backpack: Dosewallips River Trail

The Dosewallips River Trail provides access to trails in the Olympic National Park via an old road bed. A former campground at the end of the closed road makes a great backpacking location, with many campsites next to the river.

ITINERARY

  • day 1 – Dosewallips trailhead to campsite: 6.5 miles, 1,270 ft. gain, 250 ft. loss
  • day 2 – day hike & hang out at camp
  • day 3 – hike out to Dosewallips trailhead: 6.5 miles, 250 ft. gain, 1,270 ft. loss

TRIP PLANNING

The Dosewallips Road was one of only two eastern access roads into the Olympic National Park until 2002 when the swollen river washed out the road. Now, hikers and bicyclists can reach the decommissioned Dosewallips Ranger Station via 6.5 miles on the former road. Two campgrounds were impacted by the closure: the Elkhorn Campground (now closed permanently), and the Dosewallips Campground – now a camp area for backpackers with picnic tables and bear boxes for food storage. Note that bikes and dogs are allowed up to the ranger station at Dosewallips Campground, but not on the trails beyond.

Day 1

From Portland, we headed north on I-5 for about 115 miles, taking the Olympia exit for 101 highway. After a quick lunch stop in Hoodsport, we continued north, taking in the incredible scenery the road wound its way next to the Hood Canal. We turned on the Dosewallips Road for the final 8.5 miles to the trailhead, parking where the road ends. There are no facilities or signage here, and no parking passes are needed.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking tripDosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

We began the hike by crossing a small gravel section with streams, then followed the former road for one mile to the location where the road washed out. When the river is low, it’s possible to hike next to it, but it’s easier to take the detour route up through the forest to avoid scrambling over boulders and climbing back up a steep ravine next to the river.

The trail is next to the Dosewallips River for most of the hike in. At 2.7 miles in is a side road to the former Elkhorn campground, now closed to camping. From here, the trail grade steepens as it climbs high above the river. The forest opens up and provides views of nearby ridges and peaks. Shortly after, we crossed through a burned area from the 2009 Constance wildfire.

Just under five miles in, an orange gate that’s been damaged by downed trees marks the entry into the Olympic National Park.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

The walls of canyon close in, with the trail curving around large rock walls. Soon, the roar of the river hints at what is to come: the river plunges past boulders as it drops over 100 feet at Dosewallips Falls. The trail is at its steepest next to the falls, but not for too long.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking tripDosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

At 6.5 miles in, the trail descends to Dosewallips Camp, marked by a hitching post. From here, numerous side trails lead to campsites next to the river.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

We were the first people to arrive on a Friday and had our pick of campsites. There are three bear boxes for food storage, which are recommended to use due to bear activity in the area.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking tripDosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

The camp area is gorgeous, with old growth cedars, big leaf maples and the remains of the former campground still standing. Picnic tables…

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking tripDosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

At the end of the camp area is the former Dosewallips Ranger Station and multiple buildings no longer used.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

Day 2

It was unusually hot on our hike in and I ended up with mild heat exhaustion, so I spent most of the day relaxing at camp while my friends did a day hike into the national park from camp. All day long, hikers and backpackers streamed in, filling all of the campsites in the area. There were around 40 people camping in this area on the second night.

Day 3

We got up early and packed up for our hike out, stopping at the waterfall and again next to the river for long breaks to take off our packs.

Dosewallips River Trail backpacking trip Dosewallips River Trail backpacking trip

I would love to return to this area, but would choose to obtain a permit for one of the backcountry camps farther inside the national park for a bit more solitude.