National Park Action Guides
Olympic National Park, Washington
Let the backcountry games begin
The Olympic Mountains have always defied easy exploration. In 1889, late in the frontier game, the Seattle Press issued a call for "hardy citizens to acquire fame by unveiling the mystery that wraps the land encircled by the snow-capped Olympic Range." The so-called Press Expedition team was assembled, and its six members set out to cross the Olympic Mountains during one of the snowiest winters on record. It took them six months.
Today, many park peaks bear the names of the explorers Mount Dana, Mount Scott, Mount Noyes, et cetera and the terrain now protected by Olympic National Park looks much as it did then: Glaciers tumble from the highest summits, wildflowers color alpine meadows, and a mossy rain forest of monster trees thrives on the humid west slopes. And, as in 1889, the only way to see it all is on foot.
5 Perfect Days The Ultimate Itinerary
Delve into a little-visited section of the park on an ambitious 56-mile [90-kilometer], lollipop-shaped backpacking route from the Staircase Ranger Station around White Mountain. "River crossings, snowfields, wildlife, great views it's all here," says ultimate Olympian Doug Savage, who has walked virtually all of the park's 600 miles [966 kilometers] of trail.
Today's jaunt beside the North Fork of the Skokomish leads through a forest of cedar and fir trees draped in moss, some of which top 250 feet [76 meters]. Camp ten miles [16 kilometers] later where Nine Stream joins the Skokomish.
This morning's climb to First Divide offers a glimpse of the high country to come. From flowery meadows at the pass, enjoy sweeping views of white-capped Mount La Crosse and White Mountain high above green-black forests.
After fording knee-deep Duckabush River, camp tonight with pretty Marmot Lake as the backdrop.
God's country stretches out between Marmot Lake and emerald Lake La Crosse. Snowy peaks line the horizon, and the Duckabush Valley drops away below.
Today's 12-mile [19-kilometer] hike rounds Overlook Peak and aims for distant Anderson Glacier. On the descent to the upper Enchanted Valley, trees gain in stature from spindly hemlocks to hefty silver firs.
Spring hikers are treated to the spectacle of cascades spilling 4,000 feet [1,219 meters] down the Enchanted Valley's steep west side. Glacier-clad Mount Anderson dominates the head of the valley. Climb 1,300 feet [396 meters] to Anderson Pass, then camp at Honeymoon Meadows.
On today's ten miles [16 kilometers], you head south for the upper Duckabush Valley. On the way, scale La Crosse Pass in an alpine realm that Savage considers one of the park's best. Look over your shoulder for eye-popping views of glaciated Mount Anderson.
Begin the trip home by ascending to First Divide. Pitch your tent at Home Sweet Home Shelter.
Retrace your steps from day one back to the trailhead, then drive north on U.S. Route 101 to a very different part of the park: the coast. The section of wild shores from Third Beach south to the Hoh River lacks the cachet of Ozette to Shi Shi Beach; it also lacks the crowds.
Camp in any attractive cove below Third Beach.
Permits: Overnight backcountry camping requires a permit ($5, plus $2 per person), available at ranger stations and the Wilderness Information Center.
Contact: For a trip planner, contact the Wilderness Information Center (+1 360 565 3100;
For the full Olympic National Park guide, pick up the May 2002 Adventure.