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Hiking the Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier in Olympic National Park

High Point

High Point:
4,300 feet (1,311 meters)

Total Ascent

Total Ascent:
3,700 feet (1,128 meters)




34.8 miles (56 km)

Route Type

Route Type:
OUt and back

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The Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park offers a stunning journey through lush rainforests, along a dynamic river, and up to the breathtaking Blue Glacier, showcasing diverse ecosystems and incredible natural beauty.


The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is a realm of enchantment and wonder. Renowned for its old-growth temperate rainforest, this area on the west side of the park boasts lush greenery that captivates every visitor. Receiving approximately 12 to 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 meters) of rainfall annually, the Hoh Rainforest is a testament to nature’s abundance. However, the summer months offer a reprieve from the constant moisture, gracing hikers with sunnier skies and more manageable trail conditions.

From June, when the high-altitude snow begins to melt, to September, before the first flurries of the new season, the Hoh Rainforest becomes a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. While lower elevations can be explored year-round by those prepared for wet conditions, the summer season is the prime time to experience the magic of this rainforest. One of the most beloved trails in this verdant landscape is the Hoh River Trail, a route that meanders along the river and ascends into the high country.

The Hoh River Trail is ideal for both day hikers and backpackers. It begins with an easy, scenic walk along the river, making it perfect for short excursions. However, those seeking a more immersive experience can venture deeper into the forest, where towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees, some with circumferences reaching up to 15 feet (4.5 meters), create a majestic canopy. The forest is adorned with draping lichens, hanging mosses, and a forest floor carpeted with ferns and moss, giving it an almost otherworldly appearance.

For the adventurous, the trail leads all the way to the Blue Glacier, a journey of 34.8 miles (56 km) round trip that typically takes 3 to 4 days. This trek is considered moderately difficult, suitable for those with some backpacking experience. The Hoh River Trail offers a truly unique and breathtaking experience, allowing hikers to traverse from the rainforest’s lush lowlands to the stark beauty of the glacier-covered high country.

A backpacker wets her trekking pole handles to stay cool during the hike along the Hoh River.

Directions to Trailhead

Reaching the Hoh River Trailhead is an adventure in itself, offering a scenic drive that sets the tone for the journey ahead. Here’s how to get there:

  1. From Seattle: Take Interstate 5 (I-5) north to Everett, then merge onto U.S. Highway 101 North towards Port Angeles. Continue on U.S. 101 for approximately 50 miles, passing through the towns of Forks and Beaver.
  2. From Olympia: Head north on U.S. Highway 101 and follow the signs to Port Angeles. Continue west on U.S. 101 through Forks.
  3. From Forks: Drive south on U.S. 101 for about 12 miles, then turn east onto Upper Hoh Road. The turn is well-marked with signs for the Hoh Rainforest. Follow Upper Hoh Road for approximately 18 miles to reach the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center and the trailhead parking area.

The visitor center offers ample parking, restrooms, and helpful information about the trail and current conditions. It’s advisable to check in here, especially to confirm weather forecasts and trail conditions, as the weather in this region can change rapidly.

Ecology and Landscapes Along the Hoh River Trail

Embarking on the Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier is like traversing through a series of distinct ecological zones, each with its own unique characteristics and natural beauty. The journey offers a rich tapestry of landscapes, from the lush lowland rainforests to the alpine wonders of the high country.

The Temperate Rainforest

The trail begins in the heart of the Hoh Rainforest, a prime example of a temperate rainforest. This region is one of the wettest in the continental United States, receiving between 12 and 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 meters) of precipitation annually. The abundant rainfall supports a dense and diverse ecosystem.

Here, ancient Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees dominate the landscape, some reaching heights of over 300 feet and circumferences up to 15 feet (4.5 meters). Their branches are draped in epiphytic lichens and mosses, creating a magical, almost otherworldly atmosphere. The forest floor is equally rich, blanketed with ferns, mosses, and a variety of understory plants like salal and Oregon grape. This lush, green environment is teeming with life, from the smallest invertebrates to larger mammals like Roosevelt Elk, which are often seen grazing in the meadows.

The Hall of Mosses in the Hoh rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington.

The Riparian Zone

As the trail follows the course of the Hoh River, hikers encounter the dynamic riparian zone. This area, influenced by the presence of the river, supports a different suite of plant and animal life. The riverbanks are lined with alders and willows, which provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The river itself is a vital ecosystem, home to species like the Coho and Chinook salmon, which migrate upstream to spawn. Watching these majestic fish navigate the river’s currents is a highlight for many hikers.

Mid-Elevation Forests

Beyond the lush lowlands, the trail begins to climb into mid-elevation forests. Here, the composition of the forest starts to change. Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar become more prominent, alongside the towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. The forest floor remains richly vegetated, but the understory becomes less dense, allowing more sunlight to filter through. This transition zone is a mosaic of habitats, supporting a wide variety of wildlife, from black bears foraging for berries to songbirds flitting through the canopy.

Subalpine and Alpine Zones

As the trail continues to ascend, the forest gradually gives way to the subalpine zone. This area is characterized by shorter, more stunted trees, such as Subalpine Fir and Mountain Hemlock. The ground is often covered with a mix of shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses, creating a vibrant and colorful landscape during the summer months.

