The snow-capped peak of Mt. Olympus is seen through the trees of the Hoh Rainforest, with the Hoh River intersecting. Photo by Maddie Caples

The Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park offers a variety of attractions ranging from the waters of the Pacific Ocean to the snowy peak of Mount Olympus. Resting between the two is the Hoh Rainforest. Located roughly four and a half hours north of Portland, the Hoh River Trail is a 37 mile out-and-back hike. While you can do day hikes on this trail, we highly recommend backpacking into the backcountry in order to see the vast beauty of Blue Glacier at the turn-around point. We completed the hike in three days, though it can be completed in more or less time depending on your schedule and desired level of activity.

If you are looking to do this hike in three days, we recommend hiking 9.3 miles from the Hoh Rainforest Trailhead to the Olympus Ranger Station on the first day. This part of the trail is relatively flat and full of lush trees with many views of the Hoh River. Roughly eight miles into the hike, there is a small crossing at the braid of a river, but water only goes calf-high and there is the option of crossing the river across a narrow tree trunk. Soon thereafter you will reach the ranger station campsites. The highlight of these campsites is the well kept and recently built outhouse, complete with a tequila bottle full of flowers. 

On the second day, we recommend leaving your backpacks at the campsite and going on a riveting day hike. From the Olympus Ranger Station, the hike is a little more than 18 miles round trip to the glacier, so it is a good idea to start the hike early. The first few miles of this hike are steady and flat, but it soon turns to steep switchbacks. Thankfully, the views of the snow-capped mountain are well worth it. About one mile before Glacier Meadows, there is a washout at a very steep section of the trail that can now be traversed with what some people call “the ladder of doom.” After climbing down the ladder, it is a short hike to Glacier Meadows, the last small campsite before the glacier itself. After the meadow, there is an extremely steep incline to the view of the glacier. With over 3,000 feet of elevation gain total, this hike is not for the faint of heart. However, the breathtaking view of the Blue Glacier makes the sore legs and feet completely worth it. At the glacier, make sure to spend time taking in the views and sitting in the absolute still silence. 

After taking your time at the glacier, make sure to give yourself enough daylight to hike the nine miles back to the campsite. Since this part of the hike is almost completely downhill, it will not take nearly as much time as it did to get to the glacier. Make sure to eat a hearty meal that night to refuel, but if you are planning on cooking up some zucchini, do not forget to bring olive oil.  

Finally, you have reached the third day. I hope you packed some Wheaties because you will need the breakfast of champions for the final hike out. Thankfully, the 9.3 miles back to the trailhead are flat and can be completed in three hours if you push the pace. If you are like us, you will start to lose energy and motivation around the  five mile mark. Do not give up hope. You will soon start passing the fresh-faced day hikers and their energy will give you a newfound pep in your step. Despite the difficulty of this hike, the feeling of accomplishment after hiking 37 miles is unsurpassed.

Overall we would rate this hike a 9.6/10 with a rating of 9.5/10 for difficulty and a rating of 9.7/10 for scenery. Do not forget a bear canister for food and other scented items, and remember to bring rain gear as the weather in a temperate rainforest is often quite wet. You will also need to carry some sort of water filtration device as there are no sources of potable water on the trail. Even though we did not run into bears on this particular trip, the rangers did tell us that coyotes had been an issue throughout the summer. Overall, we highly recommend this hike, but be ready for some sore legs after the adventure.

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