A Royal Spring in Olympic National Park

The first hint of warm weather after the rainy season is enough to drive someone mad with glee. After a long winter, full of wind and rain and what always feels like an oppressing gray cloud both in the sky and in the mind, the first sunny day of spring stirs up long lost emotions. Maybe it is the first hit of Vitamin D, or maybe it is the anticipation of what is to come, but that first sunny day after a long winter has me grinning from ear to ear. 

Like the rivers of the Pacific Northwest on a warm spring day getting flush with melting snows, the return of the sun gets my blood flowing, probably overflowing my veins and getting me the same rush that a vampire feels at a blood bank. It is on these days that I both plan for the future and look back at past adventures in the spring. One memorable spring trip came in 2015, when a weird drought struck the Olympic Peninsula, opening up the backcountry in April and rewarding hikers in good enough shape to reach the backcountry with a long day hike.

I needed a long hike and knew just where to go, now that the snow was melted out. Off in the right corner of the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula, in areas known for plane crashes and mines, is the trail to a foreign landscape even in the Olympics. Tossing in a bit of everything the Olympic Peninsula has to offer, excluding the coast, the trail to Upper Royal Basin is quite possibly the best long day-hike in the National Park system. I am well aware of my bias, but where else can you hike along one of the steepest rivers in America, see a high alpine lake, a breathtaking waterfall, giant boulders and then a moonlike landscape with glacial tarns. Hard to beat.

Gaining nearly 3,000 feet in eight miles of hiking, the trail to Upper Royal Basin doesn’t disappoint and on this spring day in 2015, it rewarded my effort. In 2015, I wasn’t in great shape. Ok, I was in good shape for the average American, but that really isn’t saying much. I was struggling to be active, more often found hiding indoors due to depression than hiking or running. Getting out on a trail those days required a lot of effort and thankfully, I could summon up the energy that day. Driving to the trailhead, I blasted uptempo music and kept myself excited, otherwise I might have talked myself out of the whole hike, not believing spring was actually here.

After nearly three hours of driving, I reached my trailhead along the Dungeness River. For a mile or so, I would follow this river upstream enjoying second growth forests and the silence that only the Olympics can offer. The hike was easy and after about five minutes, I forgot about the rest of the world and started to heal a soul damaged from the winter and the curveballs of life. After turning right at Royal Creek, I found myself drunk of wanderlust, so enraptured by the beauty of pure wilderness that I was nearly stumbling uphill. for six miles, I climbed gradually, seeing the first wildflowers of the season blooming and leaving footprints in soon to be non-existent patches of snow.

As I approached Royal Lake, the smell of growing fir trees and melting snow filled my nostrils, giving me a hit of one of my favorite smells in the world. If I was drunk of wanderlust earlier, I was a junkie, staggering from place to place as I took in the last stretch of trail to the camping area/Giant Boulder and seasonal Ranger’s Station. Here, I couldn’t resist deviating from my plan. Originally, I was going to go to the tarn in the Upper Basin, then swing by and see the hidden waterfall pouring down the mountains.

The roar of water in the distance was too much, and I found myself transfixed on finding the gorgeous Royal Falls. Through snow, I blazed my own trail, working my way to the small creek that poured so perfectly over the rocky outcropping. As my first glimpse of the falls came into view, I was in awe. Here, under snowcapped peaks, a raging torrent of water flowed down, bouncing off moss-lined rocks before fall into a pool of water. Surrounded by the new growth of the native trees and plants, the falls beauty forced me to sit down, sitting in silence for minutes on end, enjoying the splendor of springs beauty.

The day only got better from the raging falls, as I was able to see the first glimpses of the region’s iconic glacial tarn, nearly ready to reflect the skies off it’s emerald waters. Under Mount Deception, the second tallest peak in the Olympics, I let out a yell, letting the waking marmots know that I was stoked for spring and ready for a full summer of adventures in Olympic’s backcountry. This hike sealed my fate, giving me the energy and rejuvenation needed to keep at this fight to get everyone I could to fall in love with America’s public lands.

This post was written in one hour for my #NatureWritingChallenge. The hike can be found in my new guidebook, 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula. 


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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State