Approaching the Blue Glacier, the environment becomes increasingly alpine. Here, the trees thin out and are replaced by hardy, low-growing vegetation that can withstand the harsher conditions. Alpine meadows burst into bloom with a variety of wildflowers, including lupine, paintbrush, and avalanche lilies. The air is crisp, and the views open up to reveal stunning vistas of the surrounding peaks and the glacier itself.

The Blue Glacier

The journey culminates at the Blue Glacier, a breathtaking spectacle of ice and rock. This massive glacier, with its deep crevasses and striking blue hue, is a powerful reminder of the natural forces that shape the landscape. The glacier is constantly moving, albeit slowly, carving out valleys and shaping the surrounding mountains. The stark contrast between the lush rainforest at the trail’s beginning and the icy expanse of the glacier is a testament to the incredible ecological diversity of the Olympic National Park.

In summary, the Hoh River Trail offers a remarkable journey through a variety of ecosystems, each with its own unique beauty and ecological significance. From the verdant rainforests to the rugged alpine landscapes, this trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to experience the rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

Field Notes

Trail Details and Terrain

The Hoh River Trail is a moderately difficult hike, primarily due to its length and the elevation gain experienced as you approach the Blue Glacier. The trail spans 34.8 miles (56 km) round trip, with an elevation gain of about 3,700 feet (1,128 meters). The trail is well-maintained but can be muddy, especially after rain, so sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are recommended.

Permits/Reservations: Make a campsite reservation at, for the most up to date information about obtaining a Wilderness Permit click here.

Campsites and Water Sources

Numerous backcountry campsites are available along the trail, offering convenient spots to rest and enjoy the surroundings. Popular campsites include:

  • 5 Mile Island (5.0 miles from trailhead): A scenic spot by the river, perfect for an early stop.
  • Olympus Guard Station (9.1 miles): A good midpoint with a historic ranger station.
  • Lewis Meadow (10.3 miles): Offers stunning views and ample space for camping.
  • Elk Lake (15.5 miles): A serene lake with clear waters and great campsites.
  • Glacier Meadows (17.5 miles): The final campsite before reaching Blue Glacier, providing a perfect base for the final ascent.

Water sources are plentiful along the trail, with the Hoh River itself and numerous smaller streams providing fresh water. However, it’s essential to treat all water before drinking, using either a filter or purification tablets to ensure it’s safe.

Wildlife and Flora

The Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park is a haven for wildlife and flora, offering hikers a chance to witness a rich tapestry of biodiversity. This trail traverses through various ecological zones, each home to distinct species that contribute to the park’s ecological richness.

Wildlife: As you venture through the Hoh Rainforest, the first creatures you are likely to encounter are the Roosevelt Elk, the largest land mammal in the park. These majestic animals often graze in the meadows, their presence a reminder of the wilderness that thrives here. Black bears are also common in this region, particularly during the berry season. While sightings are thrilling, it’s essential to maintain a safe distance and practice proper food storage to avoid attracting them.

Bird watchers will find the trail particularly rewarding. The forest is alive with the calls of various bird species, such as the Barred Owl, Northern Spotted Owl, and Pacific Wren. The American Dipper, a unique aquatic songbird, can often be seen bobbing along the riverbanks, diving into the water in search of food.

In the wetter areas of the rainforest, you might spot amphibians like the Pacific Tree Frog and the elusive Ensatina Salamander. The moist, shaded environment provides the perfect habitat for these creatures. Additionally, keep an eye out for small mammals such as Douglas Squirrels and raccoons, as well as occasional sightings of mountain lions and bobcats in the more remote sections of the trail.

Flora: The flora along the Hoh River Trail is equally impressive. Towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock dominate the forest canopy, some of these ancient trees reaching heights of over 300 feet. Their massive trunks are often cloaked in a thick layer of moss and lichens, creating a lush, green spectacle that is characteristic of temperate rainforests.

The understory is a vibrant mix of ferns, including sword ferns and lady ferns, along with a variety of mosses that carpet the forest floor. Shrubs like salmonberry and huckleberry add splashes of color, especially during the summer months when their fruits ripen. In the higher elevations, the flora transitions to subalpine and alpine species, with wildflowers such as lupine, paintbrush, and avalanche lilies adorning the meadows.

This diverse array of wildlife and flora makes the Hoh River Trail a living laboratory of nature’s wonders, offering hikers a deeply immersive experience in one of the Pacific Northwest’s most enchanting landscapes.

Weather and Trail Conditions

Weather in the Hoh Rainforest can be unpredictable. Even in summer, rain is not uncommon, so it’s vital to be prepared for wet conditions. Layered clothing, waterproof gear, and extra dry socks are essential. The trail can be muddy, particularly after heavy rain, and river crossings may be more challenging. Always check trail conditions before embarking and be prepared for sudden changes in weather.

Blue Glacier

Final Thoughts

The Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier is a journey through one of the most magical landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. From the lush, green depths of the Hoh Rainforest to the stark, icy beauty of Blue Glacier, this trail offers an unparalleled experience for hikers and backpackers. The moderate difficulty level makes it accessible to those with some backpacking experience, while the diverse terrain and abundant wildlife ensure that every step is filled with wonder and discovery.

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a day hiker looking for a taste of the rainforest, the Hoh River Trail promises an unforgettable adventure. The combination of ancient trees, vibrant flora, and stunning glacial views creates a truly unique and magical journey. So pack your gear, lace up your boots, and set out on an adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

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