Packrafting Olympic National Park

Hi all,

I’m looking to do a week long backpacking/packrafting trip in Olympic this August and wanted to get advice on which river was the most manageable/recommended. My buddies and I are all in our late 20s and in good shape and have been backpacking for years but are still relatively new to packrafting. We ideally would like to get to see pieces of the mountains, rainforest and beach so wanted to get thoughts on which river and trails would be recommended. From reading the forums it looks like the Queets and the Hoh rivers would be the best bets but curious to get thoughts.


I would recommend the Queets, but I have to warn you that it might be too low in August. Unfortuately, this is true of all the Olympic rivers, and most rivers of the northwest: August/September is the dry season. But sometimes the rain comes early, so it’s not out of the question.

If it is runnable, the Queets is a phenomenal river for packrafting. You have to ford (or paddle across) the river to access the trail that takes you about 15 miles upstream, where it disappears into the rainforest. The ford means there’s far fewer hikers than you find on the Hoh, so it’s more of a wilderness experience. Most of the year it’s too high to ford, so when I’ve run it in the winter/spring I’ve had the entire river/rainforest to myself.

The Hoh is a magnificent river, but it tends to have more dangerous timber hazards than the Queets (I’m speaking of the National Park section of the Hoh, where it’s paralleled by the trail, which is what you’d want for packrafting. Downstream from the NP it’s not so dangerous, but you’d be walking along the road or arranging a shuttle, and you wouldn’t be in the pristine ancient forest). Like the Queets, it tends to be too low in August.

If the rivers are all too low, one option might be to hike along the coast and use your packraft to explore the mouths of creeks at high tide. The outlets of those coastal streams offer some truly enchanted forested gorges to paddle into for a bit. But to be honest, in August (unless it’s raining a lot) I’d be more inclined to leave the packraft behind and head for the magnificent high country: Skyline Divide, Bailey Traverse, etc. Then come back in winter or spring, and paddle the rivers when they’re running nicely, and you have the place to yourself, and the forests are dripping with moss and gloomy grandeur.

Thanks for the response.

We’ve done some more research on this and talked to a few Rangers and they seem to think the Hoh would be runnable in late August but to your point it would be low. Our plan would be to do a variation of the Enchanted Valley and Bailey Traverse and then packraft down the Hoh to the ocean by Ruby Beach. If there are a lot of timber harzards we don’t have a problem hiking alongside the river on the trail until we get to where the river widens a bit. Still doing research but hoping that the water levels would be high enough for us to run. If not, we will probably plan on either leaving the packrafts behind or just hiking along side the river until we get closer to the ocean and (judging by the maps) it widens and gets deeper.

Have you tried to run any of these rivers in August before?

Upon further thought, I may have sounded too pessimistic in my earlier post. I’ve never tried to packraft the Hoh in August, but when I’ve hiked up there at that time of year I thought it seemed shallow in a lot of places. But appearances can be misleading, and anyway carrying past a few shallow stretches is no big deal in a packraft. I did try to float the Bogachiel in early September several years ago, and that didn’t work at all… but the Bogachiel has no glaciers feeding it, which makes it very different from the Hoh. Anyway, I would say go for it, especially if the rangers think it’s feasible.

Of course, these things vary a lot from year to year. I would call the rangers again shortly before setting out, to get an idea of how the river has taken shape over the summer.

Sounds like a great trip!

Great! Our plan is to go for it. I’m thinking worst case scenario the water is low so we plan on taking extra time to portage or just hike along the Hoh river trail until we get to the 101 bridge crossing where it sounds like the river gets wider and deeper. That would also have us skipping some of the dangerous strainers and log jams. Thanks for all the advice; we’re getting excited!

Me and a buddy floated the Hoh last weekend (5/22/16.) Put in at what I believe was Lewis Meadow (last campground in flat hiking section at around mile 13) just below what looked like a class 3 rapid. The top portion was quite good, however after that stretch there was extensive downed wood for most of the float requiring numerous portages. There was another narrow stretch about halfway through (just past the section with the old burn on boaters right) that was good with some fun rapids, but other than that most of the time was spent portaging. 2015-16 winter was a heavy one and the amount of downed wood took away from the float experience, although it was still quite scenic if you dont mind hiking while carrying your boat/pack.

Re the queets - I did the queets in january and the river trail is completely washed out in large sections. The river had less wood on it, but you will need to bushwack part of the way up river. I spoke to a NP ranger in 4/16 who said many of the park trails were heavily damaged from this seasons storms and the queets in low on their list given its relative low use compared to other trails so who knows when it will be repaired.

Just wanted to thank everyone on this site again for all their help planning this trip. We had a great time. Below is a link to the trip report in case anyone is interested: