One of my favorite aspects of epic hikes is being able to start out in on type of ecosystem and view others throughout the hike. In our visit to Olympic National Park in Washington State last summer (2015), Lagena and I really wanted to hike to a glacier. So we opted to hike the West Fork Dosewallips River Trail in the southeast section of the park, which leads to Anderson Glacier on Mount Anderson.
The hike is about a 17-miles and gains about 5,000 feet in elevation. Lagena and I decided to split the hike up into three days, giving us a 10-mile hike, a 14-mile hike, and another 10-mile hike. Neither of us had ever hiked 14 miles in one day, so we knew we were up to a challenge.
During the whole hike we saw the changing ecosystems and felt the dropping temperatures. (Note how the scenery changes in my pictures throughout this post.)
The park’s information about the trail can be viewed by clicking here.
The West Fork Dosewallips River Trail used to begin at the Dosewallips campground, however the river washed out Dosewallips Road five and half miles from the campground. You can get around the washout on foot via a temporary trail and then hike the rest of the road to Dosewallips campground.
To find the trailhead follow Dosewallips Road, located off of Highway 101 north of Brinnon, until it ends. This part of the trail is actually located in the national forest. You will cross into the national park within the first five and half miles as you hike along the Dosewallips Road.
When Lagena and I were obtaining our backcountry camping permits, the park employee suggested we set up camp at Big Timber for the first night, leave our camp set up with our food and anything with a smell on the bear wire, hike to the glacier on the second day and back to Big Timber that night. I did not realize leaving your camp unattended was possible, but she assured us as long as our food and smelly objects were secure from bears it would be fine. It is always good to make sure the park will allow you to leave your camp unattended, as some may not, especially in grizzly country.
As we readied for our backpacking excursion, Lagena and I actually parked a little further down the road because we were in a rental car which we didn’t want to navigate over a rough patch in the road.
We set off down the road toward the trail and after a little ways realized we forgot to pack peanut butter sandwiches for our lunches over the next three days. Not wanting to add any more miles to our hike, we both said “Nah, we don’t need them. We’ll be fine.”
That night I woke up in the middle of the night in a near panic attack, because I thought we were going to starve, but I had temporarily forgotten we had oatmeal for breakfasts. We actually were fine, because we had one extra mountain meal that we split for lunch on the first day, and made it back to the car by lunchtime on the last day. The second day – the 14-mile hike day – however we only had a granola bar and fruit cup for lunch. We definitely could have used more calories on that day. And I still didn’t lose any weight!
The road has been closed for some time and it is interesting to hike along it and notice how much nature has reclaimed it. The road/trail follows the Dosewallips River and you are given glimpses of the large cascades and massive boulders that cause them as you hike.
The hike is a steady, yet steep climb to Dosewallips campground. We lunched when we got to the campground. It was nice to have picnic tables to eat on, and if we had spent more days in the backcountry, it would have been nice to camp there as well. A ranger station is manned in the summer months, which made me feel more comfortable going into the backcountry.
Our hike began in the rain, but we expected to be hiking and camping in the rain because you have to expect that when traveling to the Pacific Northwest and in a rain forest. But by the time we stopped for lunch and a rest from our packs and boots, the rain stopped and the sun was peaking out.
We met several other groups who day hiked to Dosewallips campground, which is located on the river as well.
From there we left the road and the trail became a single-track hiking trail. One thing about Olympic National Park is how green everything is. The trail is easy to follow because it was a clear path through the moss-carpeted ground.
You come to a trail intersection shortly after leaving the campgrounds, which is not on any map we saw, nor in any of our guide books. The path for the West Fork Dosewallips River Trail was not marked, but we took a guess on going to the right. The other trail was labeled as a loop or nature trail so I figured if we went the wrong way we would end up back on the trail, but I didn’t want to add any more miles.
We past the Dose Forks backcountry site and quickly crossed the Dosewallips River. This part of the trail climbs, but you hardly notice it. We crossed the river again, this time at the confluence where the West Fork Dosewallips flows into the Dosewallips. On this river crossing, the bridge was much higher than the river and we could see how high we had climbed and how rugged the terrain is.
We hiked in the narrow valley of the West Fork Dosewallips River as we steadily continued to climb. We met a hiker coming the opposite direction and stepped off the trail to let him by. He informed us that the uphill hikers actually have the right of way and he was supposed to yield to us. We breathlessly huffed “It’s OK, we want the break.”
On our return hike as we met other hikers, we were encouraged that they we were not the only ones to desire a break in that area.
Our backcountry permit was for Big Timber campground and it is beautiful! The scenery lived up to its name and not being from the Pacific Northwest, the trees seemed huge to me.
Big Timber, as all the backcountry sites we passed, was full of great places to pitch a tent. It also had a pit toilet. It was very nice not to have to squat or try to find a private place because we shared the campgrounds with two other groups – a trio of two men and a daughter (we assumed) of one of them and a single woman, who inspired me. We spoke to the trio further down the trail, but the woman kept to herself.
