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Hoh River to Blue Glacier Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking to Glacier Pass and the Blue Glacier from the lateral moraine (Sugar Pine)
Big trees on the Hoh River Trail (bobcat)
Cat Peak from the Hoh River, Olympus Guard Station (bobcat)
The Olympus Guard Station on the Hoh River Trail (bobcat)
The High Hoh Bridge on the Hoh River Trail (bobcat)
Traverse above Jemrod Creek, Hoh River Trail (bobcat)
Daisy, heliotrope, arnica, and paintbrush in Glacier Meadows (bobcat)
Looking down on the terminal moraine (Sugar Pine)
Hoh River Trail to the Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine, Olympic National Park (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Hoh River TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 34.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 5170 feet
  • High Point: 5,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer to early Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes (designated campsites)
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

The glaciers on Mount Olympus, with their terminal moraines at about 4,200 feet, are the lowest elevation glaciers at that latitude on the planet. The largest of these glaciers are the White, the Blue, and the Hoh. While they are currently in retreat, they have existed because of the large amount of snowfall that the area gets in winter. The surrounding forests, the largest old growth temperate rain forests in the lower 48 states, get up to 170 inches of precipitation in a year. On the Hoh River Trail, you will be trekking through 15 ½ miles of massive old-growth conifers (Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red-cedar) as well as under gnarly, aged big-leaf maples and red alders. The first 12 ½ miles of the route is relatively flat, and the milky, glacier-fed Hoh River is never far away. Then you will gain 3,000 feet over the next six miles to arrive at the Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine. From this spot, a vista opens up to the West Peak of Mount Olympus and the classic glacial cirque from which the Blue Glacier issues.

Most people do this as a three-day backpack. There are numerous designated campsites in place along the route. The first day, backpackers will hike in to Lewis Meadows or Elk Lake. The second day, you can day hike to the Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine and then backpack out, perhaps as far as the Olympus Guard Station at Mile 9.1. Then it’s an easy walk out on the morning of the third day. The last major designated camping area that doesn’t require reservations is at Mile 10.4 (Lewis Meadows). Above Lewis Meadows, there are single non-reserved campsites at Mile 12.4, 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3. However, you may not want to take your chances with these on a busy summer weekend; these camps also do not have bear wires. The higher elevation campsites at Martin Creek, Elk Lake, and Glacier Meadows Camp must be reserved on the day of your departure at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.

Day hikers can decide how far they want to go. Turn around points include the Mount Tom Creek Campsites at 2.9 miles, the Five Mile Island Campsites, the Happy Four Shelter at 5.7 miles, and the Olympus Guard Station at 9.1 miles. For short interpretive trails near the Visitor Center, see the Hoh Rain Forest Loop Hike.

The Hoh River Trailhead is also the trailhead for the three short trails at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center: the Mini Trail, the Spruce Trail, and the Hall of Mosses Trail. Pass the main kiosk, and reach the junction with the Hall of Mosses Trail. Bear right and cross Taft Creek on a footbridge. At the junction with the Spruce Trail, go left on the Hoh River Trail. You’ll be keeping to this trail for the next 17.5 miles until you reach Glacier Meadows Camp.

Hike along under a towering canopy of huge Sitka spruce and gnarly moss-draped big-leaf maples. The lush understory is composed of wood fern, lady fern, and red huckleberry. You can see the milky, glacier-fed Hoh River through the trees to your right. At Mile 0.9, a spur leads right to a camp area next to the river. The wide rooty trail continues with short spurs heading to the river bank. Rise a little, then drop into a rubbly gully, and then reach the river at an expansive gravel bar. The trail proceeds on the level and then ascends via steps under some mammoth Douglas-firs. At the footbridge over Mineral Creek, you can look up to see pretty Mineral Creek Falls splashing down through the greenery. At the next creek, a twin waterfall is partly obscured by vegetation. Pass the spur leading to the Mount Tom Creek Campsites at Mile 2.9.

