Key: 2009-03-07:    

Olympic Hot Springs

An overnighter turned long day trip to Olympic Hot Springs

Begin Date:

End Date:

2009-03-07: 10.74 mi

Total: 10.74 mi

Maximum Elevation*:
2269.76ft (692.071m)

Minimum Elevation*:
1508.8ft (460.196m)

Gallery for this adventure:
Click here

* This is derived from GPS data and can have major discrepancies due to poor GPS reception.

Trip Report:

Given that both of us had just picked up shiny new Arc'Teryx packs(Thanks REI Dividends) it was mandatory that we get out to give them a try.

Fully loaded (We really wanted to get an impression of how well the packs would perform) we left Redmond Saturday morning and headed to the Ferry in Edmonds. After a long wait we were able to get on the 7:10AM to Kingston. Once accross the sound, we headed to Port Angeles for permiting and of course for breakfast at our favorite bagel place, Olympic Bagel Company.

A funny side story about getting our permit. As we were checking in with the backcountry ranger, he began asking us the standard safety questions, ones about the weather and if we prepared properly. About halfway through, it seemed that he suddenly recognized us and told us he thought had been to our website. We were both a bit shocked but very thrilled about this, since we do put all this stuff out there for people to read, and hopefully enjoy. It seems more people than we thought actually get to the site. The ranger then asked us to a couple of questions about the Skyline Trail, since he planned on doing that next summer, and we gladly answered.

Back on the road, we headed straight for the Elwha and beyond that Observation Point, which is as far up the Olympic Hot Springs road as we could go because the park service locks the gate beyond that during the winter months.

The Cloudy view from Observation Point:
Looking back at Lake Mills from where the gate is closed.

After a couple of last minute adjustments and additions to our packs, we locked up the car and headed out under a rather decent amount of falling snow.

We passed a couple of groups coming out, some much more prepared than others and one telling us how cold he was the night before and that the hot springs were his only salvation. We weren't too concerned though, we knew we would be fine as far as temps as we have backpacked in much colder weather.

We continued up the winding road for about an hour before finally reaching the actual trailhead which aside from a lack of parking, seems to be a very nice trailhead. To this point the snow had yet to stop falling and actually seemed to be increasing as we moved up the valley.

Pic just passed the trailhead of us with our new packs:
Posing for a pic with our new backpacks!

The trail from here isn't too different from the road we had just been on, since it follows and old road bed that used to serve a now long gone resort at the springs. We weren't sure about when the park service officially closed the road, but surprisingly, it is still in pretty good shape aside from a couple of wash outs and once rather significant looking slide.

After another hour had come and gone, we reached a fork in the trail, one side going to the hot springs and the other heading up to the Boulder Creek Campground. Which happens to be the only official walk in campground in the Olympics, though in recent years due to washouts, there might be a few more.

We headed up the fork to the campground for lunch and to hopefully find a spot that wasn't too far from the springs. Once in what we think was the campground (It was kind of hard to tell in the snow, thought we did see the pit toilet and bearwires) we had lunch and had a bit of a look around. Unfortunately, the campround sits quite a bit above the springs, requiring a long walk to even get to them. In the summer this might not be a problem, but in the winter with a couple of feet of snow, this is less than ideal. Taking that into consideration, and since we weren't too concerned with trampling vegitation with all the snow, we opted to setup camp back down near the main trail.

Before setting up camp we decided to take a quick look at the springs and determine if it looked like something we would want to jump in later after the daytrippers had departed. We went accross the bridge over Boulder Creek and began checking them out.

Tracy crossing Boulder Creek Bridge near the hot springs:
Tracy crossing the Boulder Creek bridge to check out the hot springs.

Unfortunately, of the hot springs that weren't being used, none of them seemed anywhere near appealing enough for us to jump in, mostly because they weren't more than a foot deep. All the same, we remained optimistic that the two we couldn't get to due to use, would be more accomodating.

We went back accross Boulder Creek and finally setup our tent in what was likely one of the places used the night before, which was nice as it kept leveling to a minimum. The snow was still falling, and in fact had increased to a point where trying to get the footprint down and the tent up without accumilating too much snow was a challenge. We managed however, and then decided to hop inside to dry off, play some cards, and wait out the day hikers over at the springs.

Our tent with about 10 minutes worth of snow overlooking Boulder Creek:
Our temporary campsite.

At about 3:30PM we got back out of the tent and began to worry a bit as it was now snowing much harder than it had since we had got there. Our concern wasn't for us in the backcountry, but rather being able to get our car out at the trailhead, since we had no choice but to assume that it was snowing at the same rate down the valley. We have already had our fun getting a car out of the snow and don't even want to have to do it again.

We walked around for a bit more checking out the rest of the springs and being largely dissapointed. The best spring was little more than a foot deep and even though it looked better than the rest as far as algae and grime, the thought of drying off in the cold afterwards was less than appealing. Also at this point the snow had only increased with our concern of being able to drive out in the morning.

Pics of the hot springs:
Hot Springs. One of the better ones.

Hot Springs.

Back at the tent, the snow was still accumilating and finally pushed us over the edge. We would head out, and camp down at the lower Elwha campground. The decision came mainly because of the snow, but also because we had to be on the 9:30AM Ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey in order to be in Anacortes by 11:00AM (We had some things to take care of there). That would mean getting back to the car at around 7:00AM at the latest and the thought of packing up camp and hiking out at 4:30AM was not really something either of us wanted to endure.

Lots of snow on our tent:
Our tent being buried with the snow.

Of course as soon as we got the tent taken down, the snow all but stopped and we even had a slight window of blue sky. This was nice simply because it gave us a moment to pack without fending off the accumilations of snow and because it really became a nice evening.

The moon on our way out:
The moon as we hike back out after calling the trip off.

The trip out felt a bit longer than the one coming in, which to us usually isn't the case, but no biggie. The snow continued off and on for most of the trip back, occasionally giving way to a very bright moon, and some early stars as nightfall set in. We finally reached the car at about 7:30PM and began heating water for our dinners. As we waited for the boil, we packed up the car and enjoyed the now fairly clear view of Lake Mills below us. The temperature at this point really began to drop so we quickly ate in the car and then headed back down to the Lower Elwha for the night.

As it turned out, we had little trouble getting down the mountains, even though there was an inch or two of snow at the car. We were better safe than sorry, and we didn't have to get up at 4:30AM to head out, so that put smiles on our faces.
In the end we made the 9:30AM ferry despite some heavy snow at Port Townsend of all places.

Looking back on the trip, it was a good one, as really they always are. We doubt the hot springs themselves will ever really lure us back, but the Happy Ridge loop is now on our list of trips for a long summer weekend. It truly is a great area of the Olympics that we will most certainly have to check out again.