While Mount Ellinor is not the highest mountain on the Olympic Peninsula (Mount Olympus is, at 7,979 feet), nor the site with the most accessible high alpine views (Hurricane Ridge, in Olympic National Park is), it is one of the most popular hikes in the region, along with Sol Duc Falls and the Hall of Mosses. As well, on a clear day, Mount Ellinor has some of the best views of Olympic National Park and the peninsula as a whole from its 5,954 foot summit. Mount Ellinor also is one of the best places to see mountain goats in the entirety of Washington. While all of these items are positive - great views - ability to view wildlife - what is bad about the Mount Ellinor hike is the vertical gain. While there are many ways to climb Mount Ellinor - Upper Trail; Lower Trail; Winter route - all of these ascents feature a fair amount of vertical gain in a short distance. But for those willing to accept the pain, they will find that despite its popularity, Mount Ellinor’s summit is worth the potential suffering.
Directions: The closest town to Mount Ellinor is Hoodsport, which is located on the Hood Canal. The next largest cities to Hoodsport are Seattle (some 114 miles to the Northeast of the trailhead) and Olympia (some 55 miles East of the trailhead). From Hoodsport, hikers will want to turn off Highway 101 to State Route 119, to the west, and follow it nine and a half miles to a T-junction where it ends. From this point, one will want to turn right on Forest Road 24, and follow it for 1.6 miles to the intersection of Forest Road 2419, which is also marked, and is a graded dirt road. Visitors should bear in mind that during the winter months, closures may affect part or all of the latter stages of this route. From this junction, it is 5.6 miles to the Upper Trailhead, which is also where Forest Road 2419 ends. This trail is quite popular during the summer months after most of the snow on the mountain has melted, and as a result, hikers may have to park further down the road from the actual trailhead. No matter what time of year one hikes or climbs Ellinor, one will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park.
From the Upper Trailhead at 3,500 feet, the trail ascends into the forest immediately from the parking area, which is not surprising, as one needs to gain 2,444 feet of elevation to reach the summit in 1.6 miles of one-way distance. While there are some views in the early going of Lake Cushman below, most of the first third of a mile has obscured visibility through the scenic forest. While many people consider this first portion of the trail to be difficult with its ascent and steep switchbacks, especially situated at the beginning of the trail, in my opinion, this section is just a warm-up for the later sections of the hike.
After this initial section, the trail slightly levels out, but continues to ascend through forest, now with occasional breaks for long distance views. At the one mile mark, one passes out of the treeline, and days with clear visibility has the first of many great views. Unfortunately, this section which traverses loose rock and has numerous rocky steps is, in my opinion, the most difficult section of the hike. After ascending up the final slope, hikers will find themselves at a “notch” or saddle which is not the summit of the mountain. However, at this point, most of the difficult elevation gain has been completed, and while the last push does have uphill sections, it is nothing compared to what one has already climbed. This section of trail, from just below the “notch” to the summit is also an area where one is very likely to encounter mountain goats. From the summit, assuming it is a clear day, one will have fantastic, picturesque views of the area that are hard to beat, and are views that made the climb worthwhile. After taking in the views, hikers will descend down the same trail for an out-and-back roundtrip distance of 3.2 miles.
About those goats: While mountain goats are very common on the Mount Ellinor trail, they are also wild animals. As such, they should be treated with respect, and given the proper amount of distance. Over the years, with greater traffic, and greater use, there have been more human-goat interactions, which, on occasion, has led to the trail being closed. While it may sound strange, one of the reasons the goats are on Mount Ellinor is because of their interest in salt. Specifically, the salt found in urine. While this may sound gross, urine has a high amount of salt, and a high amount of hikers on the trail leads to a high amount of urine for goats to then lick off rocks. As such, hikers should be sure to urinate at least fifty feet off the trail (to preclude goats from venturing onto the trail to look for salt). Other tips involving goats are mostly common sense, but should also be mentioned: a) don’t come between parental goats and their kids; b) stay at least fifty feet from goats; c) don’t feed the goats; d) in case of aggressive goats, stand one’s ground and make loud noises, and if necessary, throw rocks (as a last resort)
Tips: On occasion, Mount Ellinor will be socked in with clouds, and its fantastic views may be obscured. Case in point was my last trip to the mountain, when, as you can see from the pictures, I saw basically nothing from the summit. Despite that, and despite the rampant popularity of the hike, this is still a great hike to do for the challenge, the views of other things, and just because. If you are, looking for a hike in the area that is not as popular, the Shady Lane Trail, a short distance down the road is a much less strenuous alternative that is also quite nice. Finally, like any strenuous undertaking, hikers should be sure to have plenty of food and water, and with 2,400+ feet of elevation gain, this hike is a strenuous undertaking.