit availability and submit your reservation.
Where To Pick Up Permits
Backpacking permits are distributed from only two locations in Olympic National Park: the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center and the Quinalt Wilderness Information Center. Contact information and addresses for both locations can be found on the National Park Website. The Quinalt center will likely be the most convenient option as it is nearest to the Hoh Rainforest and along your way if you’re coming from Olympia or Seattle. Be sure to check when they open and plan accordingly!
National Park Entry Fee
Check current Olympic National Park fees before you start your trip. If there’s even the slightest chance you’ll be visiting multiple national parks over the coming year; I highly recommend opting for the America The Beautiful Pass. This pass gives you and one other person unlimited access to federally administered national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and grasslands.
When to Hike
The upper reaches of this hike around Blue Glacier and Glacier Meadows campsite can be snowcovered well into June. The first snows will often start to fall in late September and October. The best time for this hike is, therefore, July and August. You’ll also have the best chance of dry and clear weather during this time. Remember to check current weather conditions before hiking!
Hike Hoh Valley To Blue Glacier with a Guide
Guided Hoh Valley trips are available and are a stress-free, exciting way to explore Olympic National Park. Let us handle permits, gear, transportation, meals, and provide a professional guide so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure. Read more.
2. The North Coast Route
Hiking Trips in Olympic National Park are not limited to mountains and forests. The stunning Olympic Coast is full of rocky headlands, mesmerizing sea life, and unforgettable sunsets. This coastline is certainly within reach via day-hiking, but a multi-day backpacking trip is the absolute best way to connect with this magical area.
This trip can be a thru-hike if you stage vehicles or an out-and-back starting from either trailhead. Regardless of the path you choose, you’ll find the days to be reasonably low-mileage, but don’t let that trick you! This stretch is a rugged piece of coast that involves scrambling over rocky tidal areas and scaling steep headlands with rope assistance in addition to enjoyable hiking along sandy beaches.
The wildlife along this coast is wonderous. Keep an eye on the water for seals, otters, porpoises, and gray whales further out. Closer to shore, you’ll see seastars, anemones, and crabs along with plenty of birdlife.
Day 1: Shi Shi Trailhead To Point Of Arches
Hiking Distance: ~4.0 to 4.5 Miles
Elevation Change: Minimal
This hike is your easy day to warm up the legs and enjoy beach life. The hike will start with an easy 2-mile walk through the forest on the Makah Native American reservation towards Shi Shi Beach. Once you reach Shi Shi, you’ll follow a steep staircase as you descend the headland down to the sandy beach.
Follow the sandy crescent of Shi Shi beach southward towards the eye-catching sprinkling of sharp islands and rock formations off the beach’s southern tip. This formation is Point of Arches, a geological wonder that is almost twice as old at the mountains that make up Olympic National Park’s interior.
Look for a campsite in the treeline on your left, and pick out your base for the evening. There are two small streams along Shi Shi beach for your water supply. Remember to either filter or boil water here as chemical treatments may be ineffective against cryptosporidium.
Day 2: Shi Shi Beach To Seafield Creek (Alternate: Cape Alava)
Hiking Distance: ~2.5 to 3.0 Miles
Elevation Change: Steep Headlands +/- 100 feet
Don’t let the low mileage fool you. This potion of the hike is full of tidal crossings and steep headlands. Check your tidal chart, and set out from Shi Shi beach when the tide is ebbing – this will maximize your available hiking time. You don’t want to be scrambling across mussel encrusted boulders as the tide is coming in!
You’ll start on the beach just south of Point of Arches, but will soon be using the established ropes to haul yourself up and over headlands that cannot be passed any other way. Be sure to consult the National Park webpage for specific information on these headlands and a picture of the trail markers that indicate where the headland trails begin.
While you’re up on the headlands, take in the sweeping views you’ll have of the beaches below you and keep an eye open for sea otters frolicking in the waves.
