Outdoors Q and A - May 2001
Seabury Blair Jr.
May 11, 2001:
Q I am somewhat new to the area. I'm not an experienced camper or hiker, but I have a faithful old VW Camper.
I would like to begin taking one- or two-day trips on the Olympic Peninsula. Hot springs, old-growth forests, and waterfalls are of particular interest. I am sometimes able to travel on weekdays.
Have you any suggestions for me?
Thanks for your note on one- or two-day Olympic camping trips aimed at waterfalls, old-growth forests and hot springs.
Two locations come immediately to mind: Olympic Hot Springs and Sol Duc Hot Springs. Both offer the sights and sounds of everything you ask for: beautiful forests holding cedar and Douglas fir that were here before Columbus landed on our shore; great soaks in 104-degree water bubbling from the earth, and awesome rumbling waterfalls.
Beyond that, you can find great campgrounds only a few minutes from either Olympic Hot Springs or Sol Duc. Let's take a closer look at both:
OLYMPIC HOT SPRINGS
You probably won't find this beautiful spot on any new Olympic National Park maps, but hot water sprouting like spring wildflowers from the ground, heated by Mother Nature, is a difficult thing to ignore.
Follow Highway 104 across Hood Canal Bridge and take Highway 101 north and west through Port Angeles. If you wish to bypass the busy downtown area, turn left on Race Street and follow it to Lauridsen Boulevard. Turn right and Lauridsen and re-join Highway 101 at the west end of town. Follow Highway 101 about 9 miles to the Elwha River Road and turn left on the Elwha River Road.
Be prepared to pay a $10 per carload fee at the Olympic National Park entrance station, about 2 miles up the Elwha River Road at the park boundary. Continue up the road another 3 miles past the Elwha Ranger Station and Whiskey Bend Road Junction.
Stay right at the junction and follow the Elwha River Road across the bridge, climbing past Altaire Campground on your right for another 5 miles to the Olympic Hot Springs Trailhead. This is an old roadbed that leads 2.5 miles to the hot springs.
Four decades ago, you would have found a hotel and tiled hot spring pools for bathing, but park officials have let the area revert to its natural state. Today the pools are constructed and maintained by the people that use them.
To find the pools, walk through the old parking lot above Boulder Creek to the trail leading upstream. Follow it about 200 yards to a footbridge, cross it and turn left on trails that lead to the pools. Look for way trails leading uphill into the forest and follow them to the pools. Although nudity is forbidden by park rules, you may find that many bathers ignore the rules. If nudity offends you, you might best avoid Olympic Hot Springs.
For a look at great waterfalls in the same area, follow the Boulder Lake Trail upstream for 0.6 miles to the Appleton Pass Trail junction and take the Appleton Pass Trail for another 1.2 miles to Lower and Upper Boulder Falls.
This trail passes through splendid old-growth forest, with cedar, spruce, hemlock and fir trees stretching hundreds of feet into the air.
There's an old auto campground at Olympic Hot Springs, but you'd have to pack your VW camper on your back for 2.5 miles. I'd recommend Altaire Campground for primitive Elwha River spots, or the Elwha Campground just down the road. Both are crowded in the summer, so if you can visit the area on a weekday, you'll have the best chance of finding a spot.
SOL DUC HOT SPRINGS
The water at Sol Duc is thought to be heated by the same geothermal fissure as the water at Olympic Hot Springs. Unlike Olympic, Sol Duc remains a developed area, with a lodge, cabins, a campground, restaurant and three hot pools as well as a river-fed Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Follow the driving directions for Olympic Hot Springs, but continue west on Highway 101 past the Elwha River for about 21 miles around Lake Crescent. Just 1.6 miles past Fairholm at the west end of the lake, turn left on the Sol Duc Road.
The Olympic National Park fee station is about 0.5 miles up the road; be prepared to pay a $10 per carload entrance fee. Drive about 12 miles to Sol Duc Hot Springs. The campground is another mile up the road and trails from the campground lead back to the hot springs area.
Again, the campground fills up fast on weekends. If you can go on a weekday, I'd recommend it.
For a view of some great old forest and a stunning waterfall, drive (or hike on trail from the campground) upstream to the end of the road at the Sol Duc Trailhead. Hike the trail 1 mile through old-growth forest to Sol Duc Falls. The bridge spans the falls and on a hot summer day, spray cools hikers headed farther to Deer Lake and High Divide.
The Lover's Lane Trail, just across the foot bridge, leads downstream to Sol Duc Hot Springs, making a loop-trip hike of about 2.5 miles.
Let me know which of these spots is your favorite after you've visited them both!
Seabury Blair Jr.
May 04, 2001:
Q - Vic, who writes below, is a friend who is good enough to let me know when he takes a hike. As you can see, he hikes often.
These kinds of trail reports are far better than anything you are likely to find at ranger stations or in publications, simply becase they are much more timely. A report of snow covering the trail at Sol Duc, written three weeks ago, isn't going to do you any good.
But a report from last weekend might give you "news you can use" (that's what the media gurus say news is all about).
So don't let Vic be lonely. Send me your trail reports and I'll beg Adam Shelton, Mr. Outdoors' great Webmaster, to post them in a timely fashion.
Thanks for writing, Vic.
- Mr. Outdoors
A - Last weekend, my wife, mom, sister, and 8 year old niece went whaling watching (more like whale searching) at La Push. On the way out, we hiked up the Hoh River trail about 3 miles to Tom's Creek Meadow.
The trail was sparse of other hikers. About every 150 yards we incurred a sloppy mud puddle in the trail, but otherwise it was a nice hike. Remarkably, I had never been on the Hoh River trail before. My wife and I plan to go back this summer and hike 9 miles to the Olympus Ranger station and back on one day.
It seems to me that you don't find much of any elevation gain until miles 7 thru 9. It would be a vigorous day hike, but I think we can do it.
That is our plan anyway ...
On the way back on Sunday we hiked .8 of a mile to the Sol Duc falls. Based on our experience , the Sol Duc trail deserves to be nominated as one of the most beautiful rain forest hikes on earth? The trail was perfectly dry and the scenery was from a fairly tale book. The western hemlock under-story gave the forest a cushioned-appearance that invited one to take a nap - itwas so very peaceful.
The migratory bird calls reminded me of hiking thru the forests of Kauai. This was a far cry from the mid-August hike of Sol Duc I made a few years back when masses of other people dominated our experience.
- Vic, Bremerton