Dog Friendly Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula

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With the Olympic National Park encompassing much of the Olympic Peninsula, one may be inclined to think there are not many dog friendly hikes in the area.  Fortunately, there are many state parks on the Olympic Peninsula as well as National Forest where dogs are allowed to roam.

In order to let Annie off-leash and to have more solitude, Tina and I leaned toward hiking in the Olympic National Forest.  Lucky for us, several trailheads lined the Hamma Hamma Road where we camped.

Below is a list of dog-friendly trails we hiked on the Olympic Peninsula.

Off Hamma Hamma Road

Elk Lake Trail (Easy) – 2 Miles Total

First, let me begin by saying, I learned of Elk Lake at the Hood Canal Visitor Center in Hoodsport which provides a significant amount of information on the park.  In fact, it is listed on the USDA website, and I thought it was a ranger station.

The older woman at the counter provided me a few handouts on hikes in the area, and this was one of them. The handout included a map indicating the trail’s general location, the trail distance and description, as well as directions to the trailhead.

In the case of Elk Lake, there are three different trailheads, two for the North Branch and one for the South Branch. Boy did we have an adventure getting to them. 

First Attempt

Because we had a mid-morning kayak tour, we wanted to give Annie a short walk.  Thinking a trail would be more fun than one of the numerous forest roads around, we followed the directions to FS Road 2401 that leads to the South Branch Trailhead as well as the left fork of the North Branch.  As we climbed the hill, we came across a fallen tree, under which VANgo was not going to fit.

As a result, we bailed on our first attempt to hike to Elk Lake and walked along FS Road 2480 for some beautiful views and wildflowers.  A little later, on our way to kayaking, we stumbled across a park ranger at the nearby Hamma Hamma Campground and notified her of the situation.

Second Attempt

Fast forward two days, we gave it another shot.  This time, more familiar with the area, we followed Forest Service Road 2421 which was on the map, but not part of the written directions.  It leads to the right fork of the North Branch.  CAUTION:  DO NOT DO THIS!!

The narrow, rocky road has many deep ruts dug into it to funnel water over the edge of the cliff.  Some of the ruts included small logs for driving over them, but we still had to maneuver through these ditches next to a cliff!  As we neared the general area of the trailhead, which ultimately, we could not find, we found ourselves in logged forest with many downed trees!  Ugly!! 

While this section of the trail can be reached after crossing a creek from the left fork of the North Branch, I’d skip it all together.  In fact, it is a dangerous area with a recent burn as well, and I’m surprised, the forest service would include it on the handout.

Not to be deterred, because we like lake hikes, we decided to try FS Road 2421 again.  To our surprise, the forest service cleared the tree!  We didn’t expect such a quick result, but the weekend was coming.

After the white-knuckle experience on 2421, my nerves were pretty shot.  As we calculated the mileage, we passed the only turn out that sort of looked like it could be a trailhead.  Apparently, my high clearance vehicle doesn’t clock mileage the same as a normal vehicle or the Forest Service handout is wrong.

Anyway, once we got to a split in the road with a place to turn around, I blurted out, “I can assure you, no one is up here.”

As Tina got out of VANgo to read the nearby sign, which was pointed in the opposite direction, she warned, “Watch out, there’s are car behind you!”

We had been on these crazy roads for an hour without seeing a soul!  Apparently they had caught up to us in the last minute and were out scouting for a campsite for the following weekend.

South Branch

Anyway, the South Branch trailhead is located at the steep spur road which we saw and were now at.  We later found we could have driven down it, but instead parked in the limited space pullout at the top. 

The hike to the lake through old growth forest was flat and only 0.5 miles.  While we loved the large trees, it was disappointing to see the trash left in the campfire rings.  Who do they think is going to pick up their liquor bottles?  We weren’t wearing our packs, otherwise we could have packed some out, but there was way more trash than VANgo’s tiny trash can could hold. 

old growth forest at elk lake

Before we retraced our steps, we enjoyed a view of Elk Lake, though it felt like a large pond.  Half a mile was hardly enough exercise, so we loaded back into VANgo, passed a lovely roadside waterfall, and pulled off in the tiny area next to the left fork of the North Branch.

Left Fork of the North Branch

This trail descends ¾ of a mile through chest-high ferns and undergrowth and a burned forest to the opposite side of the lake.  Again, the view was nice, but nothing to write home about.  We just wanted the additional 1.5 miles of exercise.  That said, I recommend this portion of the trail only when it hasn’t been raining or if you don’t mind getting soaked like we did!

elk lake, a dog friendly hike on the olympic peninsula

Upon returning to our campsite, Tina had a scare that she lost her umbrella and car key on the trail somewhere.  This short, easy hike led to lots of trials and tribulations.  Had I been alone I likely would have been cursing up a storm.  Together, however, we just laughed at all the challenges.

Lena Lake Trail (Moderate) – 7 Miles Total

Lena Lake Trail was definitely the best of the dog friendly hikes on the Olympic Peninsula that we took.  The 7-mile roundtrip track is extremely popular and very well maintained.  The trailhead is located at a small dirt parking area with pit toilets of the side of Hamma Hamma Road.

