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Hoh River Trail To Blue Glacier Hike Guide

Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier Hike Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier
  • Itineraries, Planning, and Permits for Campsites
  • Insider Tips and Gear Recommendations for the Hoh River Trail
Total Distance (?)36 miles (58 km)
Other Options As low as 6 miles RT to first campsite
Hike Time2-4 Days (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)5,400 feet (1646m)
Highest Elevation5,130 feet (1564m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entrance Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Olympic National Park
Park Phone360-565-3130

The Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park is a bucket-list worthy hike. You’ll start the adventure by hiking along the Hoh River, which is fed directly from glaciers, making it a cold, milky-gray color. The trail winds through what most consider is the best-preserved rain forest in the northern hemisphere, also located in one of the most remote areas of the United States, the middle of the Olympic Peninsula. The temperate rainforest is covered in ferns, mosses, and massive trees, some of which are over 1000 years old. And then the Hoh River Trail turns upward, over a spectacular whitewater gorge, climbing through alpine scenery until it reaches the spectacular Blue Glacier at the foot of Mt Olympus. Most people take two to four days to backpack the Hoh River Trail, and in this guide, I’ll give you all the information you need to plan and enjoy this epic hike.

Planning the Hike

Hoh River Trail Directions 1
The remoteness of the Hoh Rain Forest park entrance combined with the abundance of campgrounds means that snagging a permit is much easier than other popular quota-controlled hikes.

First off, if you just want to hike a portion of the Hoh River Trail as a day hike, you don’t need a permit. You only need a permit if you are camping overnight along the route. However, there are a few things to figure out before you hit the trail.

Picking the Right Season

Snow On Hoh River Trail
In the colder months, the upper sections (roughly the second half) of the Hoh River Trail are often covered in snow. You can see that the snow here (located just after Glacier Meadows) can be crossed, and it is easier with trekking poles and micro-spikes. But many of these upper sections on the trail cross steep avalanche chutes and shouldn’t be attempted unless you are an experienced mountaineer. The trail is usually clear and good for hikers after July.

As you might have guessed from seeing the term “rain forest” thrown around a few times already, it can get very wet here. And when it’s wet at the higher elevations, you get snow and ice. The Hoh’s position right next to the wet and wild Pacific means that it can get clobbered with precipitation; the area gets between 12 and 14 feet of rain every year, the most in the lower 48.  The sweet spot to do this hike is later summer, when the area is driest and the snow covering the higher elevations is gone.

SeasonProsCons
WinterNo CrowdsUpper Trail Not Passable – Lots of Precipitation – Occasional Snow in Rainforest
SpringLess CrowdsUpper Trail Not Passable – Lots of Precipitation – Cool and Mild – Very Muddy
SummerRoute Passable to Blue Glacier – Driest Season Crowded – Thunderstorms Possible
Fall Less Crowds – Route Passable in Early Fall – Salmon Spawning Wet Season – Upper Camps Close

Note that even if the upper reaches to Blue Glacier are not passable, the first half of the hike in the rain forest is still fun to do on its own. Simply hike along the Hoh River, camp, and return.

Suggested Itineraries

Hoh River Trail Campsite
Here are the campsites along the Hoh River Trail for reference. The trail starts on the left side of the map at the Visitor Center. The red/orange campsites don’t permit open campfires, but you can use stoves there.

The abundance of campgrounds on the route means that you have options, but here are the most common itineraries for the Hoh River Trail. And unless it’s an emergency, you must stay at one of the designated camping areas to reduce your impact on the environment.

3 Days

  1. Hike to Lewis Meadow
  2. Leave tents and gear setup at Lewis Meadow and hike up to Blue Glacier and back with lighter packs
  3. Hike out from Lewis Meadow

2 Days

  1. Hike to Glacier Meadows and overnight
  2. Visit Blue Glacier with light gear, then hike back down and out

4 Days

  1. Hike to Lewis Meadow
  2. Hike to Glacier Meadows
  3. Visit Blue Glacier, then hike down to Olympus Guard Station (campsite)
  4. Hike out
Hoh River Trail Tips 10
Camping along the Hoh River is a highlight of this experience, with the ice gray water next to you and high peaks above. The hike along the river is generally flat and easy with a backpack. Many people choose to set up a basecamp at a campground like Lewis Meadows, just before the climbing starts, and then do the uphill section to Blue Glacier with just a light pack.

