After knocking out ten hikes in first nine weeks of the year, COVID hit, and I started putting in 50-60+ hour workweeks and hiking trails shut down. Even as they re-opened, fear of crowding on trails or overwhelming small towns would have stopped me even if my schedule had time for hiking. But finally, I decided to try to get away and reconnect with nature when a rare two days off in a row presented itself.
As soon as I saw potential for two days off in a row, backpacking filled my dreams. I was certain there were trails and camping out there that even on a holiday weekend would not be packed. The boyfriendo was a bit more skeptical. We put in hours of research. Would a permit-only hike be better, or a very remote and infrequently discussed first-come, first-served trail elsewhere? On June 30th a descision was made to re-open all of Olympic National Park backcountry sites except the coast on July 1st, and I thought jumping to get a permitted site would be smart. The boyfriendo thought all the people wanting the coast would swarm to other parts of the park. We were likely both a little correct, but I saw that in the eastern parts of the park, permits were bountiful.
I did more research, and decided that the Dosewallips (Do-SEE-wall-ups) River trail was possibly the perfect trail for these times. The first six or so miles are nearly all on a former forest road, so it was more than wide enough to allow for safely passing others. There were plenty of first-come, first-serve camp sites along the way before the permitted ones, lowering the chances of someone without a permit stealing our spot. Weather would be mild, and permits were remaining. My mind was made up! Since I moved to Edmonds and am closer to the Kingston ferry terminal, I was hoping to do more hikes in this area anyway. It was settled.
With no ferry wait, this hike was less than 2.5 hours from home. My goal was to stay inside my car from door to door to limit the spread in smaller communities. It was eerie being on a ferry and seeing nearly everyone stay in their cars! Excitement increasing by the mile, getting to Brinnon was even better when we saw a huge herd of elk grazing in someone’s backyard.
One note about this trailhead is it is a trailhead used by many hikers, dayhikers and backpackers (including multi-night) as well as bicyclists and those on horseback (remember horses have the right-of-way). The trail from here includes both Forest Service and National Park lands. There is a small lot, a bit of shoulder parking, then another bit of pull-in parking, then more shoulder parking. We got the last spot in the second pull-in area and took off on the wide forest path.
As I mentioned before, the trail used to be a forest road to the popular and well-used Dosewallips campground in Olympic National Park (not to be confused with Dosewallips State Park a few miles south) and ranger station. In 2002, a massive washout occurred about a mile from where you parked and it was elected to not be repaired. Since then, this forest road is in the process of slowly being reclaimed by nature. The washout is clear as the roar of the river gets louder as you approach it. If the river is low enough, hikers go left at the fork, while bikers and those on horse must continue on the much-steeper trail to the right. There was one steep part on the foot path, but there was a rope to aid in going up (and especially going back down!).
You leave the river here, beginning your gradual but steady climb up. At around 2.7 miles is a walk-in campground on Forest Service land, Elkhorn. Dogs are allowed here, unlike National Park backcountry camping. The climbing gets steeper from here, but is thankfully steady and switchback-free. There is the first of several vehicle-sized bridges for you to admire, and soon you will cross the park boundary line. You are about a mile from the next campground! You will also pass the trail for Lake Constance, a trail NOT for the faint of heart or inexperienced. At the right time of year, berries will be in abundance, but we just saw barely emerging berry buds.
Beautiful meadows filled with trees were to our left, and little waterfalls and massive jagged cliffs were to our right. I started noticing more and more interesting wildflowers sprouting from the ground. Up on the cliffs was evidence of the 2009 Constance Fire. There were interesting things all around us! I admit, I had been worried walking on an old road would be a little bit boring, but it was nothing of the sort.
We saw a clearing with a hitching post and realized we had reached the campground, pretty much exactly 6.0 miles from where we started. I had thought this would more resemble a state park campground, just a touch overgrown, but I was shocked at the amount nature has taken back the land. We happily grabbed a picnic table for a snack, but there is walk-up first-come first-serve camping here, and there are even bear lockers for food. The boyfriendo noted the campsites by the river weren’t quite as mossy and overgrown as the ones by the entrance and that there was even a sandbar for wading. We noted this as option B in case our permitted spot got swiped and moved on.
Just past the campground is the bygone Dosewallips Ranger Station. It was kind of a shame to see the damaged and vandalized buildings, especially as I’m sure plenty of people would pay money to backpack in to the small cabins here. While there was a radio tower, the Ranger Station is unmanned.
