50-Mile Thru-Hikes: The Press Traverse, WA

Cross the Olympic Range on a forgotten explorers' path.
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Cross the Olympic Range on a forgotten explorers' path.

(44 miles, 4-5 days)

When James Christie led an expedition across the Olympic Mountains in late 1889, intent on “unveiling the mystery which wraps the land encircled by the snow-capped Olympic range,” he and his men weren’t seen again until six months later, when they emerged tattered and hungry. Strong backpackers can duplicate the Press Expedition’s heroic feat with only four days of effort on this easy-to-follow path. But why not take a fifth day to layover at a wildflower-lined lake?



As in Christie’s day, the only way to see the core of what is now Olympic National Park is on foot. Start at Whiskey Bend in the north and follow the Elwha River Trail upstream (south) to Low Divide (elevation: 3,602 feet), then take the North Fork Quinault River Trail to shadow its namesake watercourse from freshet to torrent. You can still find the expedition’s axe blaze of three stacked lines on trees between Antelope and Idaho Creeks. You’ll walk through stands of colossal Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar making up one of the largest tracts of old-growth this side of Canada. (360) 565-3130; nps.gov/olym

The way North trailhead: 8.2 miles south of US 101 on Olympic Hot Springs Rd. South trailhead: 5.7 miles east off US 101 on North Shore Rd., past Lake Quinault at North Fork Ranger Station.

Shuttle All Points Charters & Tours ($250/up to six backpackers, goallpoints.com)

Season August through September for drier days and crisp nights

Guidebook and mapsOlympic Mountains Trail Guide, by Robert L. Wood ($19, mountaineersbooks.org); Elwha Valley and Quinault-Colonel Bob maps ($5 each, customcorrectmaps.com)