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Hiking the Hoh River PNW

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

The Hoh River is located in the Pacific Northwest in the western portion of the Olympic National Park in Washington. The River itself starts as meltwater from both the Blue and Hoh Glaciers and travels north then west for about 56 miles dumping into the Pacific Ocean at the Hoh Indian Reservation.

The Hoh River trail starts near the Hoh River Rainforest Visitor center and follows the Hoh River for a little over 17 miles to Glacier Meadow. This trail can get very busy during the summer months so plan your trip accordingly. The good news is that most people turn around at the Mt. Tom Creek campground located 2.5 miles up the trail leaving the rest of the trail open to people looking for a beautiful adventure.

The Hoh River trail winds through the lush green rainforest full of life. Even fallen trees seem to sprout new growth with ferns, mosses, and endless mushrooms. All this is made possible by the consistent source of water. This area of the Olympic National Park receives over 170 inches (14 ft) of rain per year and it shows in the massive trees that can grow to three hundred feet tall.

The first 13 miles of the trail are mainly flat and weave through the forest following the Hoh River. At mile 13.2 the trail begins to climb when you reach the Hoh River Bridge just after Glacier Creek. From the bridge, the trail will climb about 3700 feet to the Base of the Blue Glacier where you will have excellent panoramic views of the Olympic mountains and the Blue Glacier. Unfortunately, we were there during the bad fires of 2020 and were not able to see much of a view. But, the one good thing from the bad fires was there were very few people on the trail. We only came across one other hiker from Germany.

Getting out of your car and up to the Glacier is a photographer's paradise from start to finish. There are endless opportunities for landscapes, macro, and wildlife photography. Common wildlife seen on or near the trail is Elk, Deer, and Bald Eagles. Although not as commonly seen, Black bears, Cougars, Fischers, and other elusive creators call the Hoh River area home as well. One night, we could hear a cougar wailing like a child from our campsite. It made sleeping difficult as it went on for some time and was quite eerie.

As you reach the alpine meadows higher up you will encounter mostly marmots and possibly a Mountain goat. but the Mountain goats are becoming a rare sight due to culling and relocation. The mountain goats are not indigenous to the area and were introduced in the 1920s by sport hunters. Other than not being native to the area the Mountain goats are being removed because there is a lack of natural salt deposits in the Olympic National Forest and the goats are attracted to hikers for the salty food, sweat, and yes; pee. When hikers relieve themselves along the trails it makes for unsafe conditions with the Moutain goats lust for salt. In 2010 a hiker was killed by an aggressive mountain goat that had become accustomed to the presents of humans.

Campgrounds along the Hoh River Trail

  • Five Mile Island

  • Happy Four

  • Olympus Ranger Station

  • Lewis Meadow

  • Martin Creek

  • Elk Lake

  • Glacier Meadow

Things to consider when hiking this trail:

You will get wet. Although there are many bridges over the larger streams, there are still many smaller stream crossings and mud puddles to traverse, and if you don't get rained on you will have to deal with copious amounts of dew on your tent in the morning.

Campfires? Bring extra "dry" clothes, because finding dry material to start a fire is difficult at best. There are also no campfires allowed above Martin Creek campground.

Filter your water before you filter your water. The Hoh river is a good source of water but it is full of glacial flour (sediment) which will quickly clog your water purifier filter. I bring a piece of cheesecloth to help filter out the sediment before it goes through my water purifier filter.

Stay on the Trail! The Hoh River trail is well-maintained and an easy-to-follow trail. There is no reason not to stay on the trail. Wondering off the trail damages the native vegetation, and causes erosion of soils.

The photographs contained in this website may not be reproduced without the express consent of Shutter Bison.

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