Affiliate Disclaimer: Before I share my experience backpacking the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail I wanted to let you know that some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Olympic National Park is home to an incredible array of diverse landscapes. Whether you want to explore beaches, mountains, rain forests, or lakes, you can find it here. If you’re looking to go backpacking in Olympic National Park, the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail should be at the top of your list. The scenic loop trail takes you through lush forest and over a ridgeline with stunning views of the Olympic mountains and Seven Lakes Basin.
I got married to my husband, William, on the shores of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park on September 22, 2022. Since we had already traveled so far for our wedding, we decided to celebrate our mini-moon by spending more time in the park, including a 21-mile backpacking trip through the mountains. Backpacking the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail was the highlight of our honeymoon, and should be added to any backpacker’s bucket list!
Quick Stats: Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail
Trailhead Location: Google maps
Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. The parking lot at the trailhead is large, but the short hike to Sol Duc Falls is a very popular day hike so parking can fill up. You may have to wait for someone to leave in order to find a spot!
Trail Type: Loop
Distance: we clocked 21 miles
Elevation Gain: approximately 4,000 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult depending on experience and length of your trip.
Changes to the Olympic National Park Wilderness Camping Permit System for 2023
Backpacking the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail in Olympic National Park requires a wilderness camping permit.
Beginning in 2023 ALL wilderness camping permits for Olympic National Park will be available to reserve on April 15th at 7am PST on recreation.gov. The Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail lies within a quota area, which means there are a limited number of permits available each night. This is a popular trail, especially during the summer and on weekends, so if you’re planning on backpacking it this year be sure to set an alarm!
When you go to make a reservation, you’ll need to choose where you’re camping each night in order to create your itinerary. Some campsites along the route only have 1 site, but more popular camping areas have multiple sites that you’ll choose from once you arrive. You must camp in an established site. There are backcountry privies available at Sol Duc Park, Heart Lake, Lunch Lake, and Deer Lake.
Be sure to carry your permit with you during your hike in case a ranger asks to see it!
What You Need to Know About Backpacking Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide Trail
Hiking the Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide Trail can be done as a long, strenuous day hike if you don’t have backcountry permits, but most day hikers opt for a hike to Sol Duc Falls or Deer Lake. Hiking to Lunch Lake and back is 14 miles roundtrip if you’re looking for a long day hike in Olympic National Park. It’s a more reasonable day hiking option than the full loop that still provides beautiful alpine lake views.
While we spent 2 nights in the backcountry, you can definitely knock the Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide Trail out in one night. If you opt for a one-night trip I would recommend camping at Heart Lake and hiking clockwise so you get the best views early on day 2 during your long hike back to the trailhead.
You can hike Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide Trail either clockwise or counterclockwise, each with its own pros and cons. We hiked the loop clockwise, which had better views of Seven Lakes Basin (in my opinion), but the first day was much more of a slog than it would have been otherwise. Hiking counterclockwise means a shorter, but steeper hike up on day one, and a longer, more gradual descent on your last day.
Recreate Responsibly in Olympic National Park
While backcountry camping is regulated, the Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide Trail is heavily trafficked, which is why it’s important for everyone to minimize their impacts by practicing Leave No Trace on the trail. The seven principles include:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Pack out waste.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts (*campfires are prohibited above 3,500 ft.).
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.
Trip Report: Backpacking Seven Lakes Basin & High Divide Trail
Day 1: Trailhead to Sol Duc Park
Backpacking was the second half of our Olympic National Park honeymoon. We had a two hour drive to the trailhead from our cabin at the Kalaloch Lodge, where we stayed the night before. The short hike to Sol Duc Falls is extremely popular and since we were starting on a Sunday I was nervous about getting a parking spot. Fortunately we were able to snag a prime spot near the trailhead right as someone was leaving! After double checking that we had all of our gear and snacks we finally hit the trail around 1 pm.
There were a lot of other people during the first mile, but the crowds thinned out considerably after the turnoff to Sol Duc Falls. Most of the hikers we saw from that point forward were backpackers who were heading back to the trailhead from the High Divide Trail.
The first seven miles of trail slowly climbed through the forest past Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red-cedar. My husband (an arborist) was geeking out over the trees! The trail was well-maintained with a few bridges and small waterfalls along the way. The elevation gain hiking clockwise was gradual, but consistent. I was relieved when we finally got through the forest and arrived at camp.
Since we arrived at camp right before sunset we were expecting the other sites at Sol Duc Park to be full, but to our surprise we were the only people there. We chose a site near a platform that is used for a ranger station during the summer. This allowed us to be close to the backcountry privy, without being too close to the backcountry privy, if you know what I mean.
We were both tired after the long hike up, so we set up camp, tossed the Mr. & Mrs. garland I made us pack on our tent, made dinner, and went to bed. Since it was late September I expected it to be cold at night, but we were treated to comfortable nighttime temperatures during our entire trip.
Day 2: Sol Duc Park to Lunch Lake
After a solid night’s sleep we woke up with the sun and slowly broke down camp while we ate breakfast. We hit the trail around 8:30 am and it was already warm, even at 1,680 ft. (a low elevation by Colorado standards, but high near the ocean!). With no clouds in sight, we knew it was