Hiking Mount Ellinor, the gateway to the Olympics

Mount Ellinor
It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail with views like this following your hike up Mount Ellinor; photo by Kade Krichko.

For Seattleites, the Olympic Range is a familiar sight, commanding the western skyline and making for some of the most beautiful sunsets anywhere in the lower 48. Despite their visibility, the Olympics don’t receive nearly as much foot traffic as Washington’s other range, the Cascades, which is just as well, as hikes in this zone are usually uncrowded and stunning.

One of these hikes rises up the southern tip of the range to the top of Mount Ellinor, a 6.2-mile round trip up a steep but well-maintained trail to sweeping views of the entire Olympic range, the Pacific Ocean, and the Puget Sound. The trip is tough, but the payoff will dull any of your screaming muscles, and only two-and-a-half hours from Seattle, it’s well within the day-trip realm. Here’s all you need to know about one of the best hikes in Washington.

Mount Ellinor
Taking it all in from the peak of Mount Ellinor, the Olympic Range looming in the background; photo by Kade Krichko.

What: Located at the southern end of the Olympic Range, the Mount Ellinor hike can be accessed from two trailheads—an upper and a lower. The lower rises 3,200 feet up through winding forest and includes a scramble up loose scree toward the top, while the upper is essentially the same trail, just 900 feet higher up.

Where: The Mount Ellinor trailhead is about an hour from Olympia and two-and-a-half from Seattle, and easily accessible via US-101.

How to get there: From Seattle, take I-5 South to exit 104. Then take US-101 to Hoodsport, turning left in town toward signs for Lake Cushman. Stay right at the next fork in the road and then turn left to head uphill toward the Mt. Ellinor trailhead. After about 4.5 miles on the dirt road, you should see cars and the lower trailhead. If the upper trailhead is more your style, just continue until the road stops.

When to go: Early fall is always primetime hiking in the Pacific Northwest, but Mount Ellinor melts out a lot faster than most mountain hikes in Washington, so summer hiking is just fine. Just make sure to check the weather, as those storm clouds tend to move in pretty quickly.

Mount Ellinor
Chances are you’ll see a mountain goat or two on the hike up Mount Ellinor, but you’d be better off bringing a good zoom lens than getting any closer to these ornery creatures; photo by Kade Krichko.

What to bring: Lots of water! I made the mistake of only bringing a Nalgene, and I struggled with the strenuous hike and lack of fluids. Also, if your joints are starting to get bad, hiking poles will really help your downhill experience, goofy as they may look.

Must-see: Views of the ocean and Olympics are sweet, but what really sets this hike apart are the views of Lake Cushman, an impossibly blue body of water that looks oh-so-inviting from the top of the hike (hint: you can swim there too).

Don’t: Mess with the wildlife. Mount Ellinor has a ton of mountain goats, and they get pretty feisty. They look awesome from afar, but the goats have actually shut down the trail before because they were attacking hikers. Not fun.

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