A day spent plying the trails of the High Divide in Olympic National Park changes an outdoorsman. This moderate to strenuous loop boasts the best views on the peninsula, a chance to see foraging black bears and abundant deer, stunning waterfalls and marvelous old growth forests. By the time you finish the loop, your quads may be cursing you, but your soul will be effusive with thanks.
Begin your trip at the trailhead for Sol Duc Falls Trail at the end of Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. Follow the well-trod path through the old-growth forest of the Sol Duc River Basin for just under a mile, where you’ll encounter the impressive Sol Duc Falls. Cross the footbridge over the river and begin your steady climb up Deer Lake Trail, crossing Canyon Creek twice on established footbridges.
At mile 4.6, another small bridge crosses the Deer Lake outlet stream and you’ll find yourself on the lake’s emerald shores, just below 3,400 feet. Campsites surround the lake and chances are you’ll happen upon a few fly fishermen taking advantage of the brook trout that often bite all day long. A ranger station can be found along the lake’s eastern bank as well. Deer Lake is an area with a lot of traffic, be it the result of the abundant campsites or the ubiquitous huckleberry bushes that provide lush foraging options for black bears and deer.
Continuing past the lake, you’ll emerge into the high country that makes this hike worth its weight in sweat. After crossing a crude boardwalk through the marshes at the south end of the lake, take the left fork of the trail towards the High Divide. A few switchbacks later the trail breaks out of the forest cover and traverses several broad subalpine meadows blanketed in wildflowers and dotted with iridescent tarns shifting from green to cerulean in the sunlight. Looking back west, the Pacific shimmers on the horizon, while the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the shores of Vancouver Island lie just to the north.
Up and over a steep ridge, the trail angles southeast and traverses a ridge along a steep basin that leads out to the Bogachiel River. After passing a grotesquely twisted grove of hemlocks, keep an eye out on towards the basin floor below for herds of Roosevelt Elk (on hot summer days, they congregate in huge groups to defend against biting insects—look for a hodgepodge pile of big brown bodies that look like logs dumped into the basin by an avalanche).
By now, the vistas really start coming into view. Glimpses of Olympus’ glacial haunches can be had over the High Divide Ridge and, shortly before mile 8, a cutoff leads down into the potholed valley of the Seven Lakes Basin below. The Bailey Range is in full view from the west edge of the basin and Lunch Lake Campground is a great turnaround point.
To continue the loop, pass the Lunch Lake cutoff and you’ll find yourself just below 5,474-foot Bogachiel Peak around mile 9. Take the left fork along the High Divide trail and soak in the glory of astounding 360-degree mountain vistas reaching far across the park, deep into the Hoh River Rainforest, over the shimmering lakes of Seven Lakes Basin, and crowned by unobstructed views of Mt. Olympus and its oversized glacial cap.
Heart Lake and its adjacent campground lie at the southeast corner of the loop around mile 11 and is a prime place to spend the night or stop for lunch. The trail curls north here and becomes the Sol Duc River Trail, passes through Sol Duc Park (where additional camping is available) and follows Bridge Creek past an impressive waterfall to its junction with the Appleton Pass Trail around mile 14.5. The last 4 miles of trail follow the Sol Duc River on a long, steady descent through dense forest and completes the loop at the Sol Duc Falls.
Stop at the [Sol Duc Hot Springs](http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/activities/hot-springs.aspx) on your way back to US-101 to dip your aching legs into their soothing, mineral rich waters.
Things To Keep in Mind:
– Although campsites dot the trail at regular intervals, this is a popular summer backpack and permits can be tough to come by. Reservations can be made for ½ the sites beginning March 15 of each year, while the other ½ are first-come, first-served. Permits can be obtained for $5 plus $2/camper at the main Visitor’s Center in Port Angeles or the Quinault Ranger Station. For more information on permits and reservations, visit the Olympic National Park Wilderness Reservations page [here](http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservations.htm)
– An entrance fee of $15 (good for one vehicle and its passengers for seven days) may be charged to enter the park
– Bear cans are required for all overnight trips into the backcountry. They can be rented where you pick up your backcountry permit
– Biting flies and mosquitos can be a nuisance along much of the trail, particularly around the many lakes, at any time of day throughout the warmer summer months
– According to the NPS, snow often continues to blanket steep sections of the High Divide trail well into July. If hiking in earlier summer, an ice axe and self-arrest skills are highly recommended
- Camera and Tripod
- Bear Canister
- Warm, waterproof clothes (weather can change quickly any time of year)
- Bug spray
- Binoculars for watching wildlife
- Sturdy boots
- Plenty of water (or a filter)
- Fly Rod and tackle
- Ice Axe (through mid-July)