Our Hiking Time: 12h
Total Ascent: 3000ft
Highest Point: 5700ft
Total Distance: 16 miles
Location: N 47° 49.2780, W 123° 13.1160
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
It has been a long time coming, but this week we finally hopped a ferry and did our first hike in the Olympics. Despite the logistical hassle of ferries and extra driving time, we were excited to explore some new territory. We decided to start with the heavily traveled and ever-popular Royal Basin, one of the jewels of the Olympic National Park’s rain shadow region.
Named in 1890 by the O'Neil Expedition, the creek, lake and basin were all dubbed “royal” for reasons lost to the whimsy of exploratory christenings. Since that time, thousands of feet have packed down trail roughly following the creek to its source at Royal Lake.
The trail begins at Upper Dungeness Trailhead, a parking area along Forest Road 2860 near the Dungeness River. Climb up the Dungeness River Trail through looming moss-covered firs and thick underbrush for about a mile to a junction pointing you toward Royal Basin. Sheltered under the thick forest canopy begin the long trek to the lake alongside the constant burbling of Royal Creek, your companion for nearly the entire journey.
As you progress the forest will occasionally open, revealing glimpses of nearby peaks lining the valley. On our trip, avalanches had re-graded sections of the trail, obscuring the trail, and forcing us to find creative ways around the debris that had tumbled down the mountain. Streams both small and large cut across the trail, often snaking down narrow grass-filled valleys invariably filled with small herds of deer.
The mild grade is occasionally interspersed with a short set of switchbacks, though eventually the trail flattens out into expansive meadows before hitting the last and most strenuous portion of the hike. Push through the final series of switchbacks to reach the lakeshore. Royal Lake sits directly beneath Mt. Clark, with Mt. Deception looming over the far end of the lake. For those feeling like a little extra adventure, a footpath leads around the lake and gives access to the upper basin at the base of Mt. Deception. Whether you are spending the night just out on an extended dayhike, find a quiet space to take in the panorama and settle in.
This is an excellent hike, one that we recommend you consider for a weekend backpack. The distance from Seattle and the length of the hike makes this a very long day if you’re not planning on an overnight. Though, on a sunny day the Royal Creek Valley is picturesque in and of itself, making a shortened version of this hike well worth the effort. Although definitely a popular and well-known hike, we did not encounter that many people along the way. In fact, we ran into more wildlife than people – not only a countless number of deer, but marmots and a few close encounters with black bears as well.
To get there, take the Bainbrige Island Ferry, following State Route 305 through Poulsbo to State Route 3. Follow SR 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, taking a left over the bridge onto State Route 104. Follow SR 104 as it merges onto US 101 and continue another 18 miles and turn left onto left on Palo Alto Road. From here, take a right onto FR 2880 near the Dungeness River. Continue just under two miles to FR 2870. Head left and follow for six-and-a-half miles to the trailhead. -Nathan
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