Distance: 9.8 miles (15.9 km) or 13.6 miles (21.9 km) if you go up to Grand Pass
Elevation: 4030-6450 feet (1230 - 1965 m)
Time of Year: late-July to early October
|The upper basin of Grand Valley|
The hike from Obstruction Point to Grand Pass may be the most spectacular alpine hike in all of the Olympic Mountains. I do not say this lightly, as there are many amazing spots in this 900,000 acre wilderness. But, it is hard to find the amazing combination of panoramic views, wildflowers, glacial features, and transitions between ecosystems as you can on this loop. While the window to do this hike is short, due to the heavy snowpacks, and it is definitely a very long strenuous day hike, it is well worth it to try it at least once.
|View of Mount Olympus from Obstruction Point|
To get to the trailhead, take the Hurricane Ridge Road up from Port Angeles. Upon reaching the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, look for a dirt road leaving to the right from the beginning of the parking area. This is the Obstruction Point Road and it travels for 8 bumpy miles to the Obstruction Point Trailhead. It generally does not open before July 1st because of heavy snowpacks. Check with the rangers to find out the snow conditions on the trail, as Grand Pass might not even be accessible before late-July. Once you are at the trailhead, you can choose the route to the left or right to begin this loop. Due to better lighting on the mountains in the morning, I always recommend to start to the right on the top of Lilian Ridge, despite most guidebooks saying start left toward Badger Valley.
|View down into Badger Valley from Lilian Ridge with glacial tarn lakes|
The initial view you will see from the ridgeline is Lilian Valley directly below to the right and the heavily glaciated Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in the range at 7,995 feet off to the due west. Down below to the left (east) are a number of glacial tarn lakes as you look down into Badger Valley.
This area is among the driest of the entire park due to the rainshadow effect. So, while the coastal rainforests are getting 150+" of precipitation, Lilian Ridge is getting less than 30". So, as you hike along the wind-and-sun exposed top you will find the vegetation is sparse and low to the ground.
|Alpine meadows on Lilian Ridge|
After a mile or so, the trail will descend steeply down to into the Grand Valley, with Grand Lake visible below. The trail drops over 1,000 feet in elevation, and in these protected slopes there are more trees and shrubs. The primary subalpine tree species you will encounter are subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, Alaska yellow-cedar, and occassional Douglas firs.
|Autumn Splendor: huckleberries and mountain ash in mid-September|
Upon arriving at Grand Lake, note the trail branch. To the left is the trail following Grand Creek downslope that will loop you back up to the trailhead via Badger Valley. If you are doing the 9.8 mile loop, then just turn left here. This is what to do also, if the snowpack is too deep to access Grand Pass. If you want to go to the absolutely spectacular Grand Pass, then go right and you will return this way later on.
If you are heading up to Grand Pass, you will soon encounter Moose Lake and then the smaller Gladys Lake further up Grand Valley. There are no moose in Olympic National Park and this lake was actually named after the Roosevelt elk. Although it is popular for people to camp at these lakes, I recommend you cruise by the lakes quickly, as they contain localized swarms of mosquitoes.
|Badger valley was actually named for the numerous endemic Olympic marmots|
The trail will begin to ascend up above treeline again and onto the rocky scree slopes at the top of the basin. Bright yellow carpets of monkeyflower will coat the rocky slopes where seeps of water emerge to form Grand Creek.
|Looking across the alpine meadows of Grand Valley|
The trail will grow steeper and steeper as you climb up the back of the basin toward Grand Pass. Small islands of subalpine firs hold fast against the loose scree that prevents soils from accumulatingand and alpine meadows from developing. The climb from the lake to Grand Pass ascends about 1,300 feet.
|Yellow monkeyflowers bloom along the edges of seeps and springs|
Once you reach Grand Pass, look for a small waytrail leaving to the right to the top of the peak above. This peak is unofficially named Grandview Peak because of its spectacular 360-degree panorama. An amazing view of Mount Olympus rising up above rocky peaks and glacial tarns will stop you in your tracks, if you exhaustion hasn't already.
|View of Mount Olympus from Grandview Peak|
From Grandview Peak, you can also look over the edge of the high eastern peaks to see two of the Cascade volcanoes. Mount Baker is visible to the northwest, while Mount Rainier can be seen to the southwest. You have a strenuous trip ahead of you still, so do not rush from this magical place. Really soak in the view.
|Mount Baker rising above the ridgeline|
After lunch at the top, it is time to backtrack down the valley and to Grand Lake. From here, follow the trail as it descends an additional 1,000 feet following Grand Creek. At its lowest point, where it crosses Grand Creek at the base of Badger Valley, you have descended not only below the alpine meadows, but also the subalpine zone into an old-growth montane forest of Douglas fir and Pacific silver-fir. Large western hemlocks are also visible. Cross the log bridge and then begin the grueling ascent of almost 2,000 feet up the beautiful Badger Valley.
|The forest next to Grand Creek at the lowest spot|
As you climb out of the Grand Creek basin and into Badger Valley, the vegetation thins again, eventually coming out into beautiful grassy subalpine meadows with lots of wildflowers. The are no badgers in Olympic National Park. Instead, it was named after the endemic Olympic Marmots that live in this valley. This species of large ground squirrel is found in these mountains and no where else on Earth. While about the same size as badger, marmots eat plants and are not carnivorous members of the weasel family.
|Grassy meadows of Badger Valley|
The higher you go, the more easily you can see up to Obstruction Point and your final destination above.
|Fall colors hit the Olympics already in mid-September|
As you climb higher and higher, you will approach the long barren ridge of Elk Mountain (worthy of the next posted hike). The climb is steep and becomes slick and rocky in the final segment. But, once you have climbed out of Badger Valley and back up onto Obstruction Point, it has all been worth it again!
|Grand and Badger Valleys from Elk Mountain|
The image above shows the view of Badger Valley (foreground) and Grand Valley (middle) from the top of Elk Mountain. Grand Lake is visible in the center, Moose Lake further up the valley to the right, and Grand Pass in the far upper right corner. Lilian Ridge is on the far right and Obstruction point if off screen to the lower right. This image essentially shows you the entire loop.
|The Needles from Lilian Ridge|