RootsRated, Outdoor Research, and ExoticHikes.com have teamed up to bring you the insider’s guide to Olympic National Park. This content is written by Exotic Hikes.
Olympic National Park is the location of hundreds of divine destinations, each of which awaiting hikers who are willing to go through a bit of hell to reach heavenly locations. As most locals know, the best trails in the Olympics head up. Rising from towering treed forests, trails in the Olympics come with serious elevation gain. But the reward of hidden lakes and panoramic views more than makes up for the physical exertion.
The hike to Lake of the Angels is no exception to this rule.
Nearly 5,000 feet above the Hamma Hamma River, Lake of the Angels 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 populations, this destination is one of the best kept secrets in the park. And at just 8 miles round trip and nearly 3500 feet of elevation gain, hikers will have to earn the majestic views that await them at the top.
Situated beneath the gorgeous Mount Skokomish, Lake of the Angels, is a crystal clear lake fed by melting snow. Called “The Valley of Heaven,” the area around Lake of the Angels really does feel like a hiker’s final destination. Sitting on a large rock, or camping at the base of a snow and scree field, it doesn’t get much better than spending time at this lake. Sure, the trail up here is not for everyone; but for those advanced hikers needing a fantastic view or moderate hikers up for a challenge, this is the trail you have been craving.
Beginning from the parking lot, the trail climbs about 900 feet, making this the easiest section of the hike. Starting out mostly flat, the trail passes the site where Carl Putvin, a 21 year old trapper, died in 1913 while getting food for his family during a snowstorm. The trailhead to Lake of the Angels is duly called the Carl Putvin Trail. Make sure before you head up the trail to stop and pay your respects, as not doing so can invoke a curse. After the grave markers, the trail meanders through forests with huge moss-covered boulders and across a few impressive ravines, which offer your first glimpses of the Hamma Hamma River Valley below. After a few more minutes of walking, the trail meets an old logging road, before climbing once again.
The next bit is where the trail really starts to climb, gaining a grueling 1,100 feet in one mile. The steep trail quickly leaves Olympic National Forest and enters the Mount Skokomish Wilderness, one of six gorgeous wilderness areas on the Olympic Peninsula. As the trail continues to climb, views of the Hood Canal and Cascade mountain range start to appear to the east, giving an excuse to take in the views while catching your breath and resting your legs. From here, the trail somehow gets even more steep, leading to the infamous headwall that must be scaled.
After the trail crosses into the wilderness boundary, it becomes more of a climber’s route instead of a trail, quickly ascending steep, loose terrain before leading to a section where you have to scramble up roots and rocks. Some consider the “Headwall” dangerous, but if you take breaks between each section, it can be done much easier than it appears. There are two pretty awkward scrambles though after an incredibly steep dirt path. The first part of the “Headwall” is pretty easy for most, climbing up the root in the trail. The second part can be dicey for those with vertigo. There is a drop off of a few hundred feet, but the rock does slant toward the hillside instead of the waiting emptiness. The climb isn’t technical at all, but you do need to be able to use your arms to pull yourself up in a few spots. Generally, the “Headwall” is manageable and almost easy, if done smart and slowly.
Once past the craziness of the “Headwall,” the trail becomes mostly flat, offering fantastic views of the Hamma Hamma River Valley and the nearby peaks in all directions, including Mount Rainier far off to the southeast. Strolling through this section, the views become outstanding whether they are draped in wildflowers, covered in snow or brightly lit up from the fall colors.
This is where the trail becomes downright gorgeous. Weaving through a magical meadow, the often hard to locate trail passes next to the Pond of the False Prophet. The Pond, named because many in search of the Lake of Angels think that this is their destination, is full of frogs and offers a fantastic place to take pictures of the mountains reflecting off the shallow, calm waters. But this isn’t your final destination. From the pond, the path follows a small stream cut into the lush green landscape, leading to the entrance sign of Olympic National Park. One more hill awaits you and then your heavenly view.
As you climb the last hill and walk the last few hundred feet along Whitehorse Creek, you’re struck with the feeling that something truly incredible awaits. Your weary legs take the final few steps, you raise your head and expanding before you, in all its glory, is the Lake of the Angels.
About the size of a football field, this gorgeous high-alpine lake, flanked by waterfalls, giant boulders and the rugged Mount Skokomish, is everything a divine destination should be. Roaming around the rocky valley, mountain goats and marmots are common sights, so be prepared to get overwhelmed by the best of nature.
Lake of the Angels sits in the Valley of Heaven, perfectly encapsulating the beauty and majesty of the Olympic Mountains. From here, you can climb Mount Skokomish, camp alongside the lake, and fall more in love with the intoxicating beauty of Olympic National Park. The path to get here may be hellish for many, but the rewards are worth the sore legs, sweaty back and tired lungs.
Lake of the Angels needs to be hiked, as it represents not only one of the best hidden trails in Olympic National Park, but also offers a soul soothing, spiritually rewarding experience.