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Best Hikes Ever: Olympic Traverse, WA

Go from rainforest to glaciers.
olympic_kirkendall-spring_445.jpgHoh River trail, Olympic NP. (Kirkendall-Spring)

“Take one part Alaskan glacier, one part Argentine rainforest, spice with lowland old-growth forest, montane forest, and subalpine forest, add a dash of intertidal fauna. Stir gently,” says writer Michael Finkel of the “crazy bouillabaisse of ecosystems” in Olympic National Park. He attempted a 70-mile traverse of the park, much of it off-trail, with his father (“Olympic Glory,” June 2006) but was thwarted by the Hoh Glacier, which was “chopped and minced and pulverized” to the point of impassability. The author was forced to turn back, but his story, says former Senior Editor Dave Howard, “was hugely ambitious and beautifully written.” Our choice traverse, on trails, though still plenty ambitious: the Hoh-High Divide Traverse.

Do it
We named the Hoh-High Divide one of the country’s 12 toughest trails (“Tough Love,” October 1999). All of its 45 miles follow established paths, but include some 19,000 feet of elevation gain/loss from the Lake Crescent trailhead on US 101 to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. In between, you’ll tour a rapid-fire succession of rainforest, raging rivers, lupine-spiked meadows, deep glacier-carved valleys, and craggy summits along a meadowy crest that offers close-up views of glacier-decked Mt. Olympus. This up-and-down route is not for the faint of knee, but from the highest vantage points, the 200-foot-tall old-growth firs of the Hoh Valley look like shag carpeting. 

Resources
 

Driving From Port Angeles, take US 101 19 miles west to Lake Crescent Rd. Turn right to reach the trailhead.

Maps Green Trails Spruce Mtn., Mt. Tom, Mt. Olympus, Mt. Angeles, and Joyce ($6 each, greentrailsmaps.com)

Contact (360) 565-3130; nps.gov/olym

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