Hoh River Trail to Elk Lake, Hoh Rainforest Trailhead, Olympic National Park, Washington

Hoh River Trail to Elk Lake - 30.2 miles

Hoh Rainforest Trailhead

The Hoh River Trail

The Hoh River Trail

Round-Trip Length: 30.2 miles
Start-End Elevation: 587' - 2,548' (2,582' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +1,961' net elevation gain (+3,067' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Hoh River Trail to Elk Lake - 30.2 Miles Round-Trip

Elk Lake is located 15.1 miles from the Hoh Rainforest Ranger Station in Olympic National Park. The Hoh River Trail follows the river and its primary tributaries to Elk Lake, and continues on to Glacier Meadows and Blue Glacier at the base of Mount Olympus.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Visitors will enjoy magnificent old growth rainforests, salmon fishing, dramatic views from High Ho Bridge and multiple backcountry camping options on the hike to Elk Lake:

The trail follows a level path in a lux rainforest to .9 mile and 1.4 mile backcountry campsites. A short, steep climb leads to a bridge with views of several waterfalls just off trail (2.75 miles : 715').

Enjoy two brief interludes with the river up to Mt Tom Creek backcountry campsite (2.9 miles : 715'), past which access is limited until reaching Five Mile Island campsite (5.1 miles : 783').

Five Mile Island is named for large gravel bar islands that have formed between braids in the river. A long grassy meadow on this stretch is ideal for seeing elk. Note bigleaf maple and alder groves in these damp bottomlands. The trail undulates to Happy Four backcountry campsite (5.8 miles : 803') and into a park-like forest.

It passes through a relatively mundane segment with a leafy understory to a makeshift log bridge (8.2 miles : 925'), where travel resumes in a more interesting forest highlighted by large cedar.

The trail crests with a rangy view over the river (8.8 miles), and levels into a broad meadow at the Olympus Ranger Cabin (9.1 miles : 958'). A spur here leads out to an expansive gravel bar in a wide opening in the river corridor with good views up-valley.

The trail exits the meadow into a busy forest blocked by several downed trees to the Hoh Lake Trail split (9.7 miles). Travel moderates to Lewis Meadow backcountry campsite (10.6 miles : 1,027'), edging away from the river on a long, level stretch.

The trail returns to the river on the approach to 12.4 mile backcountry campsite (1,192'), where it squeezes through a narrow passage and forms rapids.

Grades pick up to High Ho Bridge (13.2 miles : 1,407') and 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3 mile backcountry campsites. High Ho Bridge spans a deep gorge and fork in the river with dramatic views of the confluence.

Once across the trail steepens considerably in a towering fir forest, marking the transition from rainforest to montane. Switchbacks wind through massive trees to Martin Creek (14.75 miles), just over which is Martin Creek backcountry campsite (14.8 miles : 2,450').

Martin Creek is the last site on the Hoh River Trail where fires are permitted. Travel moderates past Martin Creek to the north edge of Elk Lake 15.1 miles : 2,548').

Elk Lake's marshy perimeter is ringed tightly by timber and overgrowth, making access difficult. Use campsite trails for access. Work your way to the north shore for views of Mt Olympus and neighboring peaks. An emergency shelter is located above the lake with useful area information.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N47 51.626 W123 56.065 — 0.0 miles : Hoh Rainforest Trailhead
  • N47 51.944 W123 54.950 — .9 miles : .9 mile backcountry campsite
  • N47 52.022 W123 53.964 — 2.0 miles : Undulating trail in thick rainforest
  • N47 52.068 W123 52.830 — 2.9 miles : Mt Tom Creek backcountry campsite
  • N47 51.893 W123 51.901 — 3.9 miles : Mild travel in heavy forest
  • N47 52.049 W123 50.510 — 5.1 miles : Five Mile Island backcountry campsite (783')
  • N47 52.095 W123 49.805 — 5.8 miles : Happy Four backcountry campsite
  • N47 52.193 W123 48.851 — 6.8 miles : Trail more rugged, less manicured
  • N47 52.516 W123 47.680 — 7.8 miles : Leafy stretch below burn area
  • N47 52.703 W123 45.969 — 9.1 miles : Olympus Ranger Station + campsites (958')
  • N47 52.779 W123 45.245 — 9.8 miles : Cross log bridge, enter tall forest
  • N47 52.735 W123 44.363 — 10.6 miles : Lewis Meadow backcountry campsite (1,027')
  • N47 53.050 W123 43.594 — 11.7 miles : Level trail in diverse forest
  • N47 52.743 W123 42.443 — 12.4 miles : 12.4 mile backcountry campsite
  • N47 52.616 W123 41.712 — 13.2 miles : High Ho Bridge
  • N47 51.607 W123 41.465 — 14.8 miles : Martin Creek backcountry campsite (2,450')
  • N47 51.479 W123 41.596 — 15.1 miles : Elk Lake

Worth Noting

  • Expect muddy trail conditions, even during dry periods. There are several creek crossings on fallen logs that may be uncomfortable for some when wet, or with heavy packs. Alternatively, these crossings are easy-moderate fords.

  • Despite proximity, river access is somewhat limited along the trail. Campsite access spurs offer reliable paths to the river. Gravel bars at Five Mile Island and the Olympus Ranger Cabin provide access to long stretches of river, and are good places to see elk.

  • The Hoh River forms on the slopes of Mount Olympus and drops 7,000' over 50 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Glaciers on Mount Olympus grind rock into glacial flour, giving the Hoh its distinct, milky blue color.

