The majority of visitors to National Parks enter it the same way. Passing through a guard station, we pay our entry fee or show our America the Beautiful Pass and then drive into the beautiful landscapes that rekindle our wanderlust. In Yellowstone, you can drive under the Roosevelt Arch when entering from the north entrance, while other parks, like Mount Rainier, have their own memorable signage. While I love entering parks in the car, there is something incredible about entering into a park by foot, especially on a trail that is often overlooked. In my backyard of the Olympic Peninsula, there are dozens of entry points like this into Olympic National Park. Wild, rugged and removed from the masses, they the perfect entry point for those seeking true wilderness.
A few years ago, I was under stress from my job and rethinking my entire career. I was working as a political consultant at the time, fighting the good fight in districts around the Puget Sound. We were in the middle of campaign season and I was feeling incredibly burnt out from working in politics. The year was 2014, less than a thousand days before everyone in America would turn into a political expert and claim to be actively engaged in Democracy. For years, my life was slammed from April until November, giving me just a few days here and there to get out into nature and refill my soul with the splendor of wilderness. The pay was minimal, the work was exhausting and the apathy by the general public toward local and state elections was more than I could take. I needed a good hike to feel alive and to be reminded that there was beauty in the world. So of course, I took a quick backpacking trip into the pure and pristine wilderness of Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park has numerous entrances, but the best ones to me are always places where you hike in, passing through Olympic National Forest, one of the numerous wilderness areas in the region, and then into the official boundary of the park. I write about many of these trails in my 52 Olympic Peninsula hikes guidebook, including the Duckabush Trail, which was where I reconnected with what was important to me in 2014. I have returned to this region many times since, but this trip, in the middle of the campaign season, stands out as one of my many favorite moments in Olympic.
The Duckabush River is often overlooked by the nearly four million visitors who experience Olympic National Park each year. Located on the eastern side of the Peninsula, the Duckabush River is quickly passed as cars full of adventurers head to Staircase, the Hamma Hamma or up to Mount Townsend. What the carloads of people don’t know is that this weird sounding river valley is home to incredible hiking, absolutely stunning wilderness and some of the best backpacking destinations in the Pacific Northwest. It is wild, green and wonderful, just like the rest of the Olympics. The plan was to hike up the Duckabush River, ford the spring waters and then hike down to Staircase for a total of 33 miles and roughly 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
The first few miles of the Duckabush River Trail are gorgeous, weaving through second growth forests and climbing up 1,100 feet to the top of an overlooked called Big Hump. Along the hike, signs of civilization become less and less, all but fading away once you enter the Brothers Wilderness. Once you reach Big Hump, you get a sweeping view of the river valley below, and a chance to laugh at the name, if you are immature enough. Lucky for me, I got to laugh and enjoy the view, knowing that in just a few more miles, I would be officially entering Olympic National Park. Big Hump is a great day hike and featured in my book, but those who hike this trail often know the true beauty of the Duckabush starts just after this outcropping.
Past Big Hump, the trail drops down to the river once again, giving opportunities to stand on huge boulders lining this wild and scenic river. From Big Hump, the trail weaves through lush undergrowth and towering trees. Except for two months in the summer, this section of the trail is more popular with the elk, deer and black bears of the region than people.For three miles from Big Hump, the trail gets more beautiful each step, eventually reaching a sign that brings joy to my soul.
The entrance to Olympic National Park along the Duckabush is done with little fanfare or celebration. All that marks the park boundary, which is not noticeable as wilderness is as far as the eye can see, is a small wooden sign nailed to a tree. For me, the sign along the Duckabush is a reminder that I am entering a place more spectacular than nearly anywhere else in the world. It marks the entrance to remote backpacking destinations, high alpine lakes, stunning panoramic views and absolute solitude in wilderness. Encountering this sign always brings a smile to my face, as I know I am one of a handful of people each year to enter the park this way.
The Duckabush is a gem of Olympic National Park and deserves more love than it gets. From here, you have access to some of my favorite backcountry campsites on the planet and a chance to sit in the silence and solitude of wilderness, far from cars and visitor centers. It is a classic adventure and one that should be experience by all. The beauty found past the park boundary sign is impossibly beautiful and will inspire you to find your own favorite remote entrance point into Olympic National Park.
*This post was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge
Discover a Hike a Week through Doug Scott’s Olympic National Park Area Guidebook