A footbridge takes you over a salmonberry-choked creek, and the trail bends out to the Hoh River again. You’ll note some impressive western red-cedars here. Cross a boardwalk over a backwater and then a footbridge over a creek. Somewhere in here, look for a trail spur leading left about 200 yards to what is purported to be the quietest place in the United States. Pass some large cedars, and cross three footbridges in succession. The trail cuts through a fallen 12-foot in diameter cedar in a bottomland full of these giants. Hike a flat trail under mossy maples in a long shady stretch and come to a grassy maple/alder flat. Two signed spur trails lead to the Five Mile Island Campsites. Cross a gravel wash; then use a log to bridge a creek. A backwater channel of the river is to your right, and you’ll walk by a massive Douglas-fir. Reach the spur to the Happy Four Campsites and then the Happy Four Shelter at Mile 5.7.

Hike through a grove of large Douglas-firs, and continue on the level, passing between two huge Sitka spruce. Drop in and out of a dry gully arched by a massive fallen spruce. The trail then ascends under more large Douglas-firs and hemlocks before descending to head along an avenue of big-leaf and vine maple. Giant spruce and leafy alders also grace this mixed woodland, and you’ll pass a huge cedar before you cross a lush gully. Drop to cross a milky channel of the Hoh near its confluence with Clide Creek. Veer left past a huge spruce and then a Douglas-fir to recross the channel on logs. Hike up a steep bluff under an alder canopy to get a view over the braiding Hoh. Then descend to cross a creek on a railed log bridge to enter a meadow. Pass some group sites and the trail to the bear wire before arriving at the Olympus Guard Station at 9.1 miles. There are outhouses to the left and right and trails out to campsites under alders and on the gravel bars of the river: the park encourages camping on the latter as all traces will disappear during the high water season. The slopes to the north of the guard station exhibit bleached snags from a 1978 wildfire.

Continuing on the trail, cross a gully, and then pass a former nurse log. Dip in and out of the Hoh Creek gully and reach the Hoh River-Hoh Lake Trail Junction at 9.7 miles. Keep right here, and descend to a lush old growth bottomland with tall spruce and gnarled red alders. Salmonberry thickets encroach on the trail before you cross Slide Creek to reach the campsite area at Lewis Meadows, 10.1 miles in.

Beyond the grassy expanse of Lewis Meadows, Slide Creek runs next to the trail as you pass under more tall trees. The trail alternates between the shady woods and the bank of the Hoh before crossing a Douglas-fir bottomland. The river visibly narrows where it has carved a channel through bedrock, and you’ll reach a signed campsite at Mile 12.4. (This is a popular one, so don't count on being able to camp here.) From this point on, you’ll be steadily ascending, sometimes rather steeply, but there are still massive trees on these slopes. Cross a couple of creeks, and then descend along a mossy rock outcrop. Pass unsigned campsite 13.1 on the left before reaching the High Hoh Bridge, which spans the deep, sheer-sided gorge of the Hoh. To the east, get a glimpse of the Bailey Range, and just west you can look down to see Glacier Creek flowing into the Hoh. Continuing up the trail, campsites 13.2 and 13.3, the last non-reservable campsites, are on the left. The water source for all the 13-mile campsites is a creek 100 yards up the trail from Camp 13.3.

After you cross this creek, make a number of switchbacks up to a rocky promontory that offers a glimpse to Glacier Creek far below. Wind up, and then traverse through old-growth hemlock and Douglas-fir before making a couple more switchbacks. Hike up a slope under a mossy cliff, and get a view to the White Glacier and its waterfall, one source of Glacier Creek. Peak 5923 is the pointed prominence. The trail traverses above the deep ravine of Martin Creek, where Martin Creek Falls plunges dramatically. Switchback down to cross Martin Creek above another falls. Hike through a lush meadow of corydalis, false hellebore, and huckleberry. The Martin Creek Camp, designed to accommodate stock, is the last place on the trail where campfires are permitted. Hike up through a huckleberry understory above the creek that drains Elk Lake, and pass by a massive hemlock to come to the Elk Lake Shelter at 15.5 miles. A brushy trail to the right leads down to the lake, with its mats of yellow water lilies. Two hundred years ago, the White and Blue Glaciers of Mount Olympus met here. The Elk Lake campsites are up to the left, and the Hoh River Trail continues between the campsites and the shelter.

