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Hiking Washington’s Elwha Trail Rainforest

Washington's Elwha Trail is a rain-forest classic: green, primeval, spongy soft, and wonderfully wet.

EXPEDITION PLANNER: Elwha Trail, Washington

DRIVE TIME: Olympic National Park’s Port Angeles Visitor Center is 72 miles (1 1/2 hours) west of Seattle (not including the ferry ride).

THE WAY: From Seattle, take a ferry across Puget Sound or drive across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Then follow US 101 to Port Angeles. Drive 10 miles west of Port Angeles and take the Elwha River Road south. Continue 4 miles to the Elwha Ranger Station (where permits are available) and take Whiskey Bend Road another 5 miles (a narrow, winding, and rough stretch) to the trailhead.

TRAILS: Olympic National Park boasts more than 600 miles of coastal, rain-forest, and mountain trails. The 27-mile Elwha Trail cuts directly to the heart of the park; you can extend your hike by continuing over Low Divide. The Long Ridge-Dodger Point-Elwha Trail loop described at left requires fording the Elwha River, so check water levels with park rangers before setting out.

ELEVATION: The trail starts at 1,198 feet and gradually climbs to 2,700 feet in Elwha Basin.

CAN’T MISS: Goblins Gate, where the Elwha River has created fascinating rock statuary—take a short detour down the Rica Canyon Trail not far from the Elwha trailhead.

CROWD CONTROL: The Elwha Trail is busy in July and August, less crowded in June and September.

SEASON: The Elwha Trail is hikeable year-round, but expect wet conditions in winter. The weather is best June through September.

GUIDES: Olympic Mountains Trail Guide, by Robert L. Wood (The Mountaineers; 800-553-4453; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $18.95). Trails Illustrated’s Olympic National Park #216 map (800-962-1643; www.trailsillustrated.com; $9.95).

WALK SOFTLY: Because of high bear activity in the Elwha Valley, use bear canisters (required for groups of four or more).

CONTACT: Olympic National Park, (360) 565-3130; www.nps.gov/olym. For wilderness information at the park, call (360) 565-3100.

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