Backpacking Olympic National Park: Enchanted Valley and LaCrosse Basin, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14117A, Backpack

Highlights

  • Explore a rainforest, glacier, and high mountain lakes
  • Visit the spectacular Enchanted Valley, referred to as the “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls”
  • Enjoy secluded lakeside camping deep in the Olympic National Park backcountry

Includes

  • Tasty backcountry meals
  • Group commissary, bear canisters, and cooking gear
  • Lodging and dinner on the last day at historic Lake Quinault Lodge

Details

DatesSep 2–10, 2014
Price$895
Deposit$100
Capacity10
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffSascha Paris

Trip Overview

The Trip

Join us as we backpack through the southwestern side of Olympic National Park into the Enchanted Valley and La Crosse Basin. We will hike and camp in every environment found within this region, which includes the lush rainforests and fabulous mountain scenery. There will be plenty of streams, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy. Additionally, we will have the opportunity to see abundant wildlife, ranging from deer, Roosevelt elk, Olympic marmots, and black bear. Ambitious participants will have the option of various side trips.

Olympic National Park is in the northwest corner of the state of Washington in the Olympic Peninsula. It was established as a national park in 1938. In 1976, it became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage site. The national park is divided into three major areas: the mountains and high country of the interior, the lush rainforests on the western valleys, and the rugged Pacific coastline.

Our route is considered by many hikers to be the finest backpacking route in Olympic National Park. Because a portion of the outing travels through a rainforest, participants must come well prepared for rain. Since we will be hiking in bear country, the usual precautions will need to be taken, including storing our food in bear canisters.

Itinerary

The vast majority of our trip will be on maintained trails within the park, with some occasional off-trail explorations (weather permitting). Our itinerary is tentative and subject to change based on weather and trail conditions, along with the ability, health, and fitness-levels of other participants in the group.

Day 1: We will meet at a campground near Lake Quinault, in the southwestern side of Olympic National Park, where we will discuss the upcoming trip, review our route on the trail maps, and have a hearty dinner. Afterward, the trip leaders will distribute food, group gear, and bear canisters among members of the group before turning in for the night.  

Day 2: 
Getting an early start, we will drive past the Lake Quinault area and over to the Graves Creek Trailhead to begin our backcountry adventure! We will follow the trail along the Quinault River through a beautiful old-growth rainforest. The trail goes along a pattern of ups and downs, crosses several creeks, and passes next to the river several times. If the huckleberries are ripe, we can enjoy nature's treats during our rest breaks. About nine miles in, we will camp at a site along a creek. Hiking distance: 9 miles. Elevation gain: 1,600 feet.

Day 3: We will continue down the trail, gradually going uphill until we cross a suspension bridge and arrive in the Enchanted Valley. There the forest opens in a meadow, with mountains in the background. If it rained recently, there is a chance that we might see numerous waterfalls cascading from the cliffs giving the area its name, The Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls. We will pass the Enchanted Valley chalet, an old two-story log cabin built in the 1930s that was once used as a wilderness hotel. The chalet is now used as an emergency hiker’s shelter and a ranger station. From this point, we ascend and cross Anderson Pass (3,500 feet). If time and weather permit, we will make a side trip to see the Anderson Glacier. Afterward, we will continue descending through the forest and reach our campsite for the night at Honeymoon Meadows. Hiking distance: 9.4 miles. Elevation loss: 1,100 feet. Elevation gain: 3,200 feet.

Day 4: Today, we will climb up along moderately steep switchbacks through a beautiful forest and into a huge meadow that has terrific views of the surrounding mountains. We will continue to ascend until we reach a ridge along LaCrosse Pass (5,500 feet). Below us, we will see the canyon of the Duckabush River. From this point, the trail descends into the canyon to meet up with the Duckabush River Trail. As we continue along the trail, we will hike through old-growth forests and eventually cross the river. Once across the river, we will camp at the Upper Duckabush Campsite. If time and weather permit, we can do a trip on a side trail to a beautiful meadow called Home Sweet Home. If we feel even more adventurous, we can press on to First Divide and scramble to the top of Mount Hopper. Hiking distance: 7.5 miles. Elevation gain: 2,200 feet. Elevation loss: 2,900 feet. 

Day 5: Today, we ascend to Marmot Lake, then take a side trail to climb the steep switchbacks up to the La Crosse Basin area. We will make camp at La Crosse Lake, which is surrounded by beautiful meadows with plenty of great mountain views. This location is reputed to be one of the best areas to view wildlife in the park and the perfect place to take photographs of the evening light striking the surrounding peaks. Hiking distance: 4.6 miles. Elevation gain: 1,735 feet. Elevation loss: 2,585 feet. 

Day 6: Today will be a layover day to recover from our days of hiking and recharge our batteries. However, most of the group will not be able to resist optional day hikes without backpacks to explore the area, go swimming, or try to catch some fresh trout in one of the lakes for dinner. On the other hand, one could just stay back at camp, relax, take a nap, count the marmots, or enjoy a good book.

Day 7: We will backtrack along the side trail that we took the other day to meet up with the main trail again at Marmot Lake. We will ascend up O’Neal Pass (4,950 feet) and continue hiking through some scenic open meadows before we start descending again. Along the way, we will have excellent views of the Enchanted Valley and surrounding peaks. Eventually, we will descend back into the forest, where we will connect back up with the East Fork Quinault River Trail. We will turn west and hike back through the Enchanted Valley. We will camp for the night at one of the campsites within the valley. Hiking distance: 12.5 miles. Elevation gain: 1,500 feet. Elevation loss: 2,395 feet.

Day 8: We will take the morning to explore the Enchanted Valley before starting back down the Quinault River to our campsite near O’Neil Creek. Hiking distance: ~5 miles.

