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Olympic National Park

Explore two ecosystems in this hinterland of moss-draped forests, ancient trees, and snowcapped peaks.
olympics1_445x260Dosewallips Mountains (Don Geyer)

The Trip
Hike a legendary explorer’s route
Retrace the Press Expedition’s adventure on this five-day loop on the North Fork Quinault.

It took James Christie and the Press Expedition five and a half months to traverse the Olympic Peninsula from north to south. Get a memorable taste of their adventure on this 45-mile epic through virgin forest and high alpine peaks along the North Fork Quinault River in the southwest corner of the park. In the rainforest, enormous cedar, hemlock, fir, and spruce tower over an understory of moss and vine; above, the trees give way to jagged mountains smothered in snow and ice.

From the end of the North Shore Road, take the undulating North Fork Quinault Trail through gargantuan trees; you’ll hike beneath their canopy for 16 miles before reaching the Low Divide at 3,600 feet. The trail gains elevation steadily–3,100 feet–while crossing numerous gorges slashed into the mountainsides by crashing tributaries. Look for Roosevelt elk, river otters, and three-slash tree marks, the signature blaze of the Press Party. The first of several campsites is located just 2.6 miles out, but press on to Twelvemile Camp (funny, we GPS’d it at 11.6 miles) to set yourself up for the next day’s stellar side hike.
It’s 4.3 miles from Twelvemile Camp to Low Divide Camp on day two. Get there early enough to do the six-mile roundtrip from Low Divide to Martins Park, where you’ll enter a boulder-strewn alpine garden filled with yellow monkey flower and subalpine buttercup, plus Waterford-clear streams babbling beneath the Mt. Christie Glacier. Listen for whistling marmots and keep your eyes peeled for black bears gone fat on late summer’s juicy huckleberry harvest. The path terminates at Martins Lakes, on a ridge high above one of the deepest, longest valleys in the Olympics, the Elwha. Take it in, then backtrack to Low Divide for your second night.

Over days three and four, you’ll traverse the Queets-Quinault Divide, which towers 4,000 feet above impossibly deep valleys. From Low Divide, pick up the Skyline Trail, which trends generally southwest for about 20 miles. The views from the ridge are the best in the Olympics. Eight miles from Low Divide, pitch your tent at secluded Lake Beauty, where chunks of ice bob in the water into late summer. At 5.7 miles beyond Lake Beauty, scramble to the summit of 5,399-foot Kimta Peak. Then continue another 5.2 miles to Three Prune Camp, near an overlook of Three Prune Basin.

The loop’s final nine miles follow the last leg of the Skyline and the Three Lakes, Big Creek, and Irely Lake Trails, descending from subalpine conditions through one of the most magnificent stands of Alaska cedar in the Olympics. (Look for the world’s largest-known specimen. It’s located a mile east of Three Lakes, at approximately 3,000 feet elevation and about 40 feet north of the Big Creek Trail.)>> Plan B: dosewallips trail loop Severe storms sometimes close roads or wash out bridges, leaving trailheads inaccessible. If your dream trip gets flooded out, head up the Dosewallips and West Fork Dosewallips Trails for a combined 9.1 miles to Honeymoon Meadows. From there, it’s a 23.3-mile loop over Anderson, O’Neil, and La Crosse Passes. Backtrack down the West Fork Dosewallips Trail. The Dosewallips River Road has been closed by a major washout for several years, but you can hike around the 100-yard gap and up the road to the walk-in Dosewallips Campground, where this trip begins.

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