Booking a Campground & Permit

Booking a campsite on the Hoh River Trail serves as your wilderness permit. As long as you have your campsite booked, you have a permit to stay overnight there. There are quotas for all the campsites along the Hoh River Trail, but the abundance of sites usually means that something is open. You can book up to 6 months in advance, and right up to the day of the hike. All of the booking is done through the Recreation.gov website. A few days before your start, you’ll get an email letting you know that you can download and print your permit / reservation. Print it out and take it with you, it’s as easy as that. If you can’t make your trip, pay it forward and cancel your reservation so that other people can use it.

Hoh River Trail Campsite Booking
As you would suspect, there is better availability on weekdays. The higher elevation campsites like Martin Creek, Elk Lake, and Glacier Meadows fill quickly, and are closed in the winter months.

Getting to the Hoh River Trail

The Hoh River area of Olympic National Park is remote, and the only way to get there is from the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. From Seattle it’s about 4 hours in normal conditions, and you’ll either go the north or south route, depending on whether you want to take ferries or not. Expect a good amount of tourist traffic. The roads have occasional passing opportunities, and a one-lane construction closure can add time to the trip. Whichever way you go, it’s a beautiful trip. Facilities are limited as you leave Seattle behind, so plan your gas and supermarket stops in advance.

The trail starts at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, use this address:
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, 18113 Upper Hoh Rd, Forks, WA 98331

You need to pay an entry fee to get into Olympic National Park. I highly recommend buying a National Parks Pass, which gets you in all federal land and attractions for a year.

Hoh River Washout
Even if it’s the “dry season,” it can still rain heavily. Occasionally the road into the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center gets washed out. Check the park closures page before you make the drive out here. Photo Olympic NP Twitter

Get to the trailhead early (before 8am) if you can. There’s a single entry booth at the Hoh River area and the traffic can back up to an hour or more during peak times.

Hoh River Trail Directions 2
There’s a parking lot right next to the trailhead and Visitor Center, which is where you should try to park. If it’s full, there are other lots around the campsite area where you can park.
Hoh River Trail Directions 3
There is a bathroom and water refill by the Visitor Center.

Gear For the Hike

Hoh River Trail Tips 4
If you don’t have trekking poles, the numerous stream crossings can be tricky.
Hoh River Trail Tips 7
If there’s a possibility of snow on the upper sections, having micro-spikes is smart.

Osprey Exos

Best Overnight Backpack: Osprey Exos 58
This is a popular backpack with thru-hikers for a good reason: it’s light, durable, and roomy. This pack only weighs a fraction more than my daypack (under 3lbs) and carries 58 liters, enough for a long trip. I appreciate the fact that it’s a little roomier for my 3-5 day backpacking trips. I don’t have to jam everything in there like a puzzle. And the back is well-ventilated so it doesn’t become a soaked mess.
Latest Women’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Latest Men’s Prices: REI | Amazon

Rei Co Op Quarter Dome 1 Tent

The REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent is a super-light, free-standing, dead-simple tent. I take the tent components out of the bag and put them in my backpack individually, and it packs down to nothing. No big tent back in my pack. It’s almost half the weight of similar tents, easy to set up, relatively inexpensive, and durable.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete camping gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2021.

