Grand Valley/Lillian Ridge, Olympic National Park
- Roundtrip: 14 miles (with side trip to Grand Pass)
- Elevation gain: 4,000 feet
This may be my favorite overnight hike. I’ve done it five times on various trips, and I never tire of the great views, excellent camping and wilderness bliss.
It’s a relatively easy five miles into a stunning alpine basin, with lovely waterfalls, wildflowers and snowfields right out of “The Sound of Music.”
The trail starts at Obstruction Point (6,400 feet), located 7.8 miles from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at the end of an at-times harrowing dirt road. The first two miles of the hike are spent on a rolling ridge with incredible views of the Bailey Range and Mount Olympus to the west. Not a bad way to start.
At a saddle overlooking the Grand Valley, you’ll hit a trail junction, with a rough spur continuing on Lillian Ridge. The main trail (to the southeast) begins a steep, 2,000-foot descent into the Grand Valley. As you bottom out, you’ll hit Grand Lake then begin climbing again into the upper Grand Basin.
Two more lakes with excellent camping — Moose and Gladys — are above Grand Lake: My favorite place to camp is Gladys Lake (5,500 feet) at 5.1 miles from the trailhead.
From here, you can set up a base camp and do additional hiking to Grand Pass (6,500 feet) through the upper basin. It’s a stunning side trip that rewards you tenfold for the extra effort.
Our group elected to return the next day on Lillian Ridge along a cross-country route that follows a faint trail accessed just above Gladys Lake. It gave us a picturesque, and strenuous, loop back to the car.
Which lake: Grand, Moose or Gladys? All of the lakes are beautiful. If you want a more “civilized” mountain experience, camp at Grand or Moose, which offer swimming, fishing and nearby pit toilets. If you get off on high-alpine waterfalls, camp at Gladys, a shallow tarn.
When to go: Warm weather is nice, but it brings out the bugs in the Olympics. A cool spell kept the mosquitoes at bay during our mid-July visit. I have visited in warm weather and been confined to my tent by ferocious blood-suckers. If you visit in mid-August (as I did last year after a frost), you may get lucky and have completely bug-free camping.
Cross-country option: The Lillian Ridge return is possible if you are an experienced and confident route-finder. You’ll access the ridge just above Gladys Lake at a saddle about 500 feet above the main trail to the west. The ridge is rugged and requires one steep scramble up an exposed chute. You’ll rejoin the main trail about two miles from Obstruction Point.
Blister rating: Three out of five stars. Because you start high at Obstruction Point, much of your hike in is done on easy terrain. Your toes will take a hit on the downhill into the Grand Valley. The climb to Grand Pass is steep at times.