Backpacking Olympic National Park’s Seven Lakes Basin Loop

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Day 1: Sol duc Falls Trailhead to Deer Lake, 4 miles

By the time we get our backpacks reloaded for this trip, it’s already 4:30 pm before we lock the car at the trailhead and start making our way towards Sol duc Falls, one of Olympic’s prettiest waterfalls. I hiked this trail up to the waterfall two years ago with my mother, but Matt hasn’t done it since we were last here together in 2004 or so. Right away, he is blown away by how beautiful the forest trail is. Ferns, mosses, and evergreens blend together to create a kaleidoscope of green that is utterly enchanting. Matt says it’s even greener than the Hoh, and he stops to take pictures every 10 feet of all the pretty little scenes we find.

Much to our delight, we encounter a sooty grouse perched on a log right beside the trail. She sits there undisturbed while we snap countless photos. Oodles of hikers walk right past the pretty bird without giving her a second look. Go figure. We’re not sure what made her so agreeable to this little photo session, but we are happy for the opportunity for sure.

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Sol duc Falls is as beautiful as ever, and we find a spot on the crowded bridge to photograph the striking triple-chuted falls with its mossy green rock walls. There are too many people around for our liking, but it’s no wonder so many people want to see the beautiful scene for themselves.

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park

After the falls, we pick up the trail to Deer Lake. It’s only another 3 miles to the lake, and things are a bit more peaceful now that almost all of the day hikers have turned back. This trail is more of the same, but, as we gain elevation, we find some huckleberry bushes, laden with plump blue berries that are calling our names. We can’t help but stop and gorge on the tasty, tart berries all the way up the rocky trail.

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We pass several signs for creekside campsites that look attractive, and, once we see the fire ban sign at 3500 feet, we know we are close to our campsite for the night. A few more switchbacks separate us from our first views of the calm waters of Deer Lake.

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It’s overcast and misty when we cross the outlet bridge, skirting around the lake clockwise to look for a campsite. All of the sites closer to the lake are already snatched up, so we head away from the lake on a spur trail past the privy hoping to find an empty site. The trail takes us through some small meadows, and we come across a deer eating on the trail who reluctantly steps out of the way to let us pass.

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We pass four more deer before reaching site #6, a very pleasant spot to call home for the night. We have our own little private pond, and the young male deer continue to frolic on the hillside above, chasing one another around and around, much to our amusement.

Matt packed in a box of red wine, and we enjoy that over dinner. We also have our new Jet Boil skillet, and we cook some Tofurkey beer brats, which taste unbelievable in the backcountry. Our fun Washington glamping event continues in the Olympics!

Day 2: Deer Lake to Heart Lake, 6.5 miles

We set the alarm for 6:00 am but hit the snooze button at least twice before finally deciding to get up. It didn’t rain last night, but you’d never know it from the crazy amount of dew on everything. I break down camp while Matt filters water for breakfast. I lay out all the pieces of the sopping wet tent on various rocks, but there’s a thick layer of clouds blocking the sun. There’s no way this tent is going to dry anytime soon.

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For breakfast, we make tortilla wraps with Veggie sausages, cheese and Ova eggs all topped with an addictive Sriracha aioli that make these two backpackers unbelievably happy. We decide we need to try more of these shorter backpacking trips where we can get a little more decadent with the menu!

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We are on the trail to Heart Lake by 8:30, and we begin climbing right out of the gate. Within our first mile, the sun breaks out from behind the clouds, and we stop to shed a layer and hook up the mirrorless camera to the solar charger.

The trail continues up and winds its way toward the Seven Lakes Basin. We can see peaks off in the distance, but the clouds start rolling in, making the prospect of getting the grand views that this hike is known for look less and less likely.

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The higher we go, the more wildflowers we begin to encounter. With dull grey skies on the horizon, we turn our attention to this photographic subject that benefits from the lack of sunshine. Much of the foliage is still covered in dew, and we have some fun shooting the flowers and leaves with this added element of interest.

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At the junction to Hoh Lake, we take a wrong turn and get our first views down into the basin of Lunch Lake and the Round Lake trail. We quickly realize the error in our ways, turn around and retrace our steps back to the junction picking up the High Divide Trail. We switchback up, up, up to a ridge line here and take the brief detour to Bogachid Peak before finding a nice lunch spot overlooking the basin.

