Backpacking to Royal Lake and Basin in Olympic National Park
16 miles roundtrip, 2650′ elevation gain
June 20-21, 2015
This hike has been on our to-do list for a while now, so we picked a weekend a few months ago and sent in for an overnight permit (required for camping here). Olympic National Park makes it fairly easy to get a permit as you can show up at the ranger station and see what is available or plan ahead. We like going with the latter and the two times we have sent in for a permit, we got exactly what we wanted! We invited our friends Katelin and David along and it was a blast catching up with them and getting to know them better.
In usual Olympics backpacking style, we took an early ferry to beat the crowds at about 7 am. There is something about taking a boat to go backpacking that always feels special. The drive to the trailhead was fairly easy to follow with the directions we got from the WTA website. There were some pretty roads once we got off highway 101, and the forest roads were in good shape.
We hit the trail around 9:45 am and time flew by as we had beautiful old-growth Olympic scenery and great company! Much of the hike is in a seemingly magical area with light green moss covering every surface. It wasn’t long before the trail started opening up into beautiful views. It was amazing to see the lack of snow in the mountains – normally this time of year the tops would all still be coated in white! The weather was perfect with highs around 60 degrees and a nice cool breeze to keep us from getting too hot. We are definitely going to be missing this the next couple of weekends with highs forecast in the 90’s.
The best part of the hike before we reached Royal Lake was a beautiful meadow nestled in the valley. You can camp here and it would be beautiful, but we were still happy we had a permit to camp at the lake. Once we reached the lake (around 1 pm), we passed up the first campsite we saw because it was too small for two tents, but we dropped our packs at the second one. We explored the other sites, but settled on the one with our packs since all of the other areas were overrun with boy scouts. It was a beautiful site overlooking the lake with the peaks behind Royal Basin in the background. We set up camp and all settled in for a nap.
Around 3:30 we rallied to make the final push up to the basin. We climbed up a little into an absolutely stunning grassy field and I couldn’t help but notice the perfect ski hill staring us in the face. Other highlights of this area were a waterfall flowing from the upper basin and, as we would later discover, an entire marmot colony! Speaking of Marmots, on the way up we saw a couple of the little guys lounging out on some rocks. Once they saw us, they scurried away to hide.
We made it up to the upper basin soon after and were impressed by the size of it. It reminded us a lot of Gothic Basin in the Cascades with a little less color. There were only a couple other groups in the entire basin and we explored around the shores of the small tarns. It looked like some of the tarns were already dried up from the lack of snow this winter, but it was spectacular nonetheless. After relaxing on some rocks and having good conversations for while, we headed out when it started to cool off.
On the way out, we saw a total of four marmots – two adults and two little ones. We talked about bringing one home as a pet, but decided that he would be happier with his family in the mountains. After getting back to camp, we enjoyed some chicken and stuffing with wine and chocolate before settling in for the nights. We heard wildlife coming through camp at night – probably some deer and maybe some smaller critters.
After a great night of sleep we got up and made some breakfast and coffee while letting the insides of our tent flies dry out (from condensation). We hit the trail around 9:30 am and were quickly greeted by a buck just starting to grow his antlers. The hike was equally as beautiful on the way out as on the way in and we made it back to the car just after noon. This was a spectacular hike and we highly recommend it. Although it was long, it was not hard and would be doable as a day hike. If you decide to do it as an overnight trip, don’t forget to get a permit and bring your bear box (both required).