Day 3: Seafield Creek To Ozette Trailhead Via Sand Point
Hiking Distance: ~9 miles
Elevation Change: Minimal
Follow the beautiful sandy beach south from Seafield Creek. You’ll pass the site of an ancient Makah village at Cape Alava – although there is little to see today – and past the bustling campsite located nearby. There is a trail here at Cape Alava that can take you straight to the Ozette trailhead and cut out a little extra mileage, but you’ll miss the petroglyphs!
That’s right; there are petroglyphs – left by Native Americans who used to live along this shoreline. You’ll find these petroglyphs at the southern base of an optional headland trail at the area known as Wedding Rocks. Consult the ranger when you pick up your camping permit for exact directions.
Sand Point is a little south of Wedding Rocks. Look for a trail on your left when you reach this point, and take it to reach the Ozette trailhead.
If staging cars is not an option, you can complete a day hike to Cape Alava or Sandpoint before returning to Seafield creek for a second night (your third night of the trip). Then return to Shi Shi beach the next day. The North Coast Route can also be hiked in the opposite direction, starting at the Ozette trailhead and heading north towards Shi Shi Beach.
Our recommended itinerary begins at the Shi Shi Trailhead located just outside of Neah Bay. This trailhead is very near the most northwestern point in the United States and is a significant drive from the main cities of Seattle and Olympia. I recommend starting in Port Angeles to cut out some driving time on your first day. The Olympic Wilderness Information Center, where you’ll pick up your permit, is also located in Port Angeles.
The other entry or exit point to this hike is the Ozette Trailhead.
Permits & Fees
This backpacking trip requires an Olympic National Park backpacking permit. If you are parking at the Shi Shi Trailhead area, you will need a Makah Recreation Permit. If you are parking at the Ozette Trailhead, you will need a National Park Pass.
All campsites on this backpacking trip can be reserved ahead of time. The campsites nearest to the trailheads can be very busy during the summer months, and some campsites on this trip are very small, so we recommend reserving ahead of time. You will pick up your permit from the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center.
The first part of this hike towards Shi Shi is on Makah land, and you will need to pick up a recreation pass as you drive through Neah Bay. Take note, parking at the Shi Shi trailhead is limited to day-hikers only. You will pass several private parking lots on the road to the trailhead offering overnight parking for a fee.
National Park Pass
Parking at the Ozette Trailhead requires a National Park pass valid for the whole duration of your hike. You can purchase a pass when you pick up your permit at the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center.
When to Hike
This area of the park typically sees minimal snow but can be very cold and wet during the winter months. The best time to complete this hike is May through October. Remember, the weather on this section of the coast can be very unpredictable, and morning mists and drizzles are commonplace.
Be sure to consult the park ranger about tides when you pick up your backpacking pass. You can only cross several sections of this hike at mid or low tide, and the park ranger will provide with you a tide chart to plan your hiking schedule.
Hike The North Coast with a Guide
Guided North Coast trips are available and are a stress-free, exciting way to explore Olympic National Park. Let us handle permits, gear, transportation, meals, and provide a professional guide so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure. Read more.
3. Enchanted Valley
This Olympic National Park trip certainly lives up to its name and is nothing less than enchanting. Enjoy hiking through the scenic Quinalt Rain Forest – the same temperate rainforest ecosystem as the Hoh – before emerging in the awe-inspiring enchanted valley.
Dozens of small waterfalls dot the valley walls as they plunge towards the Quinalt River, on whose shores you will camp. A nearly century-old chalet also adds it’s indomitable quality to the area, making it a magical experience.
Day 1: Graves Creek Trailhead to O’Neil Creek
Hiking Distance: ~6.7 Miles
Elevation Change: 600 Feet – Plenty of up-and-down hills
After a prolonged up-hill trudge from the trailhead, you’ll coast down the other side of the hill towards Pony Bridge. Cross to the opposite side, and don’t forget to admire the dazzlingly blue Quinalt River below. You’ll continue following the river for the rest of the day as you hike through fantastic old-growth forest with plenty of opportunities for animal sightings.
