Hiking Olympic National Park
by Erik Molvar (Falcon Guides)
© 2015 Erik Molvar/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
Everything you've heard about the High Divide Loop is true. Rainforests with massive trees. Foot log crossed rivers. Two miles of spectacular ridgewalking. Alpine meadows, alpine lakes, flowers, views of Mt. Olympus. You won’t pass any glaciers or hot springs on this trail, but it has just about everything else .
Most everyone does this trail counter clockwise, but we did it from the other direction. That way you get to spend your first night at Sol Duc Park! All the campsites at Sol Duc Park are very nice, well kept and as a bonus, you can be lulled to sleep by the nearby stream. If you go in the summer, expect snow to still be on the ground up on the ridge. Deep snow last winter caused me to bring an ice axe and I had to use it on and off once on the ridge. Keep in mind this was during the last week of July 2012! Another nice place to camp is Silver Snag, which is a series of flat, nicely groomed campsites that melt out mid summer. It’s about halfway from Heart lake to the Lunch Lake cutoff right on the top of High DIvide itself. Great views there out your tent door of Mt. Olympus. We spent two nights, but three or four nights would allow you to make a side trips down into the Seven Lakes Basin and up the Cat Creek Primitive Trail and camp there.
Tips. Go very late in summer to avoid frozen lakes and snow in the Basin, the whole ice axe thing and snow obscuring the high trail. It’s not difficult to keep to this trail with patchy snow, so don't let that stop you. Be prepared to use an ice axe though. Know the weather. If it gets foggy. You will need good route finding skills. Don't miss the short side trip to the top of Bogachial Peak. Technical? It's a 5-min walk up a manicured path to a nearly 360 degree view. Don’t rush this loop. This is about as good as it gets. Leave no trace.
We did the High Divide loop as a day hike on a clear day in the second week of September 2007, leaving from the Sol Duc resort first thing after breakfast. None of us was particularly in great shape but we didn't really suffer much. Or maybe it was the spectacular views from the High Divide that made us ignore the sore feet. Even with an early start we found we had to hurry at the end of the hike. We spent too much time taking in the gorgeous, breathtaking scenery around every corner and watching the black bears feasting on the abundant blue berries. We ended up walking the last couple miles in the dark with flashlights (it gets dark fast when you're under the canopy of this pristine ancient forest). This was one of my lifetime most scenic trails!
Great trail with lots of variation. Quite rigorous though. Starts out in pretty forest but then rises to high alpine scenery. We did the loop counter-clockwise and camped at Clear Lake (in the seven lakes basin past Lunch Lake). This was a great spot since it is the only campsite at this lake, but the view is somewhat less spectacular than the more crowded Lunch Lake or Round Lake. Also, it is further away and lower than the loop on top of the divide, so it makes for a 3 mile, 1600 foot elevation change round trip detour from the loop. There looks to be another great campsite above Heart Lake as well. The second day we saw a black bear and a bear cub (didn't see the mother) as well as mountain goats, ptarmigan, and deer. Never saw marmots even though the guide mentions them. Our second night was at Lower Bridge Creek. This was a pleasant but not spectacular site. Most sites do have bear wires for hanging bear bags but you need your own rope for some of them. The ranger station also loans out bear-proof canisters. Other great sites look to be in the beautiful forest along the Sol Duc (Sole Duck) River. A particularly good one seemed to be the one near Rocky Creek.
WONDERFUL TRAIL!! I went counter-clockwise, starting from the trailhead at the Sol Duc hotsprings. The hike to Deer Lake was a little lacking in views, and it's mostly switchbacks up large rocks, but Deer Lake had nice (if not well marked) campsites, and the climb only took about 2.5 to 3 hours (with heavy packs). Next day I did the high divide to Heart Lake. Beautiful hike! uphill, but not too rugged. Spectacular views with wildflowers, deer, and boulder fields! The peak of high divide sets you up for increadable views of Mt Olympus (in clear weather), so give yourselves an extra hour to gawk. Not much water on this trail, so fill up when you can. Heart Lake had wonderful campsites, very separate and private, and blueberries were in season, making for a tasty snack! Third day I descended to the sol duc river. Nice steady downhill into an old growth rainforest-like area. I'd do this hike again in a second! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!! Some difficult switchbacks and climbing involved, so beginners need to allow for more time.
Excellent hike! Strongly recommend. See permit requirement at bottom. Definitely lots of traffic on this trail, but I understand why. Beautiful and convenient loop trail. Passed a variety of hikers (day hikers/trail runners doing the 17.6 mile loop in one day, backpackers enjoying area for 2-4 days. 3 days seemed to be the norm). Headed clock-wise but not matter. Easy walk/hike along Sol Duc River past famous/touristy falls area. Old cabin nearby. Gradual ascent to Seven-Mile campground. Camp near rushing river. Nice spot since no rivers after this spot. Ascended next day through Sol Duc Park towards Heart Lake, views opened some as headed out of forest. The High Divide is where it''s at. Amazing views south toward Mt. Olympus and the Hoh Glacier. Lots of peaceful wildlife about: brown bears (heard nearby), bald eagles, marmots, deer. Stay along the divide if you can - worth the views! We found small campsite before cutoff down to Seven Lakes Basin. Views into Basin were cool too. Totally different. Lots of lakes to explore view foot. Warning: Misquitos and flies love hikers here. Rain/clouds set in so we didn''t camp at Lunch Lake, but we could tell it was magical. Steep descent down to basin via Bogachiel Peak. Clouds kicked in so new view from Peak (bummer, heard it was awesome). But, we savored the sunset views and cool evening temps as we walked down toward Deer Lake (nice relaxing spot, couple campsites) and back to the hoards of SUV tourists at Sol Duc Falls. Again, great hike. GO! If you can stay 2-3 nights you''ll really appreciate the views and peacefulness. REQUIRED: Backcountry permit (available at Wilderness Info Center, behind main Visitor Center, Port Angeles 360-452-4501). Also need Olympic National Park pass for parking.
This eTrail was excellent, by the way. No need to buy the book!
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