My September 2021 Top Camping Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Camping on the Hoh River Trail

Hoh River Trail Campsite List

Hoh River Trail Tips 5
All the campsites have clearings where you can pitch your tent. You must camp in established campsites when hiking along corridor trails like the Hoh River Trail. The sites are not numbered, just pick any site that is open.
Hoh River Trail Tips 9
The Parks Service also lets you camp on the gravel river bars at campgrounds that have access to it. Pick a spot that has no impact on the surrounding vegetation. Don’t worry about the rocks. Camping on the river beaches is one of my favorite things about this hike.
Hoh River Trail Tips 8
Some campsites have shelters, which can be used on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some shelters are reserved for emergency use. Make sure you read any notices posted near the shelter. The shelters are nice when it’s raining heavily.
Hoh River Trail Tips 6
The campsites along the Hoh do a good job of dispersing and hiding the tent sites and facilities. Look for signs like this to help you find your way around.
Hoh River Trail Tips 13
Some sites have a primitive toilet. Bring your own toilet paper.
Hoh River Trail Tips 12
Check the trail conditions page of the Olympic NP website for the specific requirements of each campsite. Depending on animal activity, you may be required to use a campsite bear hang (as seen here), or bring your own bear canister. Some Olympic NP offices loan out canisters for free, and you can also rent them from REI (the closest one is in Silverdale).

Hoh River Trail Maps

Check the current trail conditions before you leave. I’ve found the page to not always be up to date. If you can speak to a ranger at the visitor’s center, it can’t hurt.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Hoh River Trail Elevation Profile
You can mentally break the hike into two sections: a flat stretch through the rainforest for the first 12.4 miles, and then a climb to Blue Glacier for the last 5 miles (which feels much longer).

Challenges on the Trail

Hoh River Trail Tips 11
There are a lot of stream crossings. Some crossings have bridges, some have logs to walk across, and some you will have to ford. If you have vented trail runners, which are your best bet, you can just plow through. Your shoes wlll dry as you hike on.
Hoh River Trail Tips 1
Mud is probably the biggest downside of the Hoh River Trail. Usually there is a way around the worst mud holes. Otherwise go through and rinse your feet off at the next stream crossing. If it’s raining and muddy overall, expect a slower than normal pace.
Hoh River Avalance Ladder 1
The toughest challenge for most folks is the ladder going down a slide area, about 0.25 miles before reaching Glacier Meadows, known as the Jemrod Gully Ladder. The ladder is about 100 feet and is supplemented by a rope that you can hold on to walk up and down the ladder.
Hoh River Avalance Ladder 2
The ladder can be in sad condition and there are rungs missing. You can walk up and down the slope by just holding onto the line and walking at an angle. In general it looks scarier than the actual experience. I’ve seen folks of all shapes and sizes on the ladder, including those with huge packs.

The Jemrod Gully Ladder should be experienced one hiker at a time. Don’t climb up or down if there is someone else on the ladder. There is a lot of very loose debris in the slide area, and it’s easy to send rocks below onto someone’s head.

3D Map

Hoh River Trail 3d Map
The first 12 miles follow the Hoh River through the rainforest. Then the trail turns right and climbs up to the glacier fields just under Mount Olympus, the highest point in Olympic National Park.

Hike Brief

Elk On Hoh River Trail
The Hoh River Trail is noted for its rich assortment of wildlife, including blacktail deer, black bear, cougars, coyotes, and, pictured here on the Hoh River, Roosevelt elk. Don’t feed them, keep your distance, and you’ll be fine. Some campgrounds have animal-specific requirements which are listed on the park’s trail condition page. Read it before you go. Photo Olympic NP Twitter