  • The Hoh Rainforest receives up to 145" of rain per year.

  • A lightning strike on July 26, 1978 in the Hoh River Valley became the largest fire in Olympic National Park history. After smoldering for 12 days, the fire ignited on August 7 and burned 1050 acres in just two days. Rain on August 10 extinguished much of the fire, though individual trees burned for several months. You can see large tracts of fire damage along the north valley from the Olympus Ranger Station.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight stays in Olympic National Park. Contact the Wilderness Information Center (360.565.3100) for backcountry camping reservations, permits, and trail conditions. Visit the WIC: 600 East Park Avenue, Port Angeles, WA 98362.

  • Quotas and Reservations are in effect May 1 - September 30 for the Hoh River and Sol Duc - Seven Lakes Basin. 50% of sites can be reserved in advance; the other 50% is available first come, first served from the WIC during business hours up to 24 hours in advance. Self registration is not permitted during this time.

  • Permits for quota areas must be picked up at the WIC, or a staffed ranger station during business hours.

  • There's a $5 per person - per night fee to backcountry camp in Olympic National Park. If you don't have access to a WIC, or plan to arrive early or late, call the WIC to arrange your permit ahead of time. Self-registration trailheads have forms, permits, and submission boxes.

  • Reservations may be made no more than 30 days in advance. Groups of 7-12 people must camp in designated group sites within quota areas.

  • Camping is permitted only in designated sites within quota areas. Deviation from your permit itinerary is not allowed in quota areas, except in emergencies. In other areas, permits are not limited.

  • Campsites are not individually assigned, but are available to permit holders on a first come, first served basis. Campfires are allowed below 3,500'.

  • Food Storage and Bear Canisters: All food and scented items must be secured 24 hours a day. Park- approved bear canisters are required in the Sol Duc - Seven Lakes Basin, Royal Basin, and all along the coast. Other areas may require bear canisters at any time based on wildlife activity, or elevation (e.g. not enough tree cover to hang food safely).

Fishing Information

  • A Washington State Fishing License is not required to fish in Olympic National Park except when fishing in the Pacific Ocean from shore. No license is required to harvest surf smelt.

  • A Washington State catch record card is required to fish for salmon or steelhead and they must be accounted for as if caught in state waters. Fishing regulations are specific to site, species, and season. Contact the Park before setting out.

  • Hoh River Seasons: All species June 1 - April 15. Catch and release only during this period, except 2 hatchery steelhead may be retained. Hatchery steelhead can be identified by a healed scar where the adipose or ventral fins have been removed.

  • Recreational fishing in freshwater areas of Olympic National Park is restricted to artificial lures with single, barbless hooks (exceptions may apply).

  • The use of seines, traps, drugs, explosives, and nets (except to land a legally hooked fish or dip-net smelt) are prohibited.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $25 fee to enter Olympic National Park ($50 annual pass).

  • Pets are not permitted on trails. Pets are permitted in campgrounds and must be leashed at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

The Hoh River Trail begins at the Hoh Rainforest Ranger Station in the west central quadrant of Olympic National Park. The Hoh Ranger Station is located 85.5 miles from Port Angeles, and 30 miles from Forks.

From Port Angeles, drive west on US 101 67.5 miles to Hoh Rainforest Road. Turn left (east) and drive 18 miles to the trailhead parking lot. From Forks, drive 12 miles south on US 101 to Hoh Rainforest Road, and 18 miles east to the trailhead.

Contact Information

Olympic National Park
600 East Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362-6798

Visitor Information: 360.565.3130

Road & Weather Hotline: 360.565.3131

Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort: 866.476.5382

Wilderness Information Center and Backcountry Permit Office (WIC)

Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center

Forks Information Station
360.374.7566 or 360.374.5877

Quinault Wilderness Information Office

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"The trail is now snow-free to the Guard Station, but standing water is piling up and things are getting pretty muddy (like, really muddy). Stay on the trail to minimize erosion in this heavily traveled corridor. Campers should be especially careful about setting tents away from trees that have been destabilized by saturated soils and incessant winter-spring storms."
Evelyn Moss  -  Seattle  -  Date Posted: March 27, 2017
"There were short bits of standing water across the trail as you approach 5 mile island, so expect to get wet (there's really no way around it). A few trees are down too, but hiker-created paths have formed around or across most of these spots. It's been a really long and cold winter, so the rainforest is still in a slumber and only a few salmonberry and huckleberry buds are showing. Fingers crossed for the return of normal temps!"
Kevin Burk  -  Seattle  -  Date Posted: March 21, 2017
"The Hoh River Valley recently received several inches of snow so I was a little apprehensive about making the long drive from Seattle. So glad I did it. The trail was mostly snow-free for the first 4 miles, then manageable patches to 5 Mile Island. There was fairly continuous packed snow beyond 5 Mile Island, but firmly packed and easy to walk on with minimal post-holing. Tons of elk tracks, though didn't see any animals (I suspect my crunching through the snow drove them away). I was aiming for the Guard Station but grew concerned about daylight so turned back around 8 miles in (the station is 9 miles in). No matter, this forest is just amazing and deserves all the accolades it receives. The trail is pretty level so you can over a lot of easy miles. The upside to winter travel is that the leaves are down, and you can really see through the forest, and thus more of it. You also get more frequent views of the river. I recommend heading out soon before the late spring / summer rush begins, and the trail becomes a busy highway."
Nathan Owen  -  Seattle  -  Date Posted: February 13, 2017


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