In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. The beautiful mountain peak that reigns over Olympic National Park in Washington State could have no better name. Standing at a height of 7,980’ the glacier-laden peak of Mount Olympus is the stunning natural throne of this wonderland. To obtain the absolute best views of this mythic mountain you are going to have to put some effort in and take on the 20-mile High Divide Loop Trail. This is a journey that traverses the lush rainforest and summits a long narrow ridgeline overlooking the iconic peak. It is breathtakingly beautiful but not a journey for the faint of heart. We have all the details in this High Divide Loop Trail Guide to take on this amazing journey for yourself and snag the best views of the iconic Mount Olympus.
High Divide Loop Trail Guide – Quick Links
- Camping Permits
- Hiking Direction
- The Trail
- Side Trails
- Backpacking Gear
- Recommended Itinerary
- After the Trail
The High Divide Loop Stats
- Trailhead: Sol Duc Parking Lot
- Type: Loop
- Rating: Strenuous
- Distance: 20-miles
- Starting Elevation: 1,970’
- Highest Elevation: 5,415’
- Total Elevation Gain: 4,770’
- Season: Mid-July through Late-September
- Recommended Time: 3 days, 2 nights
- Camping Permits: Required
- Recommended Add-ons:
- Bogachiel Peak: 5,474’- Add 1/4 of a mile & 80’ of elevation gain
- Seven Lake Basin Trail: Add 2 miles (one way) & 550’ of elevation gain
- Camping Permits: Required
Typically the majority of the Olympic National Park camping permits are reserved ahead of time with a few held for walk-ins. Reservations are made available on a 6-month rolling window. This means that the campsites are released daily 6-months in advance. For example, if you want to camp on July 20th, you will need to log on to get your permit on January 20th. A series of campsites can be reserved simultaneously so long as the first night is a part of the available window. Olympic National Park breaks all of its backcountry campsites up into different subsections. All of the High Divide Loop campsites are found in the Sol Duc subsection.
High Divide Reservation Exception
Many of the High Divide Trail campsites are not available online until mid-July. This is because the High Divide Trail typically has a deep snowpack that often lingers until mid-July making it very dangerous. If you wish to reserve a High Divide Loop campsite prior to July 15th you must call the park wilderness desk and have the ranger approve your itinerary. I would not suggest planning a trip before July 15th. I would actually suggest waiting until August to make sure the trail is clear of snow.
- Mid-July through Late-September
Despite the fact that the Olympic Mountain Range tops out at less than 8,000′ the area receives a ton of snow each year that can linger on the trails well into the summer. It is for this reason that the backpacking season starts late on the High Divide Loop. We took on the journey in mid-July and the snowpack was nearly a deterrent to completing the hike. There is a safer path through the Seven Lakes Basin that bypasses the most dangerous sections of the High Divide Loop that hikers can take if the snow creates too much of a challenge. However, if you want to have the full experience wait until late July to take on the High Divide Loop Trail.
The Sol Duc parking lot is the starting point for the High Divide Trail. The road to the Sol Duc area is paved and well-maintained, especially when compared to many of the gravel roads found throughout Olympic National Park. The parking lot is made up of two parking areas. The combined total of these lots is not even close to large enough for the number of hikers that flock to this location. Plan to arrive at the parking area really early (near sunrise) especially if you are starting your adventure on a weekend. Later in the day vehicles are parked tenuously along the side of the steep access road. This would not be an ideal way to start such a long journey or a great place to leave a vehicle for several days.
There is no right or wrong way to hike the High Divide Loop. It is nearly as steep traveling in one direction as it is in the other. It is best to have an idea of the campsites you wish to obtain when the permits become available (see our recommended Itineraries) but remain flexible and willing to hike the trail in reverse if those sites and dates align.
The High Divide Loop is completed by combining three of Olympic National Park’s well-established trails; the Sol Duc River Trail, High Divide Trail, and the Deer Lake Trail. The signage is abundant in the area but often they indicate the direction towards a lake, campsite, or the Seven Lakes Basin. I found that the trail names were rarely if ever used. To add to the complication, Sol Duc is often spelled Soleduck on some signs despite the parks service website and map using the Sol Duc spelling.
