Olympic National Park – Backpacking Enchanted Valley

This is a popular backpack through a rainforest valley that is great for beginners because it is relatively flat and has multiple campsites along the way.  It follows the Quinualt River into a valley, and for many, the “goal” is to reach the historic Chalet in the valley.

The chalet was built in 1931 originally for recreation, but then soon became used for WWII.  Now, it is no longer accessible to the public, but still a fun landmark to hike to.

We did this with some friends that were visiting from the Southwest US, so it was a very different climate from what they were used to: a lush valley, moisture in the air, fresh greenery and water everywhere.  I was hoping to capture some wildlife on my camera – predominantly Roosevelt elk and black bears in the area – but alas, no luck!  Nevertheless, this was a super fun 3 day/2 night backpack full of laughter, story-telling and canned margaritas.  We covered a lot of mileage over this trip, but I can’t imagine any other group to do this with to keep our spirits so high as our feet got tired.

The Details

  • PERMITS & PASSES:
    • Since this is inside Olympic National Park, you’ll need to pay the park entrance fee, or have an America the Beautiful National Park Pass
    • For the actual hike itself, if you plan on backpacking overnight, you will need an Olympic National Park Wilderness Permit denoting your group size and the dates you are planning on being inside the Park. 
      • We did this online ahead of time and did not find it to be difficult – we were able to get permits for a group of 6 on a weekend in mid July only a few weeks in advance.
  • GETTING THERE:
    • Graves Creek trailhead, which is accessible for any car along a long and winding paved road
    • There is no cell service anywhere near this area. Make sure you fill up on gas before entering this remote area
    • There is one pit toilet here
  • THE TRAIL:
    • DOGS: furry friends are not allowed since this is inside a national park
    • DIFFICULTY: The terrain itself is not difficult or technical or steep at any point.  But… the trail distance itself is long!  So by distance alone, that bumps this hike up from “easy” to “moderate”
    • DISTANCE: it depends on how far out you want to hike! This is a choose-your-own-adventure out-and-back. See below for how we tackled the mileage
    • FOOD STORAGE: bear canisters are required!  This area is known for black bear activity, so be prepared for this.  There are bear wires at O’Neil Creek and Pyrites Creek to hang your food if needed. We prefer bear canisters though because they can double as a nice seat around the campfire!
Photo credit: National Park Service
Graves Creek trailhead –> Pony Bridge: ~2.5 miles; Pony Bridge –> O’Neil Creek: ~4.4 miles; O’Neil Creek –> Pyrites Creek: ~3 miles; Pyrites Creek –> Enchanted Valley: ~3.2 miles

The Experience

  • Day 1: Graves Creek TH –> O’Neil Creek camp
    • We drove in from the Seattle area and parked at Graves Creek Trailhead
    • We started our hike much later than planned due to some unexpected scheduling issues and circumstances – boots on the trail around 5pm!
    • Luckily, we did this trip in mid-July, so we had daylight until about 9:30pm
    • Even though we had a late start, we wanted to get a good head start on our mileage because we knew that our goal the following day would be to make it to the Enchanted Valley Chalet. So, we bypassed the first campground at Pony Bridge, and hiked all the way to O’Neil Creek to set up camp for the night
      • There is a small side trail that veers off to the right (coming from the trailhead) and down a slope to access 6 established campsites and a small, smelly pit toilet
      • This is approximately 7 miles from Graves Creek trailhead
  • Day 2: day hike to Enchanted Valley; camp at Pony Bridge
    • Today was our only full day! Our main goal was to see the Enchanted Valley Chalet
    • So, we woke up early, took a small day-pack with lunch, water and our essentials, and left our big backpacks and camp behind at O’Neil Creek for a day hike to Enchanted Valley
      • This was about 6.5 miles one way, and my watch clocked 1550 feet of elevation gain
      • Along the way, we passed by Pyrites Creek, where there are 12 campsites here
      • At the Chalet, we stretched our legs here, had lunch, and relaxed before turning back around to our camp at O’Neil Creek
      • There are two pit toilets here that were in better condition than those at O’Neil
    • We returned to our camp at O’Neil Creek in time for dinner. We also made a big decision to pack up camp and move closer to the trailhead so we wouldn’t have as long of a hike tomorrow since we were on more of a time crunch due to our schedules.  So, we decided to hike the 4.5 miles from O’Neil Creek to Pony Bridge, towards the trailhead, right after dinner. 
      • This hike was exhausting because we were already tired from the long 13 mile day hike we did to the Chalet that morning, and by the time we set up camp the sun was setting, so we had to find a campsite and set up camp in the dark where spots were limited at Pony Bridge – only 3 established campsites. 
      • After setting up camp, we hung out for a short amount of time with headlamps and a final adult beverage, then went to sleep shortly afterward.  It was a long day of almost 18 miles of hiking.
  • Day 3: Pony Bridge to trailhead/home
    • We packed up camp bright and early, and it was just a short 2.5 mile, easy hike to the trailhead. This made us feel a lot better about the decision to do so many miles the day before.
    • It was a whirlwind of an adventure – a lot of miles (almost 30 miles total!) squished into a short amount of time with a great group of friends!
Nature’s poetry: soft light peeking through a forest canopy

Pro Tips

  • Since we had guests fly in to visit us and join us for this trip, we took advantage of REI’s gear rental program to rent a bear cannister for each couple. This was super easy to do!
  • This is a rainforest area, so you will encounter all the things that are part of a rainforest: slugs, bugs, mosquitoes, and general dampness. We found a number of friendly slugs crawling on our tents, so take care to not let these critters join you in your sleeping bag!
  • Do not skimp out on insect repellent!