Way off in the lush, green hills of Olympic National Park sits four* stone edged pools, each raised from the trail with views of the surrounding forest and river deep below. Olympic Hot Springs. A place that has been used by individuals for centuries. Including, the Klallam Tribe who used the stunning area as a place for vision quests. Though interestingly, it wasn’t until 1892 that the first person of European descent saw the springs.
*some reports say four, others say seven. Who really knows?
But it would take many years for the springs to become well-known, mostly due to the lack of access (i.e. trails and roads). Finally, at the turn of the century, William Everett acquired the rights to the location and built a trail. Things then started to pick up in the 1920s and ‘30s when Everett and his partner, Harry Schoeffel, built a road and resort at the springs. Those buildings stood until the 1960s when the lease ended.
Fast forward to today, and only the dirt narrow road gives you any idea that something else (something grand) once stood there.
While there used to be a double lane road heading up to the springs, and the campground that sits next to it (the only walk-up campground in the whole national park), since 2016 the road has been abandoned (thanks to the Elwha River, which decided to get a little too excited and destroy the road). Even though you can no longer drive to the trailhead - where you would still have to hike in 2 miles - the springs are still accessible… if you are adventurous enough to get there.
Disclaimer time. We decided to head to the springs on a whim and didn’t get on the trail until 6:30 PM (after doing almost no research on the route). So our own experiences might be a bit different than someone who decides to start at a more reasonable time.
The first thing you realize, at least for us, is that the road is closed. Yes, we knew cars could no longer use the road but didn’t exactly know why (again, we didn’t do any research). It only took us about 5 minutes to figure out that we would indeed have to take that VERY well-marked bypass trail that we had passed earlier because the road was completely washed away. Cool.
After hike-a-biking on the very steep, cliffy, single-track trail, we made it back to the road. We thought the hard part was done: the road would just be 8-miles of flat pavement riding along a river. Easy.
The road does not follow the river and instead climbs for 8 straight miles up a mountain. We are fit, active people and even we were having a tough time. Plus, the sun was quickly becoming weaker and weaker and we weren’t even to the hiking trail (let alone the actual springs).
Eventually, we rounded a corner, saw the abandoned parking lot and the equally abandoned bathroom. We locked up our bikes (though we weren’t really worried about someone taking them since we were the ONLY ones out there). Took a swig from our quickly deteriorating water supply and hit the trail.
Now this might be some bad (maybe even illegal) advice, but the trail is very wide - it was the road to the springs at one point. So if you wanted to, you could totally bike up the trail. While there were a couple of fallen trees, and a few stream crossings, none of it was too bad (plus it would definitely save you some time).
The hiking trail is really nice. Lots of tall trees, flowers, streams, and views of the surrounding valley. Honestly, by the time we reached the end of the trail, we already felt we had made the right decision by adventuring out to the springs - and that was before we even saw them.
You know you are almost there when you see a little wooden outhouse in a meadow, start to hear the rumble of the creek below, and see a sign for the campground up another trail. Then all you have to do is cross a narrow wooden bridge, hike maybe another 20 feet and then you will see the first evidence of hot springs - mostly in the form of warm, colorful water oozing from the ground.
There are supposedly 7 hot springs, though we only found 4 (not that we looked that hard). Two are closer to the trail, which is why we recommend heading to the fourth one - which sits higher up, almost on a ledge, and has better views of the surroundings. There is a nice rock wall surrounding it, some of which are perfect for sitting on. There is also plenty of space to put your stuff without worrying about it getting wet.
While no one knows exactly what mechanism has triggered the springs, many believe it is due to the fact that they lie on a fault. With the breaks in the rock, this enables surface water to be heated and driven back from the hot interior of the earth. The pools temperatures vary from 85 degrees to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. AKA be prepared for some pretty hot water.
Because we were ill-prepared and didn’t bring much water, we didn’t want to sit in the springs for too long (we also only brought chips and salsa and wine, which will also dehydrate you). Even though we didn’t enjoy the hot water for super long, the atmosphere alone was totally worth it. The quiet, peacefulness of being way back in the woods is something we always tend to miss - especially when we have been stuck in civilization for too long.
Before we knew it the light had completely gone away and a thick layer of darkness was quickly moving in. We packed up our stuff and started the long adventure back to the van (if we had known there was a campground at the top we probably would have just stayed and slept there). The hike back was fine: quite dark, but thanks to it being so wide we weren’t super nervous about falling or anything.
Eventually, we made it back to our bikes, strapped on our helmets and headlamps and realized they were not actually that bright. Then headed back down the road.
Neither of us have ever been afraid of the dark. But there is something a little terrifying about biking down a deeply forested, dark twisty road in the pitch black with only a faint light to guide you. It is one of those things that is exciting for about 5 minutes and then you are just waiting (and waiting) for it to be over.
8 miles and four very cold hands later we made it back to the dirt single-track trail - something we had been dreading since we started out on the trek. We once again hike-a-biked, which for anyone who is not familiar with the term, just means we hiked while pushing our heavy bikes next to us. Don’t worry, it is as fun as it sounds.
But FINALLY we were back on the road that would take us to our van - only another half mile and then we would officially be back. By now it was well past 11 PM and we were exhausted.
After quickly locking the bikes up and switching out of our damp clothes, we crawled into bed and fell fast asleep.
Like we said earlier, this account of our adventure up to Olympic Hot Springs is unique. In truth, the route to the springs does not have to be that hard. If you are okay walking 10 miles out, on a road no less, then the experience will probably be only sunshine and rainbows. And if you do want to bike (which would be faster than walking, even with the elevation profile) just know to bring extra water.
Honestly, even after our somewhat “rough” experience we still consider the hot springs some of the best we have ever experienced. The location, surroundings, and the pools themselves were incredibly magical.
If you plan ahead, bring the necessary items (i.e. water) and leave at a decent time, or even better, plan on spending the night at the nearby campground, then these hot springs should be a super enjoyable, relaxing and fun experience. Plus, because they are a bit harder to get to, there will likely be almost no one there (bonus). So simply show up, find your favorite pool, and let the hot water and fresh mountain air soothe your soul.
Helpful Things to Keep in Mind:
Bring extra water. Goes without saying with a 10-mile hike or bike in, but also remember that the hot springs themselves dehydrate you. So bring more than you originally would have thought.
Pack extra clothes. Even if you are camping nearby, make sure to bring a dry pair of clothes. The water is not gross, but it does kind of smell. So having a nice clean, pair of clothes to put on afterwards is a win.
Consider camping. Why not hike in with your gear and plan to spend the night? Then you get two soaks: one at night under the stars and one in the morning to warm you up. Sounds like a pretty awesome set up to us.
Carry everything out. The hot springs were nice and clean when we were there, which sadly isn’t always the case with natural springs. So do your part by following leave no trace principles and make sure to carry out ALL trash.
Want to learn more about our adventures to the Olympic Peninsula? Then check out our unique, adventure-focused route guide of the area.