Sol Duc River Trail
The Sol Duc River Trail leads away from the parking area crossing through the lush rainforest. Within a mile, the path reaches the juncture for Sol Duc Falls. The gorgeous waterfall is a short descent to the right which leads down to a bridge crossing over the falls. Stay left instead to continue on the Sol Duc River Trail. The path beyond the intersection is much narrower as it leads deeper into the rainforest following the flow of the Sol Duc River upstream.
At 5.5-miles the trail comes to the Appleton Pass Intersection. The sign here indicates the way to the Seven Lakes Basin but for all practical purposes, this is where the High Divide Trail begins as this is where hikers venture onto the Pacific Northwest Trail of which the High Divide is a section. Appleton Pass which leads off to the left is a continuation of the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The High Divide Trail
Leaving Appleton Pass the trail steepens, gaining more than 2,100′ in the next 4-miles before reaching the actual High Divide Ridgeline. Along the way, hikers will leave the rainforest, and pass through the evergreen layer. The trees will become smaller and smaller as you climb higher. You will also pass by the popular Sol Duc Park and Heart Lake backcountry campgrounds.
The Ridgeline of the High Divide Trail
The ridgeline of the High Divide Trail is about 3.5-miles long as it runs from the ridge above Heart Lake to the main intersection (west side) for Lunch Lake. The ridgeline has stunning aerial views of Mount Olympus to the North and the Seven Lakes Basin to the South. The ridgeline has some elevation gain and loss but the real challenge is found in a few areas where the exposure is high. These narrow ledges can be especially treacherous when they are still covered in snow. The snow can linger on the ridgeline well into mid-summer.
High Divide to Deer Lake
Beyond the Lunch Lake Intersection, the High Divide Trail leaves the high exposure behind but enters into a section where the trail has been broken up by seismic activity. It is relatively short-lived but can be a challenge to navigate. It then begins a 3.5-mile long descent of 1,400 feet to Deer Lake.
Deer Lake Trail
At Deer Lake, hikers find a temporary reprieve from the steep descent. It is a quaint Lake found in the evergreen layer of the park. On the other side, the trail once again picks up the steep drop. The path makes its quick descent back through the lush rainforest dropping 1,600 feet in 3-miles as it returns to Sol Duc Falls. From the gorgeous waterfall, it is less than a mile back to the parking lot on relatively flat terrain.
Side Trips –High Divide Loop Guide
While the High Divide Loop is an amazing journey unto itself there are a few side trips we must mention to make this High Divide Loop Guide complete.
Seven Lakes Basin Trail
- Type: Thru or Out-n-Back
- Distance: Add 4 miles (round trip)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 550’
The Seven Lakes Basin Trail is a side trip into a gorgeous alpine basin that is a must when backpacking the High Divide Loop. The Seven Lakes Basin Trail is shown on the Olympic National Park map as a short spur to Lunch Lake (4,400′). While the Lake is a great destination the trail continues through the basin climbing to the east passing many smaller lakes and reconnecting with the High Divide Trail. This narrow trail is used early in the season to bypass the more dangerous sections of the High Divide Trail but it is gorgeous enough that it should be hiked in its entirety along with the full length of the trail throughout the summer.
We suggest hiking over the High Divide Ridgeline from east to west and taking the main, signed (west) trail down to Lunch Lake. Drop all your backpacking gear at Lunch Lake and hike through the Seven Lakes Basin back up to the High Divide Ridgeline intersection in the east. From here you can either backtrack through the basin to Lunch Lake or go back over the High Divide Trail to Lunch Lake.
- Type: Out-n-Back
- Distance: Add 1/4 mile
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 80’
The 5,474-foot Bogachiel Peak is the highest point along the High Divide ridgeline. However the main trail circles around it but there is a short spur to the very top. We hold fond memories of this pinnacle. The view from the top looks down on the Seven Lakes Basin to the north and it also has some stunning views to the west as the sloped terrain falls towards the Bogachiel River. It was here that Jennifer and I spotted a black bear about 20-feet below the summit cooling off on a mid-summer day. He meandered into a snowbank on the side of the mountain, plopped down in the refreshing ice, and slid down the mountainside. Many people fear bears but at times they are comical creatures.