Hoh River Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Hoh River Trail Directions 4
The trail starts just next to the Visitor Center.
Hoh River Trail Directions 5
There are a couple of short loop trails by the Visitor Center. Head toward the Hoh River Trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 6
Hike past the trail board.
Hoh River Trail Directions 7
And then bear right to head over the small bridge.
Hoh River Trail Directions 8
The water is clear and beautiful, but nothing compared to what you will see on the trail in a mile or so.
Hoh River Trail Directions 9
The crowds thin out and you start hiking into the rainforest.
Hoh River Trail Directions 10
At the split, head left onto the Hoh River Trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 11
And you’ll see a sign for the Hoh River Trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 12
And then a larger sign listing out the distances.
Hoh River Trail Directions 13
Immediately you’re among the giant trees, some of which are over 200 feet tall.
Hoh River Trail Directions 14
You’ll see several cut-offs down to the river on the right, mainly used by day hikers to catch a glimpse of the river. Continue straight unless you want to sneak a peak.
Hoh River Trail Directions 15
You’ll also see some splits like this. The safe bet is to stay left to continue down the Hoh River Trail. Sometimes these rejoin, sometimes the right dead-ends at the river.
Hoh River Trail Directions 16
Soon you’ll start getting glimpses of the Hoh River on your right.
Hoh River Trail Directions 17
Overall the trail climbs a few hundred feet in the first 12 miles, but in practice is full of ups and downs.
Hoh River Trail Directions 18
Cross the Mineral Creek Footbridge. To the left is a waterfall.
Hoh River Trail Directions 19
And some streams to ford.
Hoh River Trail Directions 20
And at about 2.9 miles you’ll see the turnoff for the Mt Tom Creek campsite.
Hoh River Trail Directions 21
Keep heading straight down the Hoh River Trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 22
You’ll have several bridge and stream crossings.
Hoh River Trail Directions 23
By this point you will have left the crowds behind and can really enjoy the enormity of the rainforest fauna.
Hoh River Trail Directions 24
Logically, at about 5 miles, you’ll pass the turnoff for 5 Mile Island campground.
Hoh River Trail Directions 25
Keep straight past the turnoff into the campground.
Hoh River Trail Directions 26
Shortly after that, you’ll pass the Happy Four shelter and campsite.
Hoh River Trail Directions 27
There are sections of the trail that get dense as you approach the banks of the Hoh.
Hoh River Trail Directions 28
And then you have a wide log crossing of one of the braids of the Hoh River.
Hoh River Trail Directions 29
Once over the water, you’ll head left and up on the island.
Hoh River Trail Directions 30
This part is important. Keep your eyes open for this intersection. If the water level is low, you can walk straight through the stream ahead. But if it’s high, make the left here.
Hoh River Trail Directions 31
You’ll come to a pile of logs across the braid which you’ll need to cross. Take a look, and then go back and approach it from the beach upstream for an easier way to climb up.
Hoh River Trail Directions 32
Here’s what it looks like from the beach upstream. Climb up and over.
Hoh River Trail Directions 33
The trail is narrow just after the crossing, then gets back to normal.
Hoh River Trail Directions 34
If you were able to walk across the water, you’ll come out on this little beach.
Hoh River Trail Directions 35
As you hike upstream you’ll be able to see some of the higher peaks through the trees.
Hoh River Trail Directions 36
You’ll continue past the crossing, again over bridges and smaller streams.
Hoh River Trail Directions 37
Hike straight past the sign.
Hoh River Trail Directions 38
And around 9 miles in you’ll see a turnoff for the Olympus Guard Station campsites.
Hoh River Trail Directions 39
And then you’ll see the ranger station at Olympus.
Hoh River Trail Directions 40
Check out the trail board for any notices.
Hoh River Trail Directions 41
And continue straight up the Hoh River Trail out of the campsite toward Elk Lake.
Hoh River Trail Directions 42
At the junction with the Hoh Lake Trail, stay right to continue on the similarly named Hoh River Trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 43
Hike over the Hoh Creek (lots of Hoh going on around here…).
Hoh River Trail Directions 44
And then cross Slide Creek.
Hoh River Trail Directions 45
And at about 10.5 miles you’ll pass the turnoff for Lewis Meadows.
Hoh River Trail Directions 46
Continue up the Hoh River Trail – more bridges.
Hoh River Trail Directions 47
As you continue you’ll see the high peaks off to the right.
Hoh River Trail Directions 48
Okay, here’s where the business end of things starts. When you see the 12.4 mile marker by the river, the trail makes a hard left and starts climbing.
Hoh River Trail Directions 49
The first mile is uphill, but not too steep.
Hoh River Trail Directions 50
But as you continue to climb, the slope ticks up and the trail gets rockier.
Hoh River Trail Directions 51
At around 13 miles you’ll approach the High Hoh Bridge.
Hoh River Trail Directions 52
The Hoh River rushes through a gorge, 100 feet below on the left.
Hoh River Trail Directions 53
On the right, you’ll see Glacier Creek flowing into the Hoh River.
Hoh River Trail Directions 54
Just past the bridge you’ll pass a non-reservable campsite. They’re there in case you need to bail out and spend the night.
Hoh River Trail Directions 55
Shortly after the first campsite, you’ll pass the second (and last) non-reservable campsite.
Hoh River Trail Directions 56
Now you climb. And then climb. And then climb some more. If you have a heavy pack, this can be really tough. The good news is that it’s totally shaded.
Hoh River Trail Directions 57
A little over a mile up from the bridge you’ll start to hear, and then see, the Martin Creek falls.
Hoh River Trail Directions 58
And then you’ll cross Martin Creek.
Hoh River Trail Directions 59
And then through the Martin Creek campsite, which is dispersed to the left of the trail.
Hoh River Trail Directions 60
0.25 miles past Martin Creek you’ll arrive at Elk Lake. To continue on the trail, hike straight through and continue up. You’re about halfway up the climb.
Hoh River Trail Directions 61
Here’s the Elk Lake Shelter. Elk Lake is down to the right if you want to visit. Otherwise we’ll see it as we climb.
Hoh River Trail Directions 62
As you pass through Elk Lake there’s a sign for Glacier Meadows, the next landmark on the hike.
Hoh River Trail Directions 63
The views on this section are some of my favorites, with a line of sight to the high peaks. The high point in the distance is called Panic Peak. My Olympus is hidden behind it, and you can catch occasional glimpses of Olympus from behind Panic Peak as you climb.
Hoh River Trail Directions 64
And if you look down as you climb, you’ll see Elk Lake nestled in the forest. Behind you, across the Hoh valley, is Bogachiel Peak.
Hoh River Trail Directions 65
More stream crossings, which can also be snow crossings when it’s cooler out.
Hoh River Trail Directions 66
As you climb the views of Panic Peak become more spectacular.
Hoh River Trail Directions 67
There’s also a beautiful “hidden” hanging valley with the wild Glacier Creek flowing down to the Hoh River.
Hoh River Trail Directions 68
Keep climbing. It’s tough, but still shaded.
Hoh River Trail Directions 69
Another crossing at a creek that feeds Elk Lake.
Hoh River Trail Directions 70
And then you reach the famed Jemrod Gully Ladder. You are going to climb down about 100 feet to the gully below.
Hoh River Trail Directions 72
You start the descent by crossing a thin strip of trail over to the ladder.
Hoh River Trail Directions 71
Here’s the view from the top of the ladder. Notice that the top of the ladder is missing rungs; you have to walk down the bare slope there (using the rope).
Hoh River Trail Directions 74
So the best move is generally to hold the rope and walk backward down the ladder and slope. In some sections there are rungs missing so you just have to walk down the bare slope. It’s normal for debris to fall as you are on the ladder; it’s all very loose here.
Hoh River Trail Directions 73
At the bottom you’ll notice another (purple) line off to the side.
Hoh River Trail Directions 75
I’ve found that at the bottom it’s easiest to butt-slide straight down to the gully. On the way back, the slope is too steep, so grabbing the (purple) side line from the last shot and climbing up to the bottom of the ladder is the move.
Hoh River Trail Directions 76
Once you get down to the creek, make the left uphill and look for the trail to continue on the right side of the gully.
Hoh River Trail Directions 77
Here’s a view looking back at the ladder from the continuation of the trail. The first time you see all this it can be intimidating, but everyone does it and you can too. Just take your time and think ahead.
Hoh River Trail Directions 78
A few minutes after the ladder, you reach Glacier Meadows, which has some shelters and campsites.
Hoh River Trail Directions 79
At the junction in Glacier Meadows, make the left and continue uphill.
Hoh River Trail Directions 80
You’ll pass the seasonal ranger station.
Hoh River Trail Directions 81
And after a bit of climbing you’ll emerge on the moraine above the glacier.
Hoh River Trail Directions 82
And then off to your right is the Blue Glacier and the three peaks of Mt Olympus above.

That’s it! From here, you just return the way that you came up.

This guide last updated on August 10, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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