Day 9: We will hike out along the East Fork of the Quinault River until we reach the Graves Creek Trailhead and the parking area. We will drive to the historic Lake Quinault Lodge and stay there for the night. Everyone will have an opportunity to take a hot shower, sit in the sauna, go swimming in the pool, or sit out by the lake. For our farewell dinner, the group will enjoy a tasty Pacific Northwest meal at the lodge. Hiking distance: 10 miles. Elevation gain: 500 feet. Elevation loss: 1,325 feet.

Photos

Details

Getting There

The nearest large airport is the Seattle-Tacoma International airport across Puget Sound from the Olympic Peninsula. Sea-Tac airport is approximately 3.5-4 hours by car from our meeting location, which is at a campground near Lake Quinault in the southwest section of Olympic National Park. The trip leader will send out more detailed campsite and ride-share information to registered participants.

Accommodations and Food

Many lodging options are available in the area around Olympic National Park for before and after the backpack trip. Feel free to contact the trip leader for more information on pre- and post-trip lodging.

On the first day of the outing, we will camp at a campground near the Lake Quinault area of Olympic National Park. Our first meal will be a group dinner.

Once on the trail, all on-trip food will be provided by the leaders and preparation will be shared by the trip participants with the leaders' guidance. We provide delicious, vegetarian-friendly meals that are lightweight and simple to prepare and offer good variety. Several meals will include chicken or fish, but we can easily accommodate vegetarians by adding these items last. It's likely that you'll learn several new menu ideas you'll want to try on your own trips; we'll be glad to share the recipes. Participants will be expected to assist with meal preparations and cleanup.

Our trip will end on day nine with a final dinner and lodging at the historic Lake Quinault Lodge on the shores of beautiful Lake Quinault. Our rooms at the lodge will be double rooms with private bathrooms and a tub/shower combination. The lodge is on the National Register of Historic Places and was featured in the Great Lodges of the National Parks series on PBS. The dining room offers authentic Pacific Northwest seafood as well as traditional American cuisine and panoramic views of Lake Quinault and the Olympic mountains beyond. 

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderate/strenuous trip covering almost 60 trail miles (excluding side trips), with a range of 6-12 miles per day. The trail will follow creeks, rivers, lake basins, meadows, forests, and high ridges, including climbs over passes (a few of them can be quite steep). Further, the route will include some significant elevation gains & losses, stream & snowfield crossings, some undeveloped trails, and the possibility of unpredictable weather.

A physical fitness regimen, beginning at least three months prior to the trip, is highly recommended. Your enjoyment of this backpacking trip will depend on your enthusiasm, flexibility, preparedness, and physical conditioning.

Equipment and Clothing

All group cooking equipment, bear canisters, and food will be provided. Each participant will need to bring his or her own insulated mug, bowl, and spoon. Late-summer temperatures are generally mild, but in the mountains the weather can be unpredictable, so you will need to bring warm layers. Since we will be hiking in a rainforest during portions of the trip, all participants must bring lightweight waterproof raingear (jackets and pants). It is highly recommended that participants use a synthetic sleeping bag rather than a down sleeping bag since synthetic still provides insulation while wet and dries much faster. Also, a tent with a tested waterproof rainfly is a necessity.

A complete list of required equipment will be sent to all participants.

Please try to limit your personal gear to around 25 pounds. Group gear and food will add an additional 10 to 15 pounds to the weight of your packs. Your pack will need to hold your personal gear and a bear canister, which is about the size of two gallon milk jugs.

References

Maps:

  • Custom Correct Map -- Enchanted Valley / Skokomish
  • Trails Illustrated -- Olympic National Park, WA - Map # 216

Books:

  • Molvar, Erik, The Trail Guide to Olympic National Park.
  • Wood, Robert L., Olympic Mountains Trail Guide.
  • Stoltmann, Randy, Hiking the Ancient Forests of British Columbia and Washington.
  • Pojar and MacKinnon, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
  • Matthews, Daniel, Cascade-Olympic Natural History.
  • Buckingham, Nelsa, Flora of the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Manning, Harvey, Mountain Flowers of the Cascades and Olympics.
  • Kirk, Ruth, and Jerry Franklin, The Olympic Rainforest.
  • Van Pelt, Robert, Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast.

Websites:

Conservation

The Sierra Club mission is to “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet” and our work is accomplished by many thousands of volunteers supported by a few highly valued paid staff. Our outings seek to empower participants to better understand the complex web of environmental work at the Club and to discuss avenues for local and national advocacy. During the trip, we will discuss issues impacting the areas in and around the Olympic National Park, such as the harvesting of forests, the hunting of whales by Native Americans, the disappearance of migrating salmon, the disappearance of native species, the appearance of non-native species, the removal of the Elwa River dam, and the protection of jobs. Further, while hiking and camping we will be discussing and modeling Leave No Trace practices.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
 
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Olympic National Park.

Staff

Leader:

Sascha Paris first discovered his passion for backpacking as a teenager on a 10-day Sierra Club backpack trip in Kings Canyon National Park. Since that first trip, he jumped into outdoor leadership, leading backpacking and sea kayaking trips for UC San Diego and mountaineering and sea kayaking trips for Outward Bound. Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sascha works at the Sierra Club, teaches wilderness first aid courses for NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, and spends time with his family in the local scenic open spaces.

Co-Leader:

Jason Schwarz is a native of the Pacific Northwest. He grew up in a small town in the Cascade Mountains of Southern Oregon and has backpacked throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, and has hiked in numerous other locations. Living in Seattle, he spends most of his time in the alpine forests and meadows of the north Cascades, which feels like a second home.

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