- Type: Out-n-Back
- Distance: 1.25 miles (one way)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 800’
Hoh Lake is another beautiful permitted camping area. The lake provides some picturesque views of Mount Olympus through the surrounding trees. The trail down to the lake leaves the High Divide Trail just below Bogachiel Peak and drops 800′ in about 1.25-miles. While this makes for a good side trip it can also be used as a waypoint on a longer thru-hike. Instead of returning to the Sol Duc area of the park backpackers can instead continue a nearly 4,000′ descent to the Hoh River Trailhead located 14.75-miles from the lake. While we have not taken this route the journey is supposed to be gorgeous.
Campsites (Listed in a Clockwise Direction)
Most of the major campsites on the High Divide Loop trail do not allow campfires and you must bring your own bear canister. Each major campsite has several single sites in it and maps are posted as you enter the campground indicating where the individually numbered campsites are located. While camping permits for the campsites (backcountry campgrounds) are required, they aren’t numerically specific. Each site has a max number of six campers. The group sites (follow this link, not all listed below) will allow up to twelve campers. Nearly all of the camping areas have access to nearby water sources but only the major campsites have toilets so make sure you bring your trowel for proper disposal if in one of the smaller sites.
Check out the official Olympic National Park’s backcountry map for more details and location.
Sol Duc River 1-4
Each of these single sites is found in the rainforest alongside the Sol Duc River. There are four sites spread out along several miles. The higher the number the further they will be located from the trailhead. All of these sites are much too close to the trailhead to make very good campsites for the long-distance journey on the High Divide Loop. However, they do typically allow campers to have fires.
Appleton Trail Junction Campsite
The Appleton Trail Junction campsite is found on the river (a creek) near the junction for the Appleton Pass (5,050′) trail. Again this site is too close to the trailhead for our taste but it does allow campfires.
Rocky Creek, Sol Duc Crossing, & Lower Bridge Creek 1&2 Campsites
These single campsites are stretched out over about a mile and start at about 5-miles in on the trail. They are the last campsites on the north side of the High Divide Loop that typically allow campfires. While these campsites are still a little close to the start they would make decent campsites for those stretching out their adventure to 4 nights, those who prioritize campfires and solitude, or those getting a late start on the first day.
Sol Duc Park
Sol Duc Park is located about 8-miles from the trailhead and it is the first major backcountry campsite with several numbered single sites (1-6 people) as well as an adjacent group campsite that can accommodate up to 12-people. The Sol Duck Park campsites are located at 4,182′ near the creek and in a meadow just below the treeline. Campfires are not allowed but this campsite has the added luxury of an outhouse. The backcountry ranger station for this area of the park is also located here with an emergency radio, adding a sense of safety to an overnight adventure.
Heart Lake is a beautiful major backcountry campsite with multiple single sites and a toilet located near the small lake shaped like a heart. The campsites are spread out amongst the thinning trees perched right at treeline. Located at an elevation of 4,770′ and just below the High Divide Ridge, this is the last campsite on the north/east side of the High Divide Loop. It is an amazing spot to camp if you can endure the 9-mile trek with more than 2,500′ of elevation gain in a single day.
Hoh Lake isn’t really located on the High Divide Loop Trail but it is a large multi-site backcountry camping area. It is perched on a lake, high in the mountains, and about 1.25-miles with 800′ of elevation loss from the High Divide Loop Trail. Why do we list it here? Because of the popularity of the High Divide Loop, this is often the only campsite people can get a permit for but it also makes a great site for a longer alternative adventure.
Lunch Lake (4,400′) isn’t technically located on the High Divide Loop Trail either but it is a highly sought-after major backcountry campsite. This is the only camping area located in the gorgeous Seven Lakes Basin and it is the best way to fully explore and enjoy the gorgeous basin. Lunch Lake is a large body of water at the base of Bogalciel Peak. The campsites are numbered and spread out through the trees near the west side of the lake. It can be hard to locate the sites so we recommend dropping your bags and sending out a search party upon arrival. Just make sure you have bear spray in hand as we found a large black bear enjoying the lake as well when we were there.
