Hike the Hoh River to the Blue Glacier through lush rainforest. Pass spectacular old-growth dripping with moss, nurse logs providing nourishment to full grown trees and end with a panorama including the the aptly named Blue Glacier and Mount Olympus. The bio-diversity on this hike is seldom seen on such an accessible backpacking trip. Just be sure to check in with the ranger station before overnighting -- while there are lots of campsites, it's a popular place, and you'll need to reserve in advance.
From the trailhead, venture down the flat trail through delightful old-growth. Campsites abound here, but be sure to have a reservation or to check in with rangers at the trailhead; in summer especially, most of the sites cannot support drop-ins.
Head into the forest, passing a large sign indicating the mileages to various campsites and landmarks along the way. The first mile of the trail weaves along the banks of the Hoh River, with plenty of lovely views upriver into the forest. This section is also likely to be quite full of other hikers enjoying the area -- the Hoh River Trail to 5-Mile Island is a popular dayhike or beginners overnight.
Follow the undulating trail through the forest, past the campsite at 5-Mile Island and on to the next site, Happy 4 (found, oddly, at 5.8 miles in. The shelter is a good place to huddle during a rain, and the campsite makes a nice stopping spot, or lunch spot if you're continuing on.
From here the trail turns away from the river and continues through the forest. The moss on the enormous trees lining the trail dampen noise, and when you're alone the whole area seems muted, almost silent. In this meditative section, you'll have a log crossing and a short deviation from the riverside, until the next landmark: the Olympus Guard Station, a bit more than 9 miles from the trailhead.
A group camp is here, along with a kiosk with signs showing the relative elevation gain for this trail as well as the trail to Bogachiel Peak, which rises to your left as you hike toward the glacier. The trail to the peak is just 0.6 miles further down the trail from the guard station.
From here on out, you're unlikely to see many other folks aside from backpackers or climbers bound for the glacier. There are several more camps ahead of you: Lewis Meadow at 10.3 miles, Elk Lake at 14.8 or Glacier Meadows at 17.1 miles. Several other smaller sites are sprinkled along the way: sites at miles 12.6, as well as 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3. These smaller sites are not outfitted with toilets or guaranteed water access, but you do need to check in with the ranger to make sure they aren't already reserved for the night. Space in these is limited. Campsite 12.6 can fit two tents (but is recommended both parties know each other), 13.1 has room for a double tent with no vestibules and 13.2 has room for only a single tent, while 13.3 can accommodate a double tent plus a small single.
From any of the sites listed above, it's possible to make the hike to Blue Glacier in just one day, though anything before Elk Lake makes for quite a long day.
Past milepost 12.6 the trail begins gaining elevation. In fact, most of your elevation is gained in the last 5 or so miles of the trail, so be prepared! Climb up to the Hoh Bridge, and gaze down from far above into a canyon carved by a creek feeding the Hoh. Continue on, climbing up and up. In the following three miles, views open up into the valley of glaciers and rivers, all feeding the Hoh.
These views are a welcome change from 15 miles of deep rainforest, but keep your eye on the trail! The ground drops away steeply here, and about half a mile from Glacier Meadows camp is a huge washout. This is your final, major obstacle to your destination. Be ready for this crossing, because it can be dicey, particularly with a large backpack on.
To navigate the washout: A ladder lies on the slope of the washout closer to you; a separate rope anchored to a tree on the hillside above. the safest way to navigate this is to turn around so your back is facing the washout, grab the rope and pull on it, keeping tension so you can remain standing as you walk backwards down the slope, using the wooden rungs to prop your feet if need be. At the bottom, trail heads off to your right and crosses the rocky wash, then begins climbing back up the other side, to the trail that heads to Glacier Meadows. **note**: To avoid navigating this obstacle with a large pack, consider camping at any of the sites before the washout.
As you hike and navigate the washout, you may wonder if a glacier viewpoint is worth all this trouble. It is. But it is 17.5 miles to your first glimpse of the glacier, and another mile to the best viewpoint, which is the Lateral Moraine, not the Terminal Moraine, though it does add nearly one more mile to your approach.
But, once you're there, the viewpoint is a stunner. You'll want to plan for plenty of time to admire the glacier. Hikers are frequently struck by the majesty of its endless blue-tinged crevasses. The panorama includes a sweeping sight of the entire glacier, from the dome of Olympus to the moraine, a truly spectacular sight. Its possible to spend an hour or more there, basking in the view and exploring the area.
On your return to camp, enjoy views of the mountains lining the long valley ahead of you, which houses the headwaters of the Hoh River. Peer at the White Glacier, whose clifflike snout allows a waterfall to go plunging into the outflow from Blue Glacier. In 1812, the two glaciers were merged at Elk Lake. Note how far the glacier has receded in just 200 years, and imagine where it might be in another 200.
WTA Pro Tip: Sections of this trail are subject to washout or heavy erosion, so consult the ranger station about the status of the trail before heading out.