We were in bed before the sun set because we knew we had a long day ahead of us. The next morning we awoke, secured our camp, and hit the trail as soon as possible.
It was much easier hiking without being weighed down by our packs, but the hike from Big Timber to Anderson Pass was much steeper. It started out steady as we made our way to the next backcountry site, Diamond Meadows.
Diamond Meadows was also an amazing looking site. In hindsight, we should have pushed ourselves harder on the first day as this probably would have been the best place to camp in order to break up the mileage.
After Diamond Meadows the trail crossed the river again, but this time the bridge or footbridge had been washed away. There was a log jam we were able to walk across and the park had made footholds along some of the logs so it was not hard to cross.
From there the trail got a little more steeper, and we saw the craggy peaks towering above us. I looked at the topographical map, and knew we were actually going to be climbing above those peaks. I did not tell this to Lagena until we were on the way down.
But one good thing about the trail’s steepness is the river became more of a long cascade. I loved watching the river shrink in width the higher we climbed, and it was neat to know that the water flowing down would soon reach the ocean.
Just before the backcountry site, Honeymood Meadows, you can see where an avalanche or mudslide had taken down many trees.
After Honeymoon Meadows the trail crosses the West Fork Dosewallips River again. The footbridge was either washed away or there wasn’t one, but Lagena and I thought we could hop from rock to rock without getting wet. We were wrong and both of us ended up with sopping wet feet.
This part of the trail is a beautiful mountain meadow surrounded by the rocky peaks. I loved it. Then we started to climb, again. And this time it was an extremely steep climb.
As we made our way up the switchbacks toward Anderson Pass, I was starting to get hungry. We decided we would take a long rest at Anderson Pass before taking the spur trail up to the overlook for Anderson Glacier.
We passed the Camp Siberia backcountry site, and could feel why it was named that. It was getting cold, as we were getting higher.
In the mountains across the valley, we could see how glaciers sculpted the land. We saw a crater with either snow, or the last bits of glacier, and it was extremely interesting to see how deep it was compared to the tree around it.
I was beginning to worry because we were losing our sun and seemed to be hiking into the clouds. We were. The higher we got the more foggy it became.
We were elated when we made it to Anderson Pass. We stopped for our lunch, or rather granola bar and fruit cup. The chili air and fog really began to set in, and I had to move around to stay warm. I told Lagena as I stood to move around that I was not trying to rush her on our “long break,” I was just freezing. She agreed it was cold and we decided to push on.
The spur trail to Anderson Glacier is even more steep with rocky switchbacks. I was hoping to see mountain goats, but we didn’t. We were also told by fellow hikers on the way down the next day that black bears were supposedly numerous in that area. We told told them it was so foggy they could have been 30 yards away and we would have not seen them.
We got to the end of the spur trail on the crest of a hill, and we tried to orient ourselves but couldn’t see anything but the fog! We could hear rushing water, and I said to Lagena holding the map, “I think the glacier is down there, but we just can’t see it because of the fog.”
The fog did come in and out and we caught a glimpse of what we assumed to be Anderson Glacier. The rushing water sound, I assumed was the melt water flowing into a lake, which is what we were looking over that was hidden by the fog.
It is important to note, that even though we spent two days, walked 17 miles, and climbed 5,000 feet climb, to see a glacier – and we only sort of saw it – that we still thoroughly enjoyed our hike and would not change it. Sometimes your plans simply don’t pan out, and we chose to take in the beauty of the fog and accomplishment of the hike.
We had read in our guide book that the spur trail split, one path leading to the moraine overlook, and the other path leading to the toe of the glacier. However we did not bring the guide book. We were trying to save on weight, so only had the map, which did not go into as much detail. We decided not to get lost in the fog and enjoy the view we did have.
The fog was beautiful, and Lagena said the mountains looked like an English moor.
It’s also important to note how climate change has also taken its toll on the glaciers. According to the park’s website, the Anderson Glacier has receded to less than 10 percent of its size from 1927 to 2009.
If we could have seen it, Mount Anderson would have towered above us at a total height of 7,330 feet. We were at about 5,500 at the moraine overlook.
We knew we did not have much time because we did not want to be hiking back in the dark and we still had seven miles to get back to camp. So we made our way back down to Anderson Pass and then back down to the West Fork Dosewallips River.
We were so happy we had no more climbing to do, but my feet were also killing me and hiking downhill was not the most pleasant.
That day was the most tired I have every been. After each curve in the trail, between Diamond Meadows and Big Timber backcountry sites, I thought we would see our camp. Lagena and I took many breaks on this leg of the hike. I squealed when we finally got back to camp.
The next day we hiked back to the car. My boots must have been too small because my feet were killing me! By the last two miles I shed my hiking boots and wore my camp shoes the rest of the way. Hikers we met gave me looks, but most just said, “Boots are off! I bet you’re glad to be almost done!” Some asked if I was OK, but I replied “I will be shortly.”
The sense of accomplishment far surpassed the pain in my feet. We started at near sea level, and finished by sort of seeing a glacier at 5,500 feet. I had hiked the furthest I had ever been. And now we had bragging rights.