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Hiking Mount Ellinor in the Olympic National Forest

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Looking northwest from the summit of Mt Ellinor

Mount Ellinor stands nearly 6,000′ above sea level, a prominent sentinel at the south-eastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The trail up Mt. Ellinor has a reputation for being steep, but rewarding with terrific views. It’s also considered one of the best places in Washington to spy mountain goats. Ellinor delivered on all points.

Trail Details
Summit: 5,952′
Distance: 6.6 miles
Time: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 3,286 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: July-October
Ellinor was our third peak in as many days. We were scouting peaks for a Pacific Northwest edition of the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge, and our Seattle-area friend Moosefish sent us up this mountain.

There are two main trailheads that lead to the summit during summer months: the Lower and Upper trailhead. The Upper Trailhead starts higher at 3,500 feet, shaving 900 feet of vertical climb and three miles off the hike. But it also requires a Northwest Forest Pass for parking. We chose the Lower Trailhead. No special pass is required for parking, it’s a little more of a climb (let’s make it MORE challenging), and it starts out more gently, giving you a chance to warm up your legs before tackling the really steep stuff.

Getting to the Trailhead

Take North Lake Cushman Road west from Hoodsport for 9.2 miles. When you reach the “T” intersection, you’ll see a sign to the right for Mount Ellinor. Here the road becomes a washboard gravel road. In dry conditions, a 2WD sedan will have no issues, you’ll just need to take your time, as it’s 6.2 miles of dusty gravel to the trailhead, including a hard left turn that was unsigned when we drove up (thankfully we had programmed the directions into our iPhone beforehand). Your best bet? Get turn-by-turn driving directions via Google Maps.

There was plenty of parking when we arrived on a July midweek morning, but this is a popular trail, so expect bigger crowds on the weekends.

Hiking up Mount Ellinor

The Mount Ellinor Trail starts out with a relatively gentle climb through old growth forest. There is plenty of shade, ferns and even the occasional bench conveniently located when you need to rest.

After about 1.5 miles and roughly 1,000 feet of vertical, you’ll reach a junction with the Upper Trail.

Junction with the upper trail

From here to the top, both trails follow the same route. And it begins to get steeper.

Steps cut into the trail up Ellinor

The trail continues up forested switchbacks, reaching an overlook at about 4,500 feet. If you look closely, you can see Mount Ranier in the hazy distance.

An overlook at about 4,500 feet

From here, there’s only about a mile to the summit, but you’ll gain nearly 1,500 feet. And most of that is above the timberline.

Looking back toward Lake Cushman, you can see hikers ascending what looks like a scramble, but there are actually carefully crafted steps. Sometimes you have to pause to find them, but they are there, thanks to the excellent work of the Mount Rose Trail Crew.

This looks like a scramble, but there ARE steps if you look carefully.

The trail reaches a traverse with carefully built steps. It’s hot and exposed, but there are wildflowers and the notch ahead makes a great spot to rest for the final push to the summit.

The trail to the notch

And looking back down from the notch, at the hikers slogging their way uphill. You are almost to the top from this point.

Hot and exposed up this stretch of the Mt Ellinor trail

From the notch, there are a few more steep switchbacks, then the trail winds around and up to the summit. On a clear day, the views are incredible.

Mount Olympus, as seen from the top of Mount Ellinor
Mount Olympus, as seen from the summit of Mount Ellinor

When I reached the top, I didn’t see any mountain goats right away, but other hikers confirmed that there were several in the area. Sure enough, this goat strolled right past the summit, and struck a pose nearby.

Oddly enough, these mountain goats are not indigenous to the area. They were introduced to the Olympic Peninsula for hunting, and there is talk about relocating them to the Cascades. Time will tell.

[vr url= view=360]

The return hike required slow and steady footwork on the way down. Sections of the trail have loose gravel, and trekking poles would be a real plus. Once you reach the forested section, it’s smooth sailing back to the trailhead. Just be sure to take time to enjoy the views and appreciate the wildflowers.

Will Mount Ellinor make the cut for the Pacific Northwest Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge? Most definitely. It’s a popular, but challenge-worthy peak.

Mount Ellinor Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: lower-trailhead-to-mount-ellinor.gpx

Mount Ellinor Resources

Mount Ellinor Area Weather Forecast

Note that the temperature and conditions can change considerably at higher elevations.

[forecast width=”100%” location=”98548″]

Originally hiked on July 26, 2018 with Joan. 

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