Olympic National Park is full of trails. Remote paths weaving through valleys of giants towering over the rainforest floor. Running next to cascading streams, and home to tens of thousands of years of salmon, the beaten and not-so beaten dirt tracks in Olympic lead to some of the most majestic destinations in the world. Some travel along beaches, lined with giant sea-stacks and redwood-sized driftwood. Other trails travel along high windswept ridges, or next to pristine high alpine lakes.
Olympic is a different type of park, consisting of 95% wilderness and more than ample opportunity to find yourself on a trail completely alone, aside from the elk, goats, bear and goblins roaming the region. Hiking nearly anywhere in Olympic will provide you with solitude and unmatched beauty. But these 3 somewhat isolated trails stand out as must-experience destinations for partaking in the majesty of Olympic National Park.
1. Upper Royal Basin
The northeast corner of Olympic National Park is remote, typically hiked and explored by locals and those lucky enough to be told of the greatness that hides in its river valleys. The region, receiving far less rain than anywhere else on the normally rain-soaked Olympic Peninsula, is home to plane crashes, old mines, epic panoramas, and one particular hike that embodies the full spirit of the Olympic Mountains….
In eight miles each way, the Royal Basin trail takes adventurers through moss-filled forests, next to cascading creeks, up to an alpine lake, and across a crevasse-filled glacier to the base of the second tallest peak in the Olympic Mountain Range. Throw in one of the most remote and beautiful waterfalls in the park, and the Royal Basin hike is not just one of the best day hikes in Olympic, but maybe one of the best in the country.
Climbing 3,000 feet in around eight miles, the trail to Upper Royal basin consists of three main areas. The first, lasting about three miles, slips through mossy forests with towering trees along the Dungeness River and Royal Creek. Climbing above the Royal Creek Valley, skirting avalanche chutes and seasonal waterfalls, the trail soon deposits you into the first of four majestic valleys.
The first valley is nice, giving glimpses at some of the more remote mountains in the region. As you pass a backcountry campsite and cross over numerous log bridges and travel along picturesque little creeks, the realization that this is just one small valley out of thousands in the park hits home. As the trail leads uphill, it soon takes hikers next to Royal Lake, a small, fish-filled lake next to giant boulders and only a short trek from amazing waterfalls and glacier-flanked mountains.
From the lake, the trail splits, with one section leading toward a multi-tiered waterfall that falls 60 feet. The falls, called Royal Falls, is one of the most gorgeous backcountry waterfalls in the region, and well worth the trip off the main trail. Spreading out nearly as wide as it is tall, Royal Falls sits at the base of Mount Clark, interrupting the near silence that exists in the rest of the valley, as it showers down.
The other trail from Royal Lake leads to the Upper Royal Basin, home to an out-of-this-world rocky pocket at the base of Mount Deception, the second tallest peak in the Olympic Mountain Range. With glaciers, crevasses, deep blue glacial tarns and a handful of rugged and rocky mountains to climb, the views and experiences in this area are fantastic. With otherworldly views, exploring Upper Royal basin caps off the multi-terrain trail of Royal Basin. As you stand over an ancient glacier at the foot of Mount Deception, recall the journey that led you here, and bask in the solitude.
2. Gladys Divide
In the forgotten southeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, there is a hike leading from the only ranger station along the Hood Canal region of Olympic National Park rises above the powerful and beautiful North Fork of the Skokomish River. At 20 miles round trip, with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the path leading to Gladys Divide counterintuitively gets less tiring with every additional mile, as the terrain opens up, exposing fantastic views of the entire Olympic interior, making you forget about your pumping heart and heaving lungs. While long and difficult, the experiences one has while hiking to Gladys Divide give a better insight into just what the human body is capable of accomplishing.
Starting along the Skokomish River and ending near the start of the Hamma Hamma River, this trail gives you forests, waterfalls, lakes, valleys, snowcapped, rugged mountains and panoramic views that will make you drool. Except for August and September, Gladys Divide is rarely hiked, making this trail one of the best hikes in the Staircase Region of Olympic National Park. The first seven miles of the trail follows the Flapjack Lakes Trail, wandering past Donahue Creek Falls and next to the gorgeous twin lakes of Flapjack lakes. While awesome, blow past the lakes and keeping heading up toward Gladys Divide.
The trail to Gladys Divide is three miles long, but feels much shorter, thanks to impressive views of the ridiculously craggy Olympic Mountains. Passing near the Olympic’s Sawtooth Mountains, the trail gains elevation, skirting a ridge, eventually capping off at the divide, overlooking the start of the Hamma Hamma River. Take in this view before exploring a small path to your right, which gets you to the top of Mount Gladys and world class views of the entire Olympic Peninsula.
3. Lake of the Angels
Lake of the Angels is a tough 8 mile roundtrip hike. Tucked in the remote hills of the Olympic Mountains, in the shadow of Mount Skokomish, Lake of the Angels is nearly 5,000 feet above the Hamma Hamma River and sits against the prettiest mountain backdrop in the Olympic National Park. With smoothed-out boulders from glacial activity, rugged peaks, beautiful waterfalls, and an abundant mountain goat and marmot population, this destination is the next big thing for hikers in the state of Washington.
Following the Carl Putvin Trail in the Hamma Hamma River Valley, the path to Lake of the Angels quickly follows the contours of numerous small seasonal runoffs, eventually placing you at the base of a root-covered headwall that is easy to climb over. From here, the trail opens up through wildflower-filled basins, eventually leading to a small valley named “The Valley of Heaven.” Passing the majestic views of Mount Skokomish reflecting off of the Lake of the False Prophets, the trail continues, crossing onto the National Park before the last steep section of the hike.
As you climb the final hill, the valley opens up and soon you are within sight of the Lake of the Angels, sitting perfectly below the once glacier-flanked, now rocky-sided, Mount Skokomish. Mountain goats and marmots greet hikers, who can sit on rounded rocks along the lakeshore, taking in the gloriousness of the natural beauty of Olympic National Park.