The Loneliest Ridge and Valley Trails in the Olympics

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14 August 2015
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First ford of the North Fork Sol Duc River.

Image hiking for 22.5 miles—all but one of those miles on maintained trails—in one of the country’s most popular national parks—and encountering only 2 people—and that was at the beginning of the trip. My intrepid Olympic exploring friend Evan and I just finished an incredible one day journey across some of the park’s loneliest terrain—and while the trip has some challenges—we are surprised more hikers haven’t made the effort yet to walk these lonely trails.

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North Fork Sol Duc River Shelter.

Our route was up the North Fork Sol Duc River Trail to its end—then follow the abandoned section of that trail—then head cross-country to Happy Lake Ridge—then return on that trail to Aurora Divide and out Barnes Creek. Despite its 22.5 mile distance; it’s over 4000 feet of elevation gain; and a short and steep off-trail section—we made a day trip out of it. And doing it on an 80-plus degree day made it a little more challenging! This would be Evan’s second time of this route—and for me I had only probed all those trails, but never completely hiked them.

The trail up the North Fork Sol Duc is in excellent shape. You have to cross the river five times-four of them involving fords. The first ford is knee deep—the other three shin deep. The old-growth forest is incredible in this valley that appears to have escaped any logging or fires. We encountered our first and only people only about 3 miles up trail. They were camped out and relishing the solitude of the valley.

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Abandoned section of trail.

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Aurora Ridge and Lizard Head Peak.

The official trail ends at around 9.6 miles at the beautifully restored North Fork Sol Duc Shelter. Great camping nearby if you choose; and one of the nicest and freshest smelling privies in the park. From here we followed the abandoned section of trail which steeply climbs about 1200 feet in 1.5 miles or so. The tread was well defined and fairly easy to follow, although there were a couple of sections that involved a lot of hopping over downed trees. At about 11 miles the trail ends. It was originally supposed to connect to Happy lake Ridge, but was never completed (I believe due to the outbreak of WW II calling up the Civilian Conservation Corp trail workers). What a shame for it would make for a great route and a great alternative to popular nearby trails. We continued through open forest and heather meadow and steeply climbed the ridge to reach the Happy Lake Ride Trail.

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Descending the Aurora Divide Trail.

It was then easy and lonely hiking along the ridge enjoying great views of Aurora Ridge, the Elwha Valley and Bailey Ranger. We then hiked the Aurora Divide Trail skirting Lizard Head Peak and then steeply descending to the Barnes Creek Valley—where we hiked out the Barnes Creek Trail. And since we reached the trailhead at 8:15 pm, we didn’t even encounter one straggling tourist looking for Marymere Falls. This is a great adventure with lots of backpacking possibilities for those who don’t want to make it in a day. And even on a hot and dry summer like this one—except for about five miles along the ridge, water is not an issue. Consider this hike if you want a little bit of a challenge and a lot of solitude.

All the detailed information you need for these two trails can be found in my best selling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (Mountaineers Books) 2nd Edition. Pick up your copy today!DHOP2AD

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