|Mount Olympus from the High Divide|
Difficulty: Strenuous, due to distance
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Olympic National Park entrance fee required; limited permits for backpacking
The High Divide is Olympic National Park's most stunningly scenic hike and one of the most complete hikes in all of the Pacific Northwest. This loop trail visits roaring waterfalls in old growth forests, climbs to pretty wooded lakes, passes subalpine meadows brimming with wildflowers and huckleberries, and then delivers out-of-this-world views of Mount Olympus along the hike's namesake ridge. At just shy of 20 miles, the hike is best and usually done as an overnight or multi-night backpack to enjoy the copious treasures along the loop; however, as permits for camping in the Seven Lakes Basin are difficult to obtain, the High Divide is also doable as a very long and tiring day hike for very fit hikers.
Hiking this trail fulfilled a personal dream for me: when I first visited Olympic National Park in 2003, I bought a wall poster with a photo of Mount Olympus from the High Divide. I've kept that poster hanging in my bedroom for the past 14 years, constantly mesmerized by the majesty of the Blue Glacier as it spills off of the high seat of Olympus. I'm a little embarassed to admit that this image may have played at least a small part in my decision to move to Seattle after leaving Charlottesville.
I hiked the High Divide on a late August day, taking advantage of one of the few remaining summer weekends to finally visit the place that I had dreamed about for a decade and a half. I drove out to the Olympic Peninsula the night before; if you're coming from Seattle and planning on doing this as a day hike, that's almost mandatory as few hikers will have the stamina for eight hours of driving and twelve or so hours of hiking in a single day. From Port Angeles, I took US 101 east past Lake Crescent to the turnoff for Sol Duc; here, I turned left and followed the Sol Duc Road to the trailhead at its terminus. I started my hike at 6:20 AM to beat the heat and have enough daylight to do the whole loop.
From the trailhead, the wide, well-maintained trail to Sol Duc Falls dropped briefly downhill to a junction with a trail leading to the Sol Duc Campground about 200 meters in. Continuing straight, I followed the level trail across a small bridge over a tiny tributary to reach the trail shelter at Sol Duc Falls and the junction with the return leg of the loop at 0.8 miles from the trailhead. Here, I took the right fork for Sol Duc Falls; the trail dropped a little further to reach a bridge crossing over a narrow, rocky canyon carved out by the Sol Duc River. While Sol Duc Falls is not particularly impressive in height, it is exceptionally graceful, with three (or four, depending on the season) parallel drops tumbling into a mossy gorge. At 6:40 in the morning, I had the falls all to myself.
|Sol Duc Falls|
The trail climbed steadily uphill through the forest in the valley of Canyon Creek for the next three miles to reach Deer Lake. The forest in the Sol Duc Valley appeared to be old growth, so there were some enormous trees along the way. At one point, the trail made a crossing on a well-built bridge over cascading Canyon Creek; at other points, it was possible to spot waterfalls on the creek through the trees, although there were no good views of those falls from the trail itself. Huckleberries, both red and black, were ripe alongside the trail, providing good snacking opportunities during the ascent.
Three miles past Sol Duc Falls, I came to the wooded, serene shores of Deer Lake. While Deer Lake lacked a stunning alpine backdrop, the perfect reflections on the tranquil surface of the lake were beautiful.
|Tarn near Deer Lake|
|Subalpine meadows around Deer Lake|
|Looking back down towards the Sol Duc Valley|
|Lupine and paintbrush|
The trail traversed open, meadow-filled slopes as it ascended along the Sol Duc-Bogachiel divide, passing many patches of blooming wildflower. Gentian was especially plentiful; I seem to have caught it at its peak bloom date. Lupine, paintbrush, and western anemone were plentiful but many other flowers were clearly past their prime.
|Headwaters of the Bogachiel River|
|The Pacific Ocean behind the forested ridges of the Olympics|
|Seven Lakes Basin|
|First view of Olympus|
|Hoh River Valley and Mount Olympus from Bogachiel Peak|
A little past the Hoh Lake spur junction, I came to a marked spur trail that led up Bogachiel Peak. I took the detour, climbing briefly to reach the 5470-foot high point of the hike. While the summit is partially surrounded by trees so there is not a clear view in all directions, the scene was still stunning. Mount Olympus poked out above trees to the south, the High Divide stretched onward towards the Pacific Ocean to the west, many layers of forested ridges reached out towards Cape Flattery, and the Seven Lakes Basin lay below the peak. I could see a sliver of the Strait of Juan de Fuca separating the peninsula from Vancouver Island.
|View along the Hoh-Bogachiel Divide from Bogachiel Peak|
|Seven Lakes Basin with Vancouver Island rising in the back, viewed from Bogachiel Peak|
|Mount Olympus from the High Divide Trail|
|View of the Bailey Range and the Hoh River Valley|
|Seven Lakes Basin|
|Bogachiel Peak and the Seven Lakes Basin|
|The High Divide|
|The Blue Glacier makes a beautiful turn as it flows off Mount Olympus|
|Resident bear at Heart Lake|
|Descent from Heart Lake|
With about 5.5 miles left from the trailhead, I crossed the Sol Duc River on a log bridge. The trail smoothed out a bit afterward, with a nice dirt tread allowing me to book it most of the rest of the way back to the trailhead. At 5 miles from the trailhead, I passed the turnoff for the trail up to Appleton Pass. The trail stayed in a forest of massive old growth the entire way, paralleling the Sol Duc River and approaching closely enough at times to view a number of small waterfalls on the river.
|Waterfall on the Sol Duc River|
I had inordinately lofty expectations about this trail prior to hiking it, but somehow the High Divide managed to live up to be everything that I wished it would be. If you can handle this hike, you should go.