The trail switchbacks in a thimbleberry opening with a view down to Elk Lake and across to Mount Olympus. The path alternates between these lush thickets and dry slopes of montane forest, crossing several small creeks. Pass across a Sitka alder slope which blooms with arrow-leaf groundsel, fireweed, corydalis, hedge-nettle, and monkshood in mid-summer. Cross a tumbling creek in a ravine where both yellow and purple monkey flowers bloom. The trail rises in a silver fir/hemlock woodland, crosses a steep chute, and traverses a steep slope to offer a view across to Mount Tom and Mount Olympus as well as Glacier Creek below. Next, the trail cuts into a very steep slope and then drops past a grove of Alaska yellow-cedar to cross a rushing creek with a waterfall splashing above. Here, get views across the Jemrod Creek valley to Peak 6346. Suddenly, you’ll come to the top of the Jemrod Gully Ladder, a 60-step, 100-foot cable-supported affair that allows you to safely negotiate the ever-sliding slope of a rubble-filled ravine. (Take care with the ladder: some of the steps are broken; make sure only one person at a time makes the passage.) A steep, rubbly path heads up the other side of the gully into a lush thicket with a vista towards Peak 6346. Hike up through a mountain hemlock/silver fir forest to reach, at 17.8 miles, the Glacier Meadows Camp, which has two shelters and an outhouse.

It’s just under a mile from here to the viewpoint on the Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine. Keep going through a lush meadow where subalpine daisy, lupine, mertensia, false hellebore, and false bugbane bloom. Pass the Glacier Meadows Ranger Station: there’s a wood front porch here, and usually a yurt is set up behind it. Come to a junction. The trail to the right leads 0.4 miles to the terminal moraine of the Blue Glacier. Most hikers keep left to head up to the lateral moraine first. A stepped trail winds up through a mountain hemlock/subalpine fir parkland alternating with colorful alpine meadows blooming with heliotrope, arnica, paintbrush, bistort, and subalpine daisy. The loose, rocky trail parallels heather-rimmed Jemrod Creek. Scout the ridges here for mountain goats as you pass a snow melt tarn on a trail fringed with partridge foot, alpine sedge, and heather. The slope becomes rocky and denuded of vegetation except for single plants of parsley fern and pink-blooming Douglasia. Marmots may be basking on rock platforms here. In July, there may be continuous snow from this point. By early August, you’ll still need to cross two lingering snowfields before you reach the viewpoint at the Blue Glacier Lateral Moraine.

Krummholz clumps of mountain hemlock shroud the ridge to the right. To the left, a path continues to a point where mountaineers need to skitter down the steep unstable slope of the moraine. The Blue Glacier glistens below: without its winter snow coat, the ice is indeed blue and crevasses crease the entire surface. Listen for the occasional creak and groan as the glacier shifts. Across are the slopes of Mount Olympus, capped by the vast white hump of Snow Dome, the route most climbers take once they have negotiated the glacier. The West Peak of Mount Olympus, its highest point at 7,989 feet, juts above the Dome. The Blue Glacier issues from an expansive cirque, with Glacier Pass the lowest point on the cirque ridge and Mount Mathias directly to the north of the pass.

On the return, you can take the 0.4 mile trail to the terminal moraine of the glacier. Views open up across the Glacier Creek valley to rugged prominences, such as Atlas Peak.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $30 National Parks 7-day pass (America the Beautiful Pass also valid)
  • Campground, visitor center, restrooms, interpretive trails
  • No dogs on trails
  • $8 per night backcountry camping fee plus $6 permit fee
  • Camp at designated campsites or on gravel bars only
  • Pack all food in a bear canister or use the bear wires at designated campgrounds
  • In summer, the biting flies can be a minor nuisance

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Classic Hikes: Washington by Craig Romano
  • 50 Hikes in Washington by Kai Huschke (Hoh River to Hoh Lake)
  • Day Hike! Olympic Peninsula by Seabury Blair, Jr. (to Happy Four Shelter)
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Washington by Ira Spring & Harvey Manning
  • 102 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes, South Cascades and Olympics by Ira Spring & Harvey Manning
  • Best Short Hikes in Washington’s South Cascades & Olympics by E.M. Sterling & Ira Spring (day hike only)
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Olympic National Park by Erik Molvar (flat section only)
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski (first 3 miles)
  • Best Wildflower Hikes: Washington by Art Kruckeberg with Karen Sykes & Craig Romano (to Happy Four Camp)
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


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