Backpacking the High Divide Trail (Seven Lakes Basin Loop) in Olympic National Park

Learn how to backpack the High Divide Trail & Seven Lakes Basin Loop in Olympic National Park and get a full trail report.

Backpacker on High Divide Trail on Olympic Peninsula's Seven Lakes Basin Loop

The High Divide Trail in the Seven Lakes Basin of the Olympic Peninsula is one of the most coveted hiking and backpacking routes in Washington State.

Filled with incredible views of jagged Olympic peaks, verdant rainforests, and glistening alpine lakes, this 19-mile loop is typically done as a 1 to 3-night backpacking trip, although some people do complete it as a day hike.

I hosted a Bearfoot Theory group trip on the High Divide Trail (also called the Seven Lakes Basin Loop) and we spent four days camping and exploring.

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Spoiler alert: it was spectacular.

We started in the rainforest and ended up in the high alpine with clear views of the glaciers on Mount Olympus and incredible fall colors.

In this blog post, I recap our experience backpacking the High Divide and Seven Lakes Trail and share important information for anyone who is considering backpacking this iconic Pacific Northwest trail.

As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established rules. 

Watch my YouTube Video highlighting our backpacking trip on Olympic National Park’s High Divide Trail and Seven Lakes Basin Loop:

The High Divide & Seven Lakes Basin Loop Basics

  • Distance: 19.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Elevation Change: 5,387 ft
  • Time needed: 2-4 days
  • Permit Needed? Yes, for overnights (more info below)
  • Pass needed: Olympic National Park entrance fee or America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  • Dogs Allowed? No
  • Best time to go: July – September

The High Divide Trail is located in Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.

The trail begins at the Sol Duc River trailhead, which is located 3.5 hours drive from Seattle (via ferry or through Tacoma).

From there, the trail winds its way up through dense, moss-draped forests and past cascading waterfalls, eventually reaching the alpine environment of the High Divide, a mountainous ridge offering panoramic views.

The trail then skirts the edge of the Seven Lakes Basin, a series of pristine alpine lakes, before looping back down to the trailhead. This loop is known as the Seven Lakes Basin Loop.

High Divide & Seven Lakes Basin Loop Trail Map

Planning Your High Divide Trail Backpacking Trip

When to Go

July to September is the most popular time for hiking the High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin Loop.

We hiked in late September when the weather can be iffy with rain, but the fall colors were worth the risk.

Depending on the year, snow can also often be found on the trail until mid-July, plus the early season bugs can be brutal, so we don’t recommend hiking in May or June.

Permits

A permit is required for spending the night in the Seven Lakes Basin.

Here are a few tips for obtaining a High Divide permit:

  • Permits are available up to six months in advance via recreation.gov. Early registration is HIGHLY recommended.
  • Reservations for the summer season, May 15th through October 15th, become available on April 15th at 7am PST.
  • Permits are for specific campsites, so you need to book all of your sites when making your reservation.
  • Choose ‘Sol Duc’ when making your reservations

Camping

If you’re backpacking the High Divide Trail, follow these camping rules:

  • Camping is permitted in designated sites only and you must camp according to your permit.
  • Campfires are not permitted above 3,500 feet. If you’re camping in an area that does allow fires, please remember to have a safe campfire that leaves no trace.

Water Availability

Water from streams and lakes is readily available along the trail. I recommend having a water reservoir in your backpack or carrying a few soft water bottles.

Make sure to filter water prior to drinking.

Bear Canisters

National Park Service-approved bear canisters are required for storing food, garbage & scented items in Olympic National Park.

The Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles has a limited number of bear canisters you can borrow if needed.

Bearfoot Theory Bear Canister Pick

Bear Vault 450

The BV450 is our top choice for the High Divide Trail because it easily stores 1-3 days’ worth of food without being too bulky. It’s also see-through so you don’t have to go digging for what you want and it’s NPS-Certified.

Where to shop

Human Waste

The High Divide Trail and Seven Lakes Basin are designated Wilderness and we want to keep them as pristine as possible.

