Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier Hike Guide
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||36 miles (58 km)|
|Other Options||As low as 6 miles RT to first campsite|
|Hike Time||2-4 Days (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||5,400 feet (1646m)|
|Highest Elevation||5,130 feet (1564m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Entrance Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Olympic National Park|
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
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
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.
|Winter||No Crowds||Upper Trail Not Passable – Lots of Precipitation – Occasional Snow in Rainforest|
|Spring||Less Crowds||Upper Trail Not Passable – Lots of Precipitation – Cool and Mild – Very Muddy|
|Summer||Route 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.
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.
- Hike to Lewis Meadow
- Leave tents and gear setup at Lewis Meadow and hike up to Blue Glacier and back with lighter packs
- Hike out from Lewis Meadow
- Hike to Glacier Meadows and overnight
- Visit Blue Glacier with light gear, then hike back down and out
- Hike to Lewis Meadow
- Hike to Glacier Meadows
- Visit Blue Glacier, then hike down to Olympus Guard Station (campsite)
- Hike out
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.
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.
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.
Gear For the Hike
- The local forecast will give you the temperatures that you have to dress for. Bring extra layers for the Glacier Meadows / Blue Glacier area, which are usually about 10-20F cooler than at the start of the hike.
- The trail is frequently overgrown, if you don’t like brushing against leaves, wear long pants. There are ticks and bugs, but no reports of Lyme Disease. A sprayer of insect repellant is a good idea.
- There are a lot of stream crossings and muddy sections. I use trail runners that drain quickly with wool socks and just plan on getting wet and muddy. Keeping water out of your boots is tough if not impossible. You can read about my thoughts on waterproof versus breathable footwear here. When my trail runners are muddy I just rinse them off in the numerous water crossings.
- You’ll need the normal backpacking gear such as a tent/tarp, sleeping bag and pad, headlamp, and camp stove.
- This area is the wettest in the lower-48. Always be prepared for rain. I carry a rain shell, lightweight rain pants, and a rain hat.
- There’s plenty of water along the route to refill. The easiest thing for me is a water filter attached to a bottle. Just fill the bottle and drink from it. There’s no need for any complicated system of clean and dirty water storage.
- Bring a zip-lock bag to pack out your trash.
- If you are at a campsite where campfires are permitted, roll cotton balls in Vaseline and keep them in a zip-lock bag. Use them to start a fire in damp conditions. Don’t forget the Bic lighter.
- Lightweight flip-flops are great after a long day of hiking. Don’t forget to dip your feet into the ice-cold Hoh River, which feels incredible. Swimming in the Hoh River is not recommended, it’s swift, rocky, and visitors have died doing it.
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. My female hiking buddies have great luck with the Osprey Aura AG 65.
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
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.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
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Camping on the Hoh River Trail
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.
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.
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.
Challenges on the Trail
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.
- “Hoh” is pronounced “hoe” and comes from the native Quileute word for “snow water.”
- The Hoh Rainforest is one of the last remaining large areas of primeval forest in the lower 48. Protected when it became part of Olympic National Park in 1936, the area you will hike through was never logged, and some of the trees are over 1000 years old. This pristine forest is also a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
- Your hike traces the Hoh River to its origin at the Blue Glacier. The Hoh River is usually a milky-gray color from something called glacial flour, small rock ground down by the movement of Blue Glacier. The Hoh River is home to some of the healthiest Steelhead trout in the country. In the fall, keep your eyes open for Coho Salmon that spawn and die here.
- There is evidence that native peoples inhabited this area from 12,000 BC. Back then, mastodon roamed the area.
- In 1787 British fur trader Charles Barkley (no, not that Charles Barkley) sent men up the Hoh River, and it went downhill for the native peoples from there. The tragic but too common pattern of disease, “treaties” and relocation have isolated the native peoples to smaller reservations along the coast.
- I mentioned earlier that you don’t really have to worry about animal attacks here. That wasn’t always the case, and in 2010 a visitor was killed by a 370 pound mountain goat. Most animals need salt, and get it from licking mineral-rich rocks. But salt is also in human urine, and the abundance of urine from hikers along the Hoh River Trail proved too attractive for the mountain goats, who learned to get aggressive with humans in search of it. The mountain goats, which are not native and were introduced in the 1920s, are currently being relocated to the Cascades. As their numbers here dwindle, there’s not much to worry about, but check the park’s trail conditions page for any updates.
Hoh River Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
That’s it! From here, you just return the way that you came up.
This guide last updated on November 17, 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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