Your campsite at O’Neil Creek is right on the shores of the river, and you can take a dip if you brave the cold. Follow the campsite trail straight to the back and discover a majestic moss-covered bigleaf maple dominating the entire area. The tent-site directly beneath this tree is my favorite, and the tree can be your umbrella during any evening drizzles.
Day 2: O’Neil Creek To Enchanted Valley
Hiking Distance: 6.5 Miles
Elevation Change: 700 Feet
Continue to make your way through the Quinalt Rainforest. Black bears, elk, and coyotes are frequent visitors to this area and keep an eye open for them. However, the main event comes after you cross a narrow bridge back over the Quinalt River and emerge in Enchanted Valley itself.
The steep walls of the valley rise almost vertically for hundreds of feet. Snowfields lost in the clouds above spawn dozens of creeks that come cascading back down the sides of the valley for a truly enchanting aura. An old chalet – built in 1931 – still stands today on the edge of the campground, further adding to this area’s charm and beauty.
Day 3: Enchanted Valley To Graves Creek Trailhead (Alternate: O’Neil Creek)
Hiking Distance: 6.5 miles
Elevation Change: 700 Feet
After watching the sunrise illuminate the morning mist dancing over the walls of Enchanted Valley, pack up your gear and head back into the forest. Your hike today is a mirror image of the day before as you head back towards O’Neil Creek.
If you’re feeling strong and energetic, you can hike the whole distance back to the trailhead today. This hike is on the same trail you took in towards Enchanted Valley, and you’re merely retracing your steps. However, 13 miles in one day means you’ll have to push, and not dilly-dally, as you pass back through the rainforest.
Day 4: O’Neil Creek To Graves Creek Trailhead
Hiking Distance: 6.7 miles
Elevation Change: 600 Feet
Make an early start, and you’ll be back to your vehicle before noon today. Depending on the season, you may pass a horde of thimbleberries beginning about half a mile before Pony Bridge.
This Olympic National Park hike begins at the Graves Creek Trailhead, only 2.5 hours from Olympia, WA.
Permits & Fees
The Enchanted Valley Hike requires both a backpacking permit and a national park pass.
Reservations are not accepted for any campsites along the Enchanted Valley hike. This means that backpacking permits are issued on a first-come-first-served basis only. All the more reason to roll out of bed at a reasonable hour on that first day. You’ll pick up your permit at the Quinalt Wilderness Information Center, which is on your way to the trailhead.
National Park Fee
Don’t forget that you’ll need to pay a fee to park your car at the trailhead. This fee can be paid at the same time as your camping permit at the Quinalt Wilderness Information Center.
When to Hike
The cascading falls that make Enchanted Valley so enchanting flow from spring to mid-summer. The best time for this adventure is, therefore, May to late July. It is still an enjoyable hike August and Septemeber, but don’t assume all the waterfalls will be present
Hike Enchanted Valley with a Guide
Guided Enchanted Valley trips are available and are a stress-free, exciting way to explore Olympic National Park. Let us handle permits, gear, transportation, meals, and provide a professional guide so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure. Read more.
Please don’t forget always to have a good map of your backpacking area. The National Park Wilderness Trip Planner Map will help you prep your itinerary, but you should have a hardcopy for the trail.
Pack smart! Consult our post on packing for a hiking trip to make sure you have all the essentials. If you join us for a guided adventure in Olympic National Park, be sure to review our recommended clothing and gear list for Washington State.
Lastly, always appreciate that you’re hiking into the animal’s territory. Practice proper bear safety and review our tips to hiking in bear country. Check with park rangers before starting your hike to stay up to date on bear activity and camping regulations.
There you go hiking friends! You now have all the information you need to plan an epic backpacking trip to Olympic National Park. Find the adventure that’s right for you, get your gear together, and we’ll see you on the trail.
As the world’s premier hiking and trekking company, Wildland believes in connecting people to fantastic environments in amazing ways. Olympic National Park offers an array of incredible hiking and trekking experiences. Wildland Trekking offers several backpacking adventures to different destinations within Olympic. We also have an array of day hikes and inn-based tours available to suit any traveling style or preference.