Hoh River Trail

Backpacking the Hoh River Trail was my first real backpacking trip and I absolutely loved it! Hoh River Trail is located in Washington’s Olympic National Park and can be easily accessed via the 101. A permit is required if you want to camp overnight on this trail – they are easily obtainable at the ranger’s station the day of your trek. My husband and I hiked the trail the first week of July and the weather was perfect! We couldn’t of asked for better conditions. Our goal for the trip was to make it all the way to Glacier Moraine, which is 18.1 miles from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (our starting point).

Here is a list of the campgrounds in relation to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center

  • Tom Creek Campground 2.9 miles
  • Five Mile Island Campground 5 miles
  • Happy Four Campground 5.7 miles
  • Olympus Ranger Station 9.1 miles
    • Up until this point, the trail is very easy to hike and is relatively flat the entire way.
  • Lewis Meadows Campground
  • Elk Lake Campground 15.1 miles
  • Glacier Meadows Campground 17.3 miles
  • Glacier Moraine 18.1 miles [no camping here]

We got a late start to our first day because I got caught up snapping shots of Washington’s beautiful coastline – typical. So we didn’t have much time to cover a lot of ground before nightfall and we ended up camping at Happy Four Campground. This campground is rightfully named because it only has 4 campsites available. It was a very relaxing, intimate spot along the river. It is great for those who want to distance themselves from the crowds, because most people we saw stayed at 5 Mile Island Campground. It was only us and one other family at Happy Four and I think we kind of crashed their party because they didn’t seem too pleased to have us around. I think they were enjoying having the campground all to themselves! Lucky for them, we headed out bright and early the next morning to continue our trek.

I stopped to take a shot of a camper's tent at Five Mile Island - gorgeous camp spot!
I stopped to take a shot of a camper’s tent at Five Mile Island – gorgeous camp spot!
Beauty around every corner
Beauty around every corner

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My favorite way to view animals? In their natural habitat! It is a much more rare experience, but that is what makes it so special.

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A herd of elk passing through

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We couldn’t get enough of the lush rainforest! Moss and ferns everywhere! It was like stepping into a fairytale.

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Waterfall spotting

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Explore more
Explore more
We stopped for lunch by the river to soak our tired feet and refuel
We stopped for lunch by the river to soak our tired feet and refuel

The second day of our trek was pretty brutal. I was still getting used to carrying a heavy pack and had to make adjustments to my pack as I went. Despite the struggles, we managed to hike 9.4 miles and made it to Elk Lake! It wasn’t the mileage that was hard, it was the sudden incline that really got me. I have always thought that trekking poles were only for the weak, but man were they a life saver on my knees! They really helped me support my pack’s weight and relieve my joints a bit. I will definitely be packing them for my trek in Torres del Paine. Somewhere around the 11 mile mark, the elevation starts to increase severely and we climbed 2500 feet by the time we reached Elk Lake. Right when we got to camp, we pitched our tent and then headed down to the lake. We had the lake all to ourselves, so we stripped down and jumped in! It felt amazing to cool off after a long day.

Our campsite at Elk Lake - loved this site.
Our campsite at Elk Lake – loved this spot
Elk Lake
Elk Lake

After a good night’s rest, I decided to make the last stretch of our hike solo. William stayed back at camp while I set out for Glacier Moraine. The majority of the trek was at an incline so you get a good workout. Some parts of the trail are pretty narrow and a little bit scary if you are afraid of heights – which I am!

Narrow path right before the ladder
Narrow path right before the ladder
One false step and down the mountain you go
One false step and down the mountain you go

A little shook up from the narrow pathway, I ran into my next big obstacle, the ladder. Some hikers said it wasn’t too bad, while others strongly cautioned me against it. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well I got there and I’m not going to lie, I considered turning around. But I didn’t! I had to leave my water bottle behind so that I had both hands free to climb and it was a pain to have my big camera swinging around my neck. I can’t imagine having my pack with me while climbing the ladder! The ladder swings a good bit while climbing it, but it is doable. Even with my fear of heights, I really didn’t have much trouble getting down. It looks more intimidating than it really is!

That moment I debated turning around..
That moment I debated turning around..

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View of the ladder from the other side of the trail [after going down it]
View of the ladder from the other side of the trail [after going down it]
Once you go down the ladder, you actually climb back up a hill to reach the other side of the trail. It’s a super strange path and luckily I saw some other hikers coming from that direction, because it isn’t obvious where the trail picks up again. I finally reach Glacier Meadows and realized that the glacier wasn’t actually there. It was an additional 0.8 miles from the campground, but I’m pretty sure it was farther than that! I hadn’t planned for the hike to be so long, but I couldn’t turn around after coming so far. So I continued on! There were two ways to go to the glacier, depending on which view you wanted. I can’t remember the view name, but I remember I took the path that branched left because everyone told me that it was way better than the other view. The trail brings you through a beautiful open meadow and then up a huge mountain of loose rock. Between the meadow and the rock hill, there is a tiny clear pond with some cold water where I took a break to soak my feet. The entire way you are going up a hill. Up, up, and up until finally you reach the glacier!

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The rocky hill is a straight climb to the glacier
The rocky hill is a straight climb to the glacier
Almost there!
Almost there!
Glacier Moraine
Glacier Moraine

The hike back down was a breeze and the entire trek was filled with so many beautiful views!

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Roundtrip, it took me 3 hours to hike from Elk Lake to Glacier Moraine and back. William and I packed up our camp and set off down the mountain. This is where our trekking poles became especially useful! Going down steep hills can be brutal on your joints, but trekking poles really help to relieve that pack weight. They also help keep your body centered and balanced, reducing the risk of rolling an ankle. We made it all the way back to Five Mile Island – 10.1 miles from Elk Lake! We set up camp, took a refreshing dip in the river, made dinner, and passed out! By the next day [our fourth day], I was ready to get back on the road. I practically ran the last five miles to our car! It was an incredible hike with very rewarding views. Whether you go all the way to Glacier Moraine or only hike part of the trail, Hoh River Trail will put you in awe with its beauty!

Jurrasic World
Jurrasic World

The Nitty Gritty: Trip recap – 36.2 miles in 4 days / 3 nights. A permit was required and easily obtainable at any of the ranger stations in Olympic National Park – $5/per person/per night – and you attach the permit onto your pack during the duration of your trek. Another thing to note is that the park requires you to hang all of your food on bear wires or keep food in bear canisters. The bear wires were very convenient and easy to use if you wanted to just throw your food all in one bag and string it up on the wire. We also paid for a “1 Week” visitor parking pass so that we could leave our car at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. The visitor center was closed at the time of our arrival, so we were unsure if we needed to buy a parking pass, but we did just to be on the safe side. Now some of you might be wondering about showers and bathrooms. That is probably my biggest struggle when camping – the need for a daily shower. There were no showers on this entire trail and the pit toilets were so gross, I opted to do my business elsewhere. My daily “shower” was at any water source I could safely get into. The first night, it was in the freezing cold river that we camped along. The second night, we were lucky enough to have access to Elk Lake – but be aware of the abundance of lily pads and dragon flies that will be accompanying your swim! And the third night, it was back into the freezing cold river. When leaving the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, there is a little convenience shop on your right just a few miles down the road. There, you will find a really nice, hot, unlimited shower for $5. You just ask for a shower in the little shop and they will give you a code for their showers out back.


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