In the battle of the Olympics versus the Cascades, “most notorious hike” comes down to Mount Si against Mount Ellinor. Both are strenuous day trips with grueling elevation gains, made worth it by their panoramic views. While Si may have Ellinor beat in terms of distance from the city, Ellinor has many qualities to make the longer drive worth it: better wildlife, better views, and fewer crowds among them.
What Makes It Great
There are two routes to Mount Ellinor’s summit, via the lower or upper trailheads. Starting from the lower trailhead makes it a 6.2-mile round-trip trek with 3,300 feet of elevation gain. The trail warms you up by beginning on an old-growth forested trail that works up a gentle grade for the first mile. It then gets steeper as it begins to skirt along the edge of a ridge, opening up to several fantastic viewpoints along the way. Use them as an opportunity to catch your breath, taking in the sights of Lake Cushman, the Hood Canal, and the Cascades.
Soon after, you’ll see a well-signed junction with the winter route. Please keep to the summer trail when there is no or little snow on the ground in order to protect fragile vegetation (more on the winter route below).
After coming above the tree line, at about 4,500 feet, the trail opens up to wildflower meadows, and then veers to the left of a steep avalanche chute. This takes you all the way to the 5,944-foot summit.
Starting from the upper trailhead shaves off 1.8 miles each way and 1,300 feet of elevation gain. But don’t be fooled. While this route may be shorter, it hits the ground running, ascending steep switchbacks for the first 0.3 miles until it meets up with the lower trail at an elevation of 3,900 feet – continuing up and up the rest of the way.
For the more adventurous, a winter ascent will add some excitement to the journey. The winter route goes straight up the steep chute that fills with snow. Check avalanche conditions here before you go, and bring your ice axe and crampons. The best part of going in winter? Glissading back down the gully.
Humans aren’t the only ones who like to hang out on Ellinor; expect to share the summit with mountain goats, too. Take care that they can get a little feisty, especially if they think you’re a good source of salt (seriously). In fact, the trail was closed in the summer of 2012 due to aggressive goat behavior. They are fun to see, but best way to watch them is from a distance.
Who is Going to Love It
Steep may it be, Mount Ellinor is the most accessible summit in the Olympics. And on a clear day the views are unbeatable: 360 degree in-your-face sights of neighboring Mount Washington, Stone, Pershing, Olympus, and the Cascades across the way.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Highway 101, take State Route 119 for 9.3 miles to its end, then turn right on Forest Road 24. Follow it for 1.6 miles and then turn left on Forest Road 2419. The lower trailhead and a small parking lot is 6.2 miles down this road. For the upper trailhead, continue another 1.7 miles and turn left on Forest Road 2419-014, taking it to its end.
A recreation pass is required for the upper trailhead, but not the lower one.