Deer Lake is really the last of the useable major campsites on the High Divide Loop. It is perched on a shelf just over 4-miles from the trailhead. The lake is found deep inside the treeline and the views are less incredible than the other three lake campgrounds in the area. It does make for a good lunch spot for those who get a late start and who are headed in a counter-clockwise direction.
Canyon Creek 1 -3
There are three single-use campsites found on the steep descent from Deer Lake. These campsites are burried in the rainwood forest and seem to have the toughest access to water on the High Divide Loop. While fires are allowed at these sites they are much too close to the trailhead.
Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls is a major campsite near the epic waterfall and the only major campsite that allows campfires in the area. However, it is the only major campsite area on the High Divide Loop without an established toilet. Given that it is located just over a mile from the parking lot these campsites aren’t overly useful when backpacking the High Divide Loop but would make for a nice night out before or after the adventure. You could easily resupply and spend a night or two relaxing with the crash of the falls echoing through the forest.
The weather of Olympic National Park is unpredictable. The High Divide Loop traverses warm rainforests and crosses treeless alpine terrain. You should dress in layers and pack for warm days and cold nights throughout the summer. A variety of gear is needed to make a successful and safe traverse. We have spent years dialing in our backpacking gear and it is designed for this type of variation in terrain and weather. Check it out for an idea of everything you might need to successfully backpack the High Divide Trail.
Water is a fickle thing on the High Divide Loop Trail. In the lower elevation areas, it is abundant and feels like the entire trail will be that way. However, the 7-mile stretch between Heart Lake and Deer Lake has little reliable water once the snow has melted. Make sure you fill up at Heart Lake (using a water filter) and are able to make the traverse to either Deer, Lunch, or Hoh lake.
All toilets on the High Divide Loop Trail are either pit or barrel toilets including those found at the trailhead. The major backcountry campsites of Sol Duc Park, Heart Lake, Lunch Lake, Deer Lake, and Hoh Lake have a toilet. If you intend to stay at another campsite make sure you bring your trowel and use leave-no-trace principles.
Dangers on the High Divide Loop
An epic adventure on the High Divide Loop Trail comes with no shortage of risk. The path crosses rugged terrain with no cell coverage. Steep drop-offs abound on the ridgeline with a path that remains covered in snow well into the summer. The area also has a high concentration of black bears and an ungodly amount of mosquitoes. We saw at least five healthy-looking black bears while crossing the ridge on our second day of the journey including one directly across from our campsite at Lunch Lake. However, the number of mosquito bites I sustained through my deet-laden long sleeve shirt was a real concern for my wife. She was confused about how I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock.
All of this risk can be mitigated with a bit of common sense, preparedness, and backcountry practices. Make sure you check weather reports and trail conditions before backpacking the High Divide Loop Trail. If snow persists on the trail, backpack with microspikes, and hiking poles. Be prepared to turn back should the conditions be beyond your ability. Share your itinerary with someone and let them know when to expect a call from you. Give them the number to the backcountry desk at Olympic National Park so they immediately know who to call if you go missing. Store your food properly while in the backcountry. Make sure you cook your food and clean your dishes well away from your campsite. Make sure you carry a thick long sleeve shirt, bug net, and lots of bug spray.
- Time: 3 days, 2 nights
- Direction: Clockwise
- Note: Reverse this itinerary if needed for available permits
Day 1 – Arrive near sunrise to get an early start and to get a good parking spot at the trailhead. Hike through the rainforest and climb more than 2,600′ to Heart Lake. This will be intense for those inexperienced or unacclimated backpackers. You might consider doing a 4-day itinerary to make the ascent easier. After setting up camp, and having dinner, grab your headlamp, camera, and a bottle of water and head for the ridgeline to watch the sunset on Mount Olympus.
Day 2 – Pack up camp and hike over the ridgeline adding in the summit of Bogachiel Peak. Next, descend into the Seven Lakes Basin and set up camp. After setting up take a day-hike east through the basin. Make sure you have a thick long sleeve shirt, your bug net, and plenty of bug spray on. Upon your return enjoy lounging beside the lake.
