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National Parks: Olympic

On a climb from the Hoh River's silty riffles to high-country glacier views, pass through a moss-hung rainforest that might be the lushest place in America.


Dry out in the Olympics’ rain shadow on this 17-mile overnight.

Talk about a tale of two parks: Judging from the Hoh River Trail alone, it’d be fair to guess the entire Olympics are covered in teeming jungle and a shroud of fog. But 30 miles east, on the opposite side of the park, lies Royal Basin—and its arid, northern Rockies feel. It’s tucked into a horseshoe of pinnacled, 7,000-foot peaks—among the highest on the peninsula—and the out-and-back hike to Royal Lake makes for an easy weekend in the middle of it all. Want to spice it up with a little off-trail peakbagging? You’ll find plenty of social paths leading to summit scrambles, and an ambitious hiker could extend the basic 17-miler into a weeklong alpine sampler.

From the trailhead, follow the Upper Dungeness Trail through the shade of towering Douglas fir and western hemlock a flat mile to the Royal Basin Trail; a late-day start gives you a good excuse to bed down in one of the riverside campsites just before the trail junction. Hike up the secluded valley of Royal Creek and pass thundering Royal Creek Falls before reaching fir-ringed Royal Lake, where several campsites look out on nearby cliffs and 6,500-foot Gray Wolf Ridge. It’s nice, to be sure, but the best is yet to come.
Though the official trail ends just past Royal Lake—near a house-size boulder called Shelter Rock—a user trail continues another mile to Royal Basin, a sprawling, marmot-inhabited alpine cirque flowered with lupine and gentian (July), beneath the dark ramparts of The Needles and Mts. Clark, Fricaba, and Deception. Here, the trail fades, but a faint, steep track leads southeast to a 6,663-foot pass and drops into pristine Deception Basin, a creek-cut bowl beneath the glacier of Mt. Mystery. It makes a stellar day trip.

Want more adventure? About 200 yards up the Royal Basin Trail (1.1 miles from the trailhead), a sign marks a good user trail to Mt. Baldy. It ascends 4,000 feet in just a few miles. But once you crest that rounded ridge, it’s open cross-country hiking southwest along Gray Wolf Ridge, with unobstructed views that include Mt. Baker to the north and Rainier to the east. Water is scarce, but a small, unnamed tarn northwest of the Mt. Baldy-Gray Wolf Peak saddle offers potential campsites. Safest descent back to the Royal Valley: Return the way you came. Our scout did find one alternate route that avoids cliffs—starting from a broad, flat, 6,400-foot saddle northeast of Mt. Walkinshaw—but judged it one of the scariest and steepest loose-scree descents he’s ever made.

The way From US 101 east of Port Angeles (.7 mile east of Hooker Rd.), turn right on Taylor Cutoff Rd.; zero your trip odometer. At 5.2 miles, turn left onto FR 2870. Bear left at 6.1, 6.7, and 9.4 miles, then right at mile 12.5. At 15.1 miles, turn right onto FR 2860. Upper Dungeness trailhead is at mile 21.6.

Plug and play: Key waypoints 
Mile 1.1 Turn right on Mt. Baldy Trail (0488741E 5301684N)
Mile 3.1 Campsite (no water) on Mt. Baldy Trail (0487789E 5303277N)
Mile 4.9 Summit of Mt. Baldy (0485929E 5304465N)
Mile 8.9 Descend steep scree to Royal Basin Trail (0483106E 5299975N)
Mile 10.6 Meadow campsites below Royal Lake (0484280E 5298246N)
Mile 15.1 Royal Basin (0483853E 5296306N)
Mile 15.8 Pass to Deception Basin (0483697E 5295342N)

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