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From there, the Highline Ridge Trail takes us along the ridge dividing the Hoh River Valley to our south and the Seven Lakes Basin to our north. There’s a really cool weather phenomenon happening where thick clouds are forming below the trees to our south, while the north side remains absolutely clear.

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Before long, the fog has become so thick that we can barely see 10 feet in front of us. We hike along the last stretch towards Heart Lake, our campsite for the night, without seeing any of the spectacular scenery that is supposed to be all around us.

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At last, the trail drops down toward the heart-shaped lake, and we skirt the bottom edge looking for a place to camp. Heart Lake was recently featured in Backpacker Magazine’s “Best Campsites in America,” but we can’t remember which of the numbered sites was pictured in the magazine. We settle on site #6 on a dead-end trail that leads up to a quiet and secluded spot with a grand view of Cat Peak from our “front porch.”

We are in camp by 4:00 pm which makes Matt super happy. He has dreamed of having afternoon chill time in camp all summer long, and, after 40+ days of hiking, he finally gets it on our last full day in the backcountry. We pull out the tent to let it dry a bit, make tea and coffee and journal for a while before finally setting up camp. After chilling out, we walk back down to the creek to gather water for dinner and to fill up for our hike out tomorrow. Then it’s back to camp to make our last trail dinner and turn in for the night.

Day 3: Heart Lake to Sol Duc Falls Trailhead, 8 miles

We wake up early, eager to hit the trail. We make a quick breakfast and eat while we break camp. On our way down to Heart Lake, just moments on the trail, we run into a pair of sooty grouse. The male is displaying his bright yellow neck patches to impress the female who seems for the most part not to care. We do our best to capture the mating ritual, totally psyched by our good fortune.

Before heading out, we decide to drop our packs and head back up to the ridgeline we hiked yesterday in hopes of getting some views of Mount Olympus that were totally obscured in yesterday’s fog. As luck would have it, the skies are clear today, and we are happy we made the effort to see what we missed in yesterday’s fog.

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We hike back down to Heart Lake to grab our packs and pick up the trail again. The bright skies make for a nice, abstract reflection in the calm waters of the lake this morning.

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From there, we hike quickly below tree line into a thickly vegetated area, past several groups breaking camp. The forest is green, moist and dark, but not foreboding.

At a bridge, we stop for a break, and Matt photographs a series of waterfalls with bright green moss growing all around. There are scenes like this all over the Pacific Northwest, but we just can’t seem to get enough of them!

We pass another camp along the Sol duc River where we had initially intended on staying tonight, but, before heading out, we changed our permit to include a night on the front end at Rialto Beach instead of a third night here. This turns out to be a very good call, and we press on.

From there, it’s a quick three miles back to the trailhead. Soon we are back to the parking lot tossing our bags in the car, ready to head back to Port Angeles for a final dinner to celebrate this incredible summer full of backpacking adventures that we have had. After 40+ days and nights of backpacking in some of the most beautiful natural locations in the United States, we are absolutely hooked. At the tail end of this long summer, we are already thinking of where we should go next time! Any suggestions?

8 thoughts on “Backpacking Olympic National Park’s Seven Lakes Basin Loop

  1. The wildlife you captured (and were lucky enough to come across) is unbelievable! Great shots, as always, of everything. My family went to Olympic last summer and I haven’t gone through all our photos yet to edit them, but seeing this post makes me want to get started!

    1. Thanks, Nancy! We are hopelessly behind on reviewing/editing our photos, too, but going through them is one of the ways I get through the winters here in Chicago. What did you and your family do in the Olympics? Did you go to any of the places we went to?

  2. So in love with the photographs you two capture, especially natural details. Your tour of some lesser visited NPs has been inspiring. Cannot wait to get out there and explore nature once more.

    1. Thank you so much! We have a lot of fun with our hiking photography, and it is great to know that there are people out there who like what we are doing. 🙂 You really can’t go wrong with anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It’s such a beautiful corner of our country. We hope you get a chance to visit there, too. Cheers!

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