Happy Ridge Trail

I recently took a 3 day backpacking trip along one of Olympic National Parks’ little hiked ridge trails. The Happy Lake Ridge Trail is one of those hikes that can be as much or as little as you want it to be. For a day hiker, it can be a short hike of up to 4 miles each way. For a long loop hiker or backpacker, it’s about 15.2 miles.

Up the Elwha River Road, you will find the remnants of the Glines Canyon Dam. Above the old dam was Lake mills, which is now just a portion of the Elwha River since the Glines Canyon Dam was removed. Stop and see the overlook on your way to the trailhead. It is worth the stop.

Happy Ridge Trail

Once you pass the old dam, you go on up the Boulder Creek Road to the trailhead just a couple miles past the dam. A small pull-off on the side of the road is all you’ll see, as the trailhead sign has been severely damaged. The trail and a very hard climb begins here.

This is not a trail for the hiker who is not in good shape. The trail goes uphill continuously through deep evergreen forests for about 3,900’ in about 3.5 miles. There is no water along the way, so you need to pack a lot along with you.

Along the trail you pass through an open area of bright green Vanilla Leaf that covers all the ground you can see. Other areas are very dry with manzanita and Madrona. As you approach the summit of the trail, you begin to enter the sub-alpine forests, which are more open, allowing views of the surrounding mountains and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Happy Ridge Trail

Remember to stop and look around as you struggle to catch your breath near the top of the steep climb, as a beautiful view of the Dungeness Spit on the Straits comes open to the North. If it’s a clear enough day, you can see across the Straits to Vancouver Island. Further along the ridge, you’ll see Mount Appleton and, beyond that, the magnificent Mount Olympus with at least 3 glaciers exposed.

Many people will stop and return to their cars after a very tough endurance testing climb to the ridge, only to face it again downhill. This will certainly put your knees to the test. Others will continue along the ridge to the turnoff to Happy Lake. This trail drops down about 500’ to a beautiful placid lake. It’s a great place to take a dip and wash off some of the sweat you will undoubtedly have worked up on the climb.

There is a very nice open area right at the base of the trail, but if you scout around, you will find some very nice campsites as well. At this elevation in the Olympics there are no fires allowed, so plan on bringing a stove if you camp here. I found no bear wire to hang food, but there are trees on which you can put up a line to get food bags up in the air.

Happy Ridge Trail

Beyond Happy Lake is a beautiful ridge hike. The trail is not well-maintained, as so few people traverse it. Lots of brush and plants spread over the trail, which tends to slow you down and, for me, makes me watch my steps, so as not to step in one of the many mountain beaver holes.

Many parts of the trail are open with large areas of bear grass full on with blooms at this time of year. Occasionally, you will walk through heather meadows and along huckleberry patches, which will be laden with fruit in late August and September.

Happy Ridge Trail

Eventually you will come to an intersection with a trail that leads along Aurora Ridge, which is another seldom used trail. Keep left here and follow the trail towards Boulder Lake. As you approach the lake, it will come into view down the hill to your left. The trail drops about 500’ to the lake.

This is a location where you will be thrust back into civilization, as many people frequent it. It’s a good camping area with a bear wire and several large campsites. Since this area was closed throughout the dam demolition, you will see many large trout in the lake, so bring your pole.

Happy Ridge Trail

The hike down from Boulder Lake to the Olympic Hotsprings is very pretty and had many large old growth trees. However, the last stretch of “trail” back to the Boulder Lake Trailhead is along an old abandoned road, which is either a transition back to civilization, or a sad way to end an otherwise beautiful hike. Either way, once you get back to the Olympic Hotsprings trailhead, you will still have a distance of about 1.5 miles back down the road to your car.

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