Day Hiking in Olympic National Park
July 23-26, 2015
My dad came out for a hiking trip from July 23-26. I booked a nice little two-bedroom house in Port Angeles as our home base for the long weekend. I had not been hiking with my dad since 2009 when we did some hiking in Colorado. Knowing that my dad was in pretty good shape from biking, and that he is a tough guy, we came up with some pretty ambitious plans. I picked him up at Seatac on Wednesday afternoon and we drove straight to Port Angeles from there. We had a pretty good dinner and beers at the Next Door Gastropub in downtown Port Angeles before getting some rest for our first day of hiking.
Badger Valley Trail, Grand Lake, Moose Lake, Gladys Lake, and Grand Pass Loop
14 miles roundtrip, 4000′ elevation gain
Thursday, July 23
We left the house in Port Angeles at about 7 am. The destination for today was the Badger Valley/Grand Valley loop. We drove up Hurricane Ridge Road and turned down Obstruction Point Road for a fun drive to the trailhead. This was my first time up Hurricane Ridge in the summer and my first time down Obstruction Point Road ever. We were happy that no other traffic was coming the other way as the road drops off into steep slopes in multiple locations.
The forecast for the weekend, was for cloudy and rainy weather. The forecast looked the best for today, so we picked this loop since it would start and finish at some good views. We were in and out of the fog on the way to the trailhead, and when we reached it all we could see was the cloud that we were in. My dad bikes a lot, but he doesn’t get the chance to hike much living in Indiana. We wanted to see how his hiking legs did before trying something more ambitious. So we started out on our “easy” 9.8 mile loop at 8:30 am in the fog. We decided to hike the loop clockwise as I had read that the down was more gradual via the Badger Valley Trail as opposed to the Grand Pass Trail. This was definitely the case.
We made quick time down the trail into Badger Valley and quickly hiked out of the cloud. The valley was quite peaceful and we only saw a handful of backpackers hiking out from the night. We reached the low point of the trail at 4000′ at 10 am, and began our ascent into Grand Valley. We made it to Grand Lake an hour later and stopped for a quick break. The weather was starting to clear up and temps were a pleasant 60 degrees.
We decided to push on for Moose Lake before our lunch since it was a short 1/2 mile up the trail. We stopped and enjoyed our sandwiches and good conversation at Moose Lake. At this point, the plan called for us to head back up towards the Grand Pass Trail to the car. But we were feeling good and figured we should at least push another mile up to Gladys Lake. The problem was, the views just kept getting better and so did the weather as we made our way up further into Grand Valley. By the time we reached Gladys Lake, we figured why stop now?
We passed a very well-fed Olympic Marmot that was sunning himself on a rock. We had also seen a good number of deer at this point. ONP never seems to disappoint when it comes to wildlife and I was glad that this day was no exception for my Dad’s sake. At this point, we were committed to making it all the way to Grand Pass. Given the pleasant weather and potential for rain and clouds the rest of the trip, we figured we should make the most of the day.
The haul up to the pass was long and a bit rough, but nothing our fresh legs couldn’t take. My dad slowed down a bit as we were going up, but I think he was mainly just dreading the downhill. We made it to the pass just after 1 pm. I was surprised to find a little tarn just below the pass with a few flat tent spots. I’m not sure if camping is allowed here, but it would make for a wonderful alpine campsite in good weather.
Just as we reached the pass and peered into the valley on the other side, the clouds quickly swooped in and interrupted our view. We ate the second half of our sandwiches up here and enjoyed the views towards the trailhead and Hurricane Ridge as the clouds slowly crept into Grand Valley. The way down was a bit tough for my dad’s knees, but we made it back down to the intersection with Badger Valley Trail just after 3 pm. The way up to to the ridge on the Grand Pass Trail was STEEP and we were very thankful we had taken the Badger Valley Trail on the down.
