There’s a place that will take your breath away. It’s a place where bald eagles soar and mountain goats effortlessly traverse steep, boulder-covered slopes. A place where a stunning 360-degree panorama of snowcapped peaks, the Hood Canal, and wildflower meadows stretches as far as the eye can see.
The Mount Ellinor Trail is one of the most popular and physically demanding treks in the Olympics. And it is worth every step, bit of exertion, and sore muscles.
There are two trailheads that lead to the peak. The upper trailhead is tempting because it’s 1.6 miles to the top. But don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance; you gain 2,500 feet of elevation.
Starting at the lower trailhead offers a lovely, gentle forested trail with small views of the peak and a nice warmup. But at approximately mile 1.5, the trail begins a series of switchbacks. At mile 1.8, the trail meets with the upper trail and things get serious.
This is the point where you’ll be glad you started early and brought plenty of sunscreen and water. At mile 2.5, you come to the junction with the winter climbing route. It is important to stick to the summer route when it is not snowy to avoid damaging fragile vegetation. If you are short on time, equipment, or supplies, or are not physically up to a strenuous climb, this is a great place to have a snack, enjoy the view, and turn around.
You’ll want to begin as early in the morning as possible, because once you get above the tree line to the steepest part of the trail, the heat and sun can be relentless. Early morning is also the best time for wildlife viewing, and this popular trail gets crowded later in the day.
If you make this ascent in winter, it’s important to check conditions, as the chute is avalanche-prone.
Just as your lungs and legs begin to burn, you’ll arrive at the first meadow, where there’s an overlook. This is a great place to catch your breath, drink water, and enjoy the spectacular views. There is a plaque honoring volunteers Frank Heuston and Frank Maranville, who spent 17 years working on trails in the area. Thanks to them, their contemporaries, and the Washington Trails Association, this is a well-maintained trail.
View of Volcanoes
Mount Baker, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and, of course, Mount Rainier shine like snowcapped jewels in the distance, standing sentinel above the sparkling Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and Lake Cushman.
The trail gets serious from here with carved stone steps and steep switchbacks ascending talus slopes. It is steep and unrelenting, but well-maintained and quite safe as long as you pay attention to where you are putting your feet, which is easier said than done with all of the spectacular scenery to enjoy.
Meadows filled with wildflowers and towering rock formations add to the stunning vistas. You may see mountain goats on the slopes. Enjoy this treat from a safe distance. People have been hurt and killed by mountain goats — be cautious.
As you make the final strenuous ascent to the top, you will be treated to views of the Olympic Mountains, including Mount Stone, Mount Pershing, Mount Washington, and Mount Olympus. The view from the top of Mount Ellinor is something that every hiker in the area should experience at least once. It will take your breath away, and not just due to the steepness of the journey.
Stop in Hoodsport and enjoy ice cream at Hoodsport Coffee Company, or sit on the deck at El Puerto De Angeles and enjoy Mexican food and a margarita.
Know Before You Go
Seeing a mountain goat in the wild is exciting, and best experienced through binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera (bonus: you can share the adventure through your photos). People have been hurt and killed by goats. Always stay at least 50 yards (half the length of a football field) away from goats. They are attracted to salt. For this reason, it is important to urinate away from the trail and overlooks where humans congregate. It is also important that you don’t leave sweaty backpacks unattended. Never feed goats or let them lick you or your equipment. Goats are more aggressive during their breeding season in the fall, so extra caution is advised if you are planning a trip later. Report any goat encounters to the nearest ranger station.
From Hoodsport, take State Route 119 for 9 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 24. Turn right and go 1.6 miles to Forest Service Road 2419 (Big Creek Road). Travel on Forest Road 2419 for 4.9 miles to the lower trailhead. To reach the upper trailhead, go another 1.5 miles, turn left on Forest Service Road and 2419-014; follow it to the end of road.
Map: Green Trails Mt. Steel No. 167 and The Brothers No. 168
Mileage: 6.2 miles round trip from lower trailhead, 3.2 miles round trip from upper trailhead
Elevation gain: 3,300 feet from lower trailhead, 2,500 feet from upper trailhead
Highest elevation: 5,944 feet
A N.W. Forest or Interagency Pass is required at the upper trailhead, but no pass is required at the lower trailhead. Bring plenty of water. This is a dry trail with no stream or other water source.