After poking around the ranger station area and enjoying the old signs, we hopped back on the trail, knowing we were less than 2 miles from camp. We noted the great shape the trail had been in–no blowdowns and basically zero garbage. Evidently WTA volunteers are frequent on this trail keeping it pristine for all. There had also been some really great signage so far, which was great, as I had forgotten my usual routine of screen-shotting directions from WTA in my 13-hour-workday haze. After an adorable bridge over Pass Creek, we found a fork for either Anderson Pass to the left, or Hayden Pass to the right. There are tons of amazing sights either way, but our camp at Dose Forks was to the left.
We set our packs down and got to exploring. Right on the trail was a bear wire and one occupied spot to the left, with a sign saying toilet to the right (main path going straight, naturally). We continued to the right. It was hard to discern what spots were actual spots–some had fire rings (fires are permitted here, pending burn bans) while others just had flatter areas where tents had been. We found one spot next to the river that was nearly-perfect, other than a downed tree cutting right through the tent area.
We had arrived! I was so giddy with happiness while also being exhausted from the hike. We took our time setting up camp and took a little rest in the tent before exploring around us. Immediately was the river besides camp. The roar of the river right next to us was LOUD. This was a double-edged sword, as it drowned out all noises from neighbors once the camp filled out, but we both got a little hoarse from shouting over it to hear each other, and sleeping wasn’t as peaceful as we hoped (I kept thinking my sleeping pad had popped a hole and was leaking!). We left camp to rejoin the trail for a bit, crossing a large bridge over the thunderous river. The river was also such a crystalline blue, similar to the Lower Gray Wolf River (which was almost directly to the north of us), that it was hard to be angry about the noise.
I admit, I was patting myself on the back quite a bit for the choices I had made. Besides the trail and camp location, we had opted to quickly dehydrate some Annie’s macaroni and cheese for dinner rather than go to REI to grab some Mountain House (I saw from a friend on social media the lines out the door at the flagship store from that weekend–no thanks!). In a flash of genius I had remembered we had powdered milk and filled an old Nuun tube with it to spruce up our macaroni, as well as grabbing some dehydrated veggies and my backpacking-sized hot sauce. Thanks to Lighterpack.com, I had reduced my pack weight enough to bring an REI Flexlite chair too. I sat in my chair, with a beer I brought, admiring the river with gratitude for finding a safe, quiet, uncrowded backpacking trail.
Life was good.
The next morning we awoke an hour later than intended. However, we had nowhere to be, so a lazy morning was a-okay. Breakfast, dishes, breaking down camp was a blur, as the sun began shining brightly on us. We hit the trail, slightly less spring in our steps. I quickly realized less than a mile in that my feet hurt. I have been nearly entirely sedentary since my Tuscon trip in early March, and it became clear that I had bit off more than I could chew, mileage-wise. We also were leaving the sunshine and walking directly towards clouds, which didn’t help. The boyfriendo encouraged frequent breaks whenever we found logs big enough to sit on. However, once away from the river, we got swarmed with mosquitoes every time we stopped!
I tried to keep my focus on how great the previous day had been, as the miles slowly passed. Thankfully, today was much more downhill than the way in. I also was excited when we (finally) reached the washout (one mile to go!) as I got to finally use a rope for aid. I was mighty grateful for the rope, and for all the WTA volunteers who keep the trail in great shape. I limped my way to my (intact) car where we would listen to “Saturday in the Park’ by Chicago no less than 8 times on the way home, and where, despite it being the 4th of July, we slept like babies in our bed. If you hate the fireworks in your neighborhood keeping you up, might I suggest backpacking 15 miles first?
Distance: Choose-your-own-adventure, this trail is great for dayhiking, backpacking, or multi-night backpacking. About 2.7 each way to the Elkhorn camp, 6.0 each way to Dosewallips camp, and I clocked in 7.6 to Dose Forks. Big Timber is the next camping area after Dose Forks.
Elevation: Gain depends on destination, but the portions on the old road can get steep, but are gradual. Switch-back free!
Parking: I admit I am not sure what pass is needed at the trailhead between a NW Forest Pass or a Olympic National Park pass. An America the Beautiful pass is your safest bet. Backcountry permits are required for overnight stays at sites after the Dosewallips Campground.
Bathrooms: There is a pit toilet at the Dose Forks camping area, but it ain’t pretty.
Food Storage if Backpacking: Two bear wires are in the Dose Forks camping area, bear lockers in Dosewallips campground. Using those or a bear can is required.
Fires: Allowed in designated rings, pending burn bans.
Best Beer Bet: In pre or post-COVID times, I’d have loved to check out Bent Bine Brewing in Belfair if avoiding the ferry line, or to have swung by a brewery in Poulsbo or Hood Canal Brewing on the way home.