Planning a Backpacking Trip in Olympic National Park

Written by Brad Lane
Apr 15, 2024

View along the Hoh River Trail
View along the Hoh River Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

In a decade-long pursuit of backpacking adventures across the American West, nothing has ever compared to the treasure trove of hiking trails in Olympic National Park in northwest Washington State. It's not only the rugged peaks, verdant rainforest, and boulder-strewn coast that make it my favorite backpacking destination, but it's also the ease and accessibility the nearly million-acre park provides.

Backcountry permits are required for all primitive campgrounds in Olympic National Park, but the way to obtain a permit has changed. As of 2021, all backpacking permits in Olympic National Park must be obtained in advance. This doesn't infringe on the accessibility of getting a permit, as the same number of quota and non-quota sites are still available.

Planning Essentials

One of the first online resources you'll want to utilize for planning a backpacking trip into Olympic National Park is the Wilderness Trip Planner map, published by the National Park Service. This colorful map highlights all 600+ miles of Olympic's backcountry trails and hundreds of wilderness camps.

It's overwhelming to open the Wilderness Trip Planner for the first time, and it helps to know a few things for reference. Below are the basics.

All Backcountry Trips Start at One of Twelve Starting Areas

The backcountry permitting system divides the park into 12 starting points, including the challenging and trail-less Bailey Range (for experienced mountain climbers only). Check out the other 11 starting points to pinpoint where you want to begin a trip:

Seven Lakes Basin
Seven Lakes Basin | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Backcountry Starting Areas Clockwise from the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles:

  • Hurricane Several trails and campsites exploring the northeast Hurricane Ridge area, including Deer Park.
  • Dosewallips – A challenging eastern region of the park with sites along the Dosewallips River.
  • Staircase – A slightly more accessible southeast park region with lake and river campsites and a Visitor Center at the main trailhead.
  • Quinault This starting area dives into the rainforest on the southern side of the peninsula, lending access to several miles of trails, including the route through the bear-heavy Enchanted Valley.
  • Queets This rainforest entry point in the park's southwest region lends access to the three primitive campgrounds on the Queets River.
  • Hoh - Popular area for backpacking and day-hiking, lending access to the Hoh River Trail and several backcountry campsites.
  • Bogachiel - Three campsites stem from Bogachiel State Park near the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest, providing an alternative into the Seven Lakes Basin.
  • Sol Duc - Popular day-use destination providing the quickest access to the several campsites within the Seven Lakes Basin.
  • Elwha - Just west of Port Angeles, this area has several short and long routes, many following the Pacific Northwest National Recreation Trail.
  • North Coast -The north half of the Olympic Wilderness Coast spans from Rialto Beach past Shi Shi Beach with 14 campsites, including several quota sites further north.
  • South Coast - It's all non-quota sites on the south half of Olympic's coastline, offering an excellent spot for planned or unplanned camping near the ocean.

Quota Sites vs Non-Qouta Sites

Permits are required for all backcountry travel into Olympic National Park. Permits are unlimited for certain camping zones, while several other camps are capped, requiring permit registration ahead of time, often through a competitive lottery process.

When looking at the map, note these different symbols next to the listed campsite:

Non-Qouta Campgrounds

Search for these camp zones on the map, especially if you are making a last-minute trip. These camp zones have no limit, or a very high limit, on the number of backcountry visitors they can host in the general area. For example, a permit for Five Mile Island on the Hoh River Trail allows visitors to camp along the river's gravel bar, not just a specific site.

Quota Campgrounds

Less than 50 of Olympic's backcountry sites are capped, with limited overnight permits available. Many of these sites are within the esteemed Seven Lake Basin, a high-alpine wonderland. Several quota sites are also along the stunning North Wilderness Coast, including sites along the Ozette Triangle Trail.

Many Quota sites are capped for a reason, and several remain entirely booked throughout the quota season (May 15th to October 15th). The year's backcountry permits are made available on April 15th. Securing these sites' permits will be difficult when planning a last-minute trip anywhere past mid-May.

Black bears in Olympic National Park
Black bears in Olympic National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Getting a Permit

Permits are required for all Quota and Non-Quota campsites in the Olympic Backcountry, and all permits are available through You'll need to print out your permit before your trip or visit the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles to obtain a hard copy.

The WIC also issues permits in person for really last-minute trips. It's also a valuable resource you can call or visit for any questions regarding trail conditions, closures, and any other information regarding your trip.

Address: Wilderness Information Center, 3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA

Things to Keep in Mind

Link Together Non-Quota Sites for Last-Minute Trips

If it's past May 15th, a month after all reservations open, most Quota sites will already be filled for the summer season. However, obtaining a permit is just a click away by focusing a trip on non-quota sites.

Circle April 15th on the Calender for Quota Sites

Your best bet for obtaining any of the approximately 50 quota sites is to book it as soon as it becomes available on April 15th at 7 a.m. PST. It is possible to obtain a quota permit after this date, but as the year goes on, you'll need more and more flexibility when planning a trip into quota zones.

Smiles not Miles

Just a personal recommendation, but don't underestimate how much time you'll spend just soaking in the landscape. The Wilderness Trip Planner displays trail mileage but not elevation gains. Depending on your experience, attempting more than 10 miles a day could be a challenge that takes too much away from the experience.

Utilize the Olympic Hiking Company Shuttle for Easier Adventures

Olympic Hiking Co. offers a convenient resource for trailhead logistics. It provides several shuttle options along the coast and a Sol Doc Falls to Hoh Rainforest shuttle for those who obtain permits into the Seven Lakes Basin. This private company also specializes in custom shuttles across the Peninsula.

Author's Tip: Park at the exit point and get a shuttle to the start of your backpacking trip, so you can backpack at your own pace back to your car.