The hike to the lower lake steadily climbs through lush, moss covered trees as it passes over a few bridges with a view of a lovely waterfall.  It cuts through backcountry campsites to the edge of aqua lake with only a few unobstructed views.  The path descends to its shore where the creek feeds into its log jammed west end.  The best viewpoint of Lena Lake, however, is prior to the descent.

lower lena lake, a dog friendly hike on the olympic peninsula

There are many signs along the path marking the way.  Some, however, are slightly confusing, so keep the AllTrails map handy. Additionally, it is important to note the Olympic National Park Boundary, which is clearly noted, as dogs are not allowed in the park or at the Upper Lake.

Milford Lakes Trail (First Part Moderate, Second Part Hard) – 9 Miles Total

I can’t claim that we hiked all of this trail, nor did we intend to try for multiple reasons.  While it was included on another forest service handout, the lady at the counter didn’t point it out.  Our kayak guide told us about Hamma Hamma Falls, and the nearby trail to Milford Lakes.  He cautioned that getting to lakes require a scramble, and that they are hard to find.

Dealing with a lot of rain while we visited the Olympic Peninsula, we caught a break.  As a result, we ventured to Hamma Hamma Falls in hopes to stretch our legs.  The two-tiered falls tumbles 84 feet through a gorge and beneath a high bridge next to the parking lot.  Consequently, it wasn’t far to walk.

Remembering that Chance said the first part of the Mildred Lakes Hike is very pretty, we set out on a short jaunt as we only had a few hours of daylight.  Our kayak guide was right, the first part of this minimally maintained, way-trail was just lovely.

Ferns grew out of rocks as new growth forest grew out of old tree stumps.    It climbed through the lush woods, across stream beds, and through a few mud pits before it reached a small opening.  Having hiked approximately two miles, this is where we turned around.

fern growing from rock at milford lakes trail

Later, I checked out AllTrails.  I’m glad we turned around when we did.  The 9-mile roundtrip trail becomes very steep with a 50-70% grade in places.  Chance wasn’t kidding about a scramble!  I wouldn’t have made it, and I doubt if Annie could have either.

She couldn’t even make it down what we hiked without a mishap.  She spotted a grouse and got very riled up.  As she tried racing past Tina, who stepped to the left to slow her down, she leapt to the side onto a slick, sharp rock and slipped.  As I watched her smack her back leg on the knife edge, I winced and thought, “That had to hurt.”

Not enough to slow her down, however.  She was so amped by this bird, which was the biggest grouse I’d ever seen, I had to put her on her leash after I called her back.  By the time, we reached VANgo, a few miles later, she was calm, but as I bent down to wipe her dirty paws, I noticed dried blood which had trickled from the clean slice on her back leg. 

I had just finished bandaging her foot two days prior from her injury on our hikes in Idaho, and I was back at it.  Only, this time no bandages would stick.  Located right where her leg bends, this cut is proving tough to heal.

Near Hoodsport

Upper Big Creek Loop Trail (Moderate) – 4.8 Miles Total

With Annie’s fresh injury, I had to slow her down a little.  While no exercise would have been best for healing her cut, that would have been quite terrible for both our sanity. 

As a result, I picked a 4.8-mile well-groomed trail called Upper Big Creek Loop.  This dog friendly hike in the Olympic Peninsula is located in the Olympic National Forest at the Big Creek Campground. 

While dogs are allowed off-leash, it was a Saturday, and I knew the heavily trafficked route would be busy.  Surprisingly, walking in the counter-clockwise direction, we encountered less hikers than I expected based on the overflowing parking lot.  I believe many were making a push to Mount Ellinor, which was fine with me.

Upper Big Creek Loop is delightful! The undulating trail once again passes through lush forest.  Yes, it’s a common theme with all the rain in the area.

What I found so enjoyable about this trail was the creek.  Be sure to take all the spur routes which lead to the convergence of two creeks and multiple waterfalls of small to medium size.  I mean who doesn’t like seeing waterfalls, moss covered bridges, and even a troll?

upper big creek loop, a dog friendly hike on the olympic peninsula

Near Brinnon

Mount Walker (Hard) – 5.4 miles

Traveling north from Hoodsport to Brinnon on Highway 101 brings you to Mount Walker, another dog friendly hike on the Olympic Peninsula.  This single track of switchbacks gains 2,000 feet in 1.5 miles resulting in a steep hike through the forest.

For sure do this 5-mile hike only on a clear day so the reward of expansive views is worth the effort.  When we reached the top, it was covered in clouds with no view to be had. After hiking back down, we drove VANgo up the road to the summit and had lunch while waiting for the skies to clear. 

Soon, we enjoyed the views from both the north and south side viewpoints.  We really lucked out on the “mostly sunny” day according to the forecast despite the rain for the first few hours of the morning!

Near Port Angeles

Spruce Railroad Trail (Easy) – Choose Your Distance

While it stinks to miss out on a lot of the Olympic National Park due to having a dog, there are still a few dog friendly paths in the park.  Spruce Railroad Trail is about 40 miles west of Port Angeles, the main entrance to the National Park.

The paved trail follows the north shore of Lake Crescent beneath tall shade trees.  It pass through some tunnels and a short, single track veers off to Devil’s Punchbowl where ambitious hikers jump into the COLD lake.

The Spruce Railroad Trail is part of the much longer Olympic Discovery Trail which takes days to complete.  Following just a portion of the Lake Crescent’s north shore can easily result in an 11 mile out-and-back day.

While there are many more dog friendly hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, these are just a handful that could suit your needs.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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