Please follow these rules and tips when going #1 and #2:

  • Sol Duc Park, Heart Lake, Lunch Lake, and Deer Lake campsites have vault toilets. To prevent them from filling up quickly, please don’t urinate in them and only use them for going #2.
  • Urinate on rocks or on the trail (at least 200 feet from campsites & water sources) to prevent animals from digging up plants.
  • If you must go #2 on the trail and are not near a vault toilet please follow Leave No Trace bathroom principles.

High Divide Trail Packing List

For a complete list of what to pack for your High Divide & Seven Lakes Basin Loop trip, head over to our 3-Day Backpacking Checklist.

For wet climates like the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want a few extra pieces of gear to stay dry and comfortable on the trail, especially if you hike in late September when air temps are cooler and the chance of rain is higher.

The thing to remember is that in rainy, humid climates, gear doesn’t dry. So if you get soaked on day 1, you’re going to be wet the entire trip.

This can be avoided by planning ahead and packing a few extra pieces of gear.

Here are a few items specific to this route:

  • A map: For Olympic National Park we recommend the National Geographic Olympic National Park map.
  • Neoprene gloves – I actually learned this from a guide in Alaska. If it starts to rain and it’s cold out, my hands can get numbingly cold. Neoprene gloves insulate when wet, so they are a great hiking option for people who get cold hands.
  • Trash bag – While I’d still suggest a rain cover, it’s also smart to line your pack with a trash bag so it protects your gear from the rain. At a minimum, be sure your sleeping bag and night clothes are wrapped up in a trash bag.
  • Quality Rain Gear – this is the most important thing you’ll need when backpacking in Olympic National Park. Check out our post on the Best Rain Jackets for tips on getting a quality rain jacket.
  • Extra socks – Normally I hike with 2 pairs of hiking socks, plus one extra pair that I keep in my sleeping bag at all times and only wear to bed. When hiking in a wet climate, I usually bring an extra pair to hike in as well, just in case my socks get extra soggy.
  • Camera protection – if you are bringing an expensive camera, make sure you bring something to store it in. I like to bring such a simple lightweight dry sack that I can throw my camera in if it starts to rain.

My High Divide Trail Backpacking Trip Report

Day 0

I call this “Day 0” because this is the day we drove 3 hours from Seattle to a campsite near the trailhead, so we could get up early the next day to start the High Divide Trail.

If you leave super early from Seattle, you could skip camping the night before.

We stopped for lunch at Crescent Lake, which is a great spot to stretch your legs.

Nine people standing side by side with arms around shoulders in front of Crescent Lake in Washington
Our group at Crescent Lake

After a stop at the Visitors Center where we got the lay of the land, we continued on to the Salmon Cascades in the Sol Duc River, where boisterous salmon launched themselves up and over waterfalls as they make their way to their spawning grounds.

With plenty of daylight left, we reached our night’s base camp where we’d be car camping and doing a gear check before an early night to bed.

Hiking snacks laid out on picnic table
Getting prepared to hit the trail tomorrow

Day 1

In the morning we packed up camp and drove up the road to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead to begin our 3D/2N High Divide backpacking trip.

Backpackers in a line for photo at Sol Duc Trailhead in Washington
At the beginning of our trek!

Our first full day on the trail was spent mostly in the rainforest, with a goal of approximately 7 miles and 2,000 ft. of elevation gain.

There were huge ferns, moss-covered trees, and the sound of the Sol Duc River rushing below.

Backpackers on a trail in the Olympic National Forest

Just under a mile in, we took a short detour to Sol Duc Falls, which for most folks visiting the Park, is a destination in itself.

Sol Duc falls in the Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls

Most of the trail this day was a gradual incline. We crossed the river a few times on really cool log bridges, eventually reaching a series of switchbacks that dropped us off right at our first Group Camp.

Backpacker crossing log bridge on High Divide Trail in Olympic National Park

In Olympic National Park, all of the campsites on the High Divide Trail are permitted, so you must stay at your designated campground.

At the Group Campgrounds, we had space to spread out and, get this…. a clean toilet for doing our #2 business. I have to say, not having to dig a hole was a total luxury by our standards.

We were also next to a nearby meadow that got beautiful afternoon sun, which allowed us to dry off any gear that was damp from the night before.

Tents set up a backcountry campground on the High Divide Trail in Olympic National Park
Our group campsite for Night 1

Day 2

This was everyone’s favorite day on the trail. After breakfast and packing up camp, we kicked off hiking at 9:30.