The views from the ridge were gorgeous but still a little cloudy. We got our first glimpse of (what we thought was) Mount Olympus. We later figured out we were actually looking at the glaciers on Mount Carrie. We made it back to the parking lot at 5 pm and were greeted by a deer who was licking all of the cars. We definitely got a good test for our legs over our 14 mile hike, but were still feeling up for our ambitious plans for the next day. We headed down into Port Angeles, cleaned up, and fueled up with some Mexican Food at Puerto de Angeles before hanging our hats for the night.
High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin Loop
19 miles roundtrip, 4000′ elevation gain
Friday, July 24
The High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin Loop was on our radar as the longest hike we wanted to try. Maggie and I did this loop as a 3-day/2-night backpacking trip last summer and it was one of the best trails I have been on in my life. To motivate us further, my Uncle Ron had told my dad it was one of the best hikes he has ever done (and he has done a lot of hiking along with my Cousin Mark). The forecast looked rainy for the remainder of the trip, so we figured we would try our luck and hope for the best. We drove the hour from Port Angeles to the trail head and got an early start at 7:20 am. The trail head was quit at this hour and the only other person starting the hike was a runner.
We cruised through the first ~3-1/2 miles to Deer Lake in about 1:45 passing by the popular tourist destination of Sol Doc Falls on the way. It had started raining by this point and we were donning our rain jackets with sleeves rolled up and shorts as to not overheat. The trail climbs gradually to Deer Lake and starts climbing a little more afterwards. Maggie and I saw two black bears on our trip last year, so we were keeping our eyes peeled. There were also fresh blueberry’s on the side of the trail on the way up to the High Divide which I figured increased our chances of seeing one. See one we did!
Some hikers coming the other way mentioned there was a black bear about 10-15 minutes up the trail. I asked them how far from the trail and their response was very close! About 8 minutes later we rounded a turn and there he was: about 20 feet in front of my dad. He was almost on the trail and he was busy eating berries. We backed away so we were about 40 feet away and made some noise to try to get him to move. He didn’t care that we were there and just looked up a few times. The wind was starting to pick up at this point. After standing around watching the bear for ten minutes, we started to get cold. We figured we either needed to turn around or forge ahead. Given that the bear didn’t seem to mind us, we chose the latter. I had my camera ready to snap a picture as we passed by the bear within arm’s reach, but I chickened out as the bear turned to look at me. I put my head down and kept walking. Apparently my dad got a good look at the bear and gave me a hard time for not snapping the picture. It would have been epic. Either way, we continued down the trail and soon reached the intersection with the turnoff to the Seven Lakes Basin at 11 am.
By this point we were both starting to get cold and wet. It was a bit of a bummer to be on such a beautiful trail and to be stuck in a rain cloud. We hiked fast without too much conversation along the High Divide. We started running into people coming the opposite way on the loop on the section of the trail between Bogachiel Peak and Heart Lake. It was nice to see we weren’t the only foolish ones to do a 19 mile day hike in a rain cloud. We started the downhill towards Heart Lake at 12:30 pm and didn’t stop for a break until we got into the tree cover at Sol Duc Park. We got under some trees and hung our rain gear to dry and chowed down on some food to power us home. My Dad’s knee was starting to feel the miles at this point and it didn’t help that the rest of the hike was downhill.
As we dropped down towards the Sol Duc River, the hike became more pleasant. The tree cover made a huge difference and the final 6 miles along the Sol Duc River were quite enjoyable. There were some enormous trees in that area! We passed a good number of groups coming the opposite way headed out for their weekend backpacking trips. We made it back to the trailhead at 5 pm for a total trail time of just under ten hours: not bad for 19 miles! We figure the rain sped us up and it would have actually taken us longer if there were things to stop and gawk at along the way. At least we saw a bear! I hope that is the closest I ever get to one in the wild 🙂
Once back in town, we picked a great dinner spot at Downrigger’s Waterfront Restaurant in the building right next to the ferry. We both got hard-earned clam chowder and salmon and chips along with some beers. It was a relaxing environment as we got to watch the cruise ships go by and eventually see the ferry arrive from Canada. Despite the rain, it was a good day. We will talk about it for years to come, I’m sure.
Putzing Around Hurricane Ridge
Saturday, July 25
We slept in on Saturday morning and awoke to clear skies in Port Angeles. My dad’s knee was giving him some troubles from the 33 miles and 8000′ of elevation we had done over the last two days. We figured it was a good morning to head up Hurricane Ridge and take advantage of the nice weather while it lasted. Even though we didn’t make it up to the visitor’s center til 9 am, we still beat most of the tourists. We had awesome views of the Carrie Glacier on Mount Carrie and even caught a few glimpses of the glaciers on Olympus. We decided to try a short hike and headed up the Hurricane Ridge to Klahhane Ridge trail. My dad’s knee was not doing well at this point, so we just hiked up to the high point at 5539 and turned around. Once we made it back to the parking lot, the tourists were out in full force, so we figured we would just blend in. We putzed around for a while enjoying the views and pleasant cool weather before heading back down to Port Angeles for lunch. We had lunch at the New Day Eatery in downtown Port Angeles. The sandwhiches were good, but the homemade chips were amazing! We explored the waterfront area of Port Angeles a little then headed out on the Ediz Hook which was quite enjoyable. Once we got home, we cleaned up and my dad took a nap before we picked Maggie up at the bus station! Pizza and beers were for dinner at Barhop Brewing and it was delicious. It was also nice to have Maggie around 🙂
Lake Mills Trail (3 miles roundtrip, minimal elevation change)
Olympic Hot Springs (4.8 miles roundtrip, minimal elevation change)
Sunday, July 26
We decided to head to the Elwha River area on Sunday. Maggie and I have wanted to check out this area since it was reopened last fall after the largest dam removal projects in history were completed! We also didn’t know how much more elevation change my dad’s knee could handle so we figured flat trails were a good idea. The Whiskey Bend Road was closed due to winter storm damage, so we headed to the Glines Canyon Dam overlook first. The former Lake Mills was pretty cool, as it now has huge piles of sediment built-up around the former lake bed with the Elwha River snaking through the middle. It was neat to peer over the edge of the former dam into Glines Canyon. The coolest part of this area is knowing that the natural ecosystem is being restored with salmon and trout migrating up river for the first time in over 100 years! I would highly recommend anyone visiting the Olympics check out this area.
We drove a few hundred feet down from the lookout parking lot to the trailhead for the the West Lake Mills Trail. Rather than starting down that trail to the forest, we went down the new trail that heads into the old lake bed. We also realized we could have just started the hike right at the overlook once we were going on the trail. The trail down into the lake bed was fairly well maintained with just a few parts that might be difficult for a less-able person to hike through. We had the whole lake to ourselves and we hiked until the trail ended about 1-1/2 miles in. It will be cool to hike this same trail years from now when the forest has started growing back to compare it to what it’s like today.
When we got back to the trailhead, my dad’s knee was feeling good. We decided to head over to the Olympic Hot Springs trail since it was nearby. We got started down that 2-1/2 mile trail at 9:45 am and reached the first of the hot springs an hour later. The trail is an old road, but it was still nice to get some more miles in. A highlight of the trail was a newly constructed suspension bridge a bit before the turnoff to the hot springs. The hot springs were cool, but smelled funny: kind of like rotten eggs (sulphur). We think we could have explored around a little more to find better ones, but we were content with just seeing that they were like. There were a good number of other people out on the trail as well.
We got back to the trailhead about an hour later and begin the drive back to Seattle. We took my dad out for sushi, something he hasn’t had in a long time, and he really enjoyed it. This was a fun way to cap off an awesome trip. I hope we will have more father-son hiking trips in the future! But I am also sure that we will always remember the fun we had on this one.