Day 3 – Pack up camp and climb the Seven Lakes Basin Trail back to the High Divide Trail. Then make the long 7.5-mile descent back to the trailhead. Make sure you have enough water to make it to Deer Lake when starting today’s hike. Also, prioritize some time to fully take in Sol Duc Falls on your way out.
Alternative (Slower) High Divide Loop Itinerary
- Time: 4 days, 3 nights
- Direction: Counter-Clockwise
- Note: Reversing this itinerary is not recommended
For less experienced backpackers, we highly recommend taking this trail at a slower pace and adding in an extra day for the ascent. This would also be a good itinerary for those who are experienced but get a late start on the first day.
Day 1 – Arrive near sunrise. Hike through the rainforest and climb the 4-miles to Deer Lake. Make sure to spend some time taking in Sol Duc Falls.
Day 2 – Pack up camp early and hike to the ridgeline and then drop into the Seven Lakes Basin. Set up camp and have lunch. After lunch hike through the Seven-Lakes Basin with a day-pack and loop back around on the High Divide Trail adding in the summit of Bogachiel Peak. This will make a long nearly 9-mile day but it allows you to do the hardest sections with a day-pack rather than a fully loaded backpack.
Day 3 – Sleep in and enjoy the morning at Lunch Lake. After lunch pack up camp and hike back through the Seven Lakes Basin Trail back to the east side of the High Divide Trail. Continue east on the High Divide Trail passing Heart Lake and descend to Sol Duc Park. This is about a 4-mile day.
Day 4 – Finish the journey by making the 8-mile descent back to the trailhead.
Longer Altenrative Adventure via Hoh Lake
- Time: 4 days, 3 nights
- Direction: Thru-Hike
- Note: Reversing this itinerary is not recommended as it would add 1,500′ of elevation gain.
For those seeking an even more epic adventure takes on the Hoh River Trail and descend into the valley directly below Mount Olympus. Taking the route will require shuttling from one remote trailhead to the other. If you don’t have a second vehicle you can arrange a shuttle ride with the Olympic Hiking Company.
Day 1 – Park your vehicle at the Hoh Rainforest Parking Lot and shuttle over to the Sol Duc area of the park. Start your adventure by checking out Sol Duc falls and then backtrack to continue on the Sol Duc River Trail. Because of the shuttle, you most likely will get a late start so we recommend the Rocky Creek Campsite or one of the other nearby single campsites. The distance will be about 7-miles.
Day 3 – Pack up camp and hike east through the Seven Lakes Basin Trail back to the High Divide Trail. Once regaining the ridgeline, hike west back over some of the most scenic sections of the High Divide Trail and turn then turn towards Hoh Lake just below Bogachiel Peak. Stop at Hoh Lake for a lunch and then continue the steep descent into the valley finishing out your day at the Olympus Guard Station Backcountry Campsite. A roughly 9.5-mile day.
Day 4 – Finish the journey by following the Hoh River 9.5-miles through the rainforest back to the parking area. Or if you have even more time add on another day and continue up the Hoh River valley to the Blue Glacier on the side of Mount Olympus.
After the High Divide Loop Guide
There are few things better than soaking your tired muscles in a natural hot spring after several days of backpacking. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is located just down the road from the trailhead making it the perfect place to relax after a long adventure. They have rooms as well as campsites making this the perfect spot no matter what kind of accomodation you prefer.
High Divide Loop Trail Guide with Seven Lakes Basin
In my life, there have been many moments where I have asked myself, what have we gotten ourselves into? I had that epiphany for the first time when hiking on the unrestored part of the Great Wall of China known as Jiankou. I was struck by the thought again as we backpacked the AssiniboineTrail through a blizzard (in July) while lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us. I found myself yet again internalizing that thought as we precariously stepped out onto the icy boot-stomped path at the top of the High Divide Loop Trail in Olympic National Park. To our left was a sheer vertical wall and to our right a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. We of course survived as I am now writing this post with full dexterity and no broken limbs. In the moment I found myself questioning our sanity, but this was another adventure I will cherish until the day I die.