We had a little more climbing to do to reach the High Divide Trail and soon we transitioned out of the forest to above the treeline.

Backpackers on trail through PNW forest on the Olympic Peninsula

Our hike took place in late September and I wasn’t sure what kind of fall colors we would see on the trail.

On the first day in the rainforest, it was all green. But as we started to gain elevation and transition to alpine vegetation, the shorter plants and understory exploded in red, orange, and yellow, creating a vibrant and eye-catching landscape.

Alpine views with fall colors on the High Divide Trail in Washington

This is also where we saw our first two black bears.

We’d see two more later in the day, just picking away at berries on the hillside. It was clear they had absolutely no interest in us, which made our encounters a stand-out experience from the trip.

After passing Heart Lake, we made our final push to the ridgeline, otherwise known as the High Divide and the Seven Lakes Basin.

High alpine lake on the High Divide Trail in the Seven Lakes Basin on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington

This was really the moment we were waiting for.

It was still dry but the clouds were starting to roll in and we weren’t sure whether we were going to get those views of Mount Olympus that make the High Divide such an iconic Pacific Northwest Hike.

Olympus Mountain range on the Olympic Peninsula peeking through clouds

As soon as we got up on the High Divide, Mount Olympus and several glaciers came to light sandwiched between clouds in the sky and low hangers that blanketed the Hoh Valley.

Backpacker on the High Divide Trail on the Olympic Peninsula surrounded by mountain ranges

As we continued on, the views weren’t just about Mount Olympus. On the north side of the ridge, we peered down into Seven Lakes Basin, a rocky bowl with seven colorful alpine lakes.

Views out over Seven Lakes Basin on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington

We spent several miles on the High Divide with non-stop views and just as we turned back down towards Sol Duc, the fog thickened. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

The mystical fog clogged our views on the way down to our Group Camp at Deer Lake, but the fall colors made up for it.

Backpacker on foggy trail with bright fall colors on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington

That evening, we had a much-needed stretch session, chowed down on a tasty homemade pasta, and sat around and told stories with hot drinks until the rain started to fall.

Tents set up at camp on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington
Campsite #2

Day 3

It rained all night, but it wouldn’t be a proper Pacific Northwest backpacking trip without a bit of rain.

Luckily we were all prepared with the right backpacking gear. We also all lined our backpacks with trash bags for extra waterproof protection.

Photo out over lake surrounded by fir trees with clouds overhead

Breakfast and coffee were quick, then we donned our rain gear and hit the trail.

Like Day 1, we were back in the rainforest, but today we had an easy 4 miles back to the parking lot.

Women taking a selfie wearing rain gear during a backpacking trip on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington

Despite the rain, we still had a blast on the trail.

We revisited Sol Duc Falls one last time as we approached the parking lot for one last group photo before celebrating at the trailhead.

Once we were back in the van, we head over to Sol Duc Hot Springs for hot showers.

For those who were hopping on a plane that night, it was a welcome opportunity to clean up. Just make sure to bring a clean, dry pair of clothes and any toiletries.

We had one last picnic lunch before making the three-hour drive back to Seattle.

REI tent set up at campground surrounded by trees

And that’s our guide to backpacking the High Divide Trail & Seven Lakes Basin Loop in Olympic National Park!

Have you hiked the High Divide Trail or Seven Lakes Basin Loop in Washington? Is it on your bucket list? What questions do you still have? Leave a comment below!

Bearfoot Theory | Embark on the backpacking trip of a lifetime with our comprehensive guide to the High Divide Trail and Seven Lakes Basin Loop in Olympic National Park, Washington. This blog post equips you with everything you need to know - from packing essentials to trail highlights. Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest as you journey through old-growth forests, over mountainous divides, and around alpine lakes. This guide is your passport to an unforgettable adventure, regardless of your hiking experience. Join us on the High Divide Trail and let the adventure begin!

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3 Comments

  1. The Olympics look amazing – still need to get over there! – and this trip is definitely on my list.

    I’d be interested to know about packing a backpack with a bear canister – I have one but haven’t needed to use it yet (Ursacks have been fine). I’ve seen some folks carry their canister empty on the outside of their pack too, but that looks cumbersome. How did the REI guys make it work?