South Fork Hoh River Trail

800 ft max; 732 ft min elevation 2.5-3.0 mi one way (we read differing trail descriptions but are inclined to agree with the 3.0 mi) Approximately 1.5-1.75 hours

We chose the South Fork Hoh trail as an overnight alternative rainforest experience to the popular Hoh River Trail. We wanted to avoid the crowds and enjoy the rainforest at night and in solitude. The trail was described by Robert L. Wood in his book Olympic Mountains Trail Guide: National Park & National Forest as a botanists and zoologists delight, which caught our fancy.


The good news is that we more than accomplished our solitude objective: although there was 1 other car at the trailhead we did not see another soul out there. The rainforest was verdant and there were some enormous species of trees very near the trailside. This trail is a world away from civilization and is a relatively easy trek into some very deep rainforest. We saw grouse and elk on the way to the trailhead. The Port Angeles WIC did not know much about this trail, and because it is labeled as a primitive trail on the park brochure the junior ranger helping us claimed it was an unmaintained trail and we would probably need to do some route-finding. That is not true. Someone had been out there this year cutting downed trees and the trail is very well maintained and easy to follow. But I am sure the rangers admonitions keep most people away.


Although this trail is named a river trail, it follows an inland path north of the South Fork of the Hoh River for most of its length. The river was only rarely glimpsed from the trail and it was choked full of downed trees (possibly from the 2007 spring storms). This is better hiked as a dayhike than overnight backpacking trip; the campsites were not very memorable (the spots at Big Flat and Camp Stick in Eye were flat enough, with plenty of room, but they just were not worth lugging all your gear in; the South Fork Hoh drive-in campground was actually just as nice and with only 3 sites practically as secluded). It is a long way to drive out of the way for rainforest that is not much different from the Hoh region. We are apparently not well-versed enough in Olympic zoology or botany to have appreciated this as a dream trail; but perhaps that is our fault?

Driving Directions:

HELPFUL HINT: Pick up a trailhead map from the Forks ranger station when you pick up your permit if you are going overnight.

From Forks: take Hwy 101 to Clearwater Corrections Center Road and turn left (at mile marker 176).

Go east until just past mile marker 6.5 and turn left on H1000 (there is a brown sign with a strangely-shaped arrow for the S. Fork Hoh campground at the intersection).

Go approximately 10.5 miles to the end of the road where it ends at the trailhead; be careful not to turn off of H1000 (especially at the sharp right hand bend where the road continues straight as Owl Creek Rd). H1000 is all gravel, 1-1.5 lanes, and no more than 30 mph but you do not need a 4WD. You will cross a bridge and a primitive campground on your right approximately 2.5 miles from the end. NOTE: The pit toilet at the campground is pretty sweet smelling and the last one before the trailhead.

Trail Description:

From the trailhead, the trail starts at 800 ft with a descent along a valley side. (Do not be discouraged, the greatest elevation loss on the whole trail occurs right away.) After 5 minutes, cross a rocky streambed and a forest of alder and spruce. After another 5 minutes cross a tiny stream on logs as you make your way down the hillside. A few minutes beyond that, at 0.4 mi and 750 ft elevation, you will cross into the National Park (where there is a sign notifying you of this achievement). After another 5 minutes there is a sign where you can self register if you have not already picked up a trail permit for an overnight hike (bring your own pen and mail in your payment after the hike).

10-15 minutes after the trail register you will pass a Douglas fir standing somewhat alone on the right side of the trail that is about 11 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall (at least we think this is the specimen we read about).

5 minutes later cross a small and then another larger stream on rocks. The larger stream is big enough to filter water from. You will skirt the edge of this rivers valley and climb uphill out of it, followed by a downhill descent after the crest.

About 10 minutes after this hill the trail enters into a definite change in vegetation to a more open, marshy wetland area and the sign for Big Flat camping area to your right. The Big Flat campground is 1.3 mi from the trailhead and an elevation of 732 (the low point of the trail). There is a side trail to the right that leads 0.1 miles toward the river past existing campsites. There are plenty of flat areas for several tents but they are some distance from the river. 10 minutes after Big Flat, and closer to the river, is another side trail to the right. This may be a game trail, as we saw a lot of deer and elk hoof prints, but the area close to the river was up a 10 foot bank and flat enough to pitch a few tents.

Approximately 20 minutes past Big Flat the trail crosses a filterable stream on a small log bridge and passes through a cut 9 foot diameter log. After another 10 minutes the trail passes right next to a small bend in the river where it looks as if the bank is being continually eroded away. After 5 more minutes the trail crosses a side stream on a huge downed tree. After roughly 15 minutes the main trail ends at the campground, which is 2.5-3.0 miles from the trailhead and at an elevation of approximately 750 ft. The camp is in the woods to the right on the north bank of the South Fork Hoh, just after crossing a low area. It is hidden in the conifers, so keep your eye out for it.

The trail does continue beyond the campground, but it deteriorates and there are downed trees to scramble over and under.

What We Brought: Full backpacks= Gear: tent, sleeping bag, stove, water filter, 2 pots, 4 spoons, bowls, lighter, headlamp, head net, shovel and toilet paper, water bags, bug spray, sunscreen, food. Clothes: thermal tights, shorts, extra sock liners, fleece vest, fleece top, rain jacket, rain pants, winter hat, ball cap Wish We Had Not Brought: Full packs; wish we had only brought daypacks and done this as a dayhike. Glad We Brought: Tripod = it is really dark in the forest and none of your photos will likely turn out well without one Rain Coat and Pack Cover = the vegetation can be really wet even if it is not currently raining Bug Spray = DEET


spacer Gloves to protect our hands on barnacles and ropes
spacer Headlamps for setting up camp in the dark



spacer Ankle brace
spacer Good boots, with a good gripping sole
spacer Teriyaki beef jerky
spacer Band-aid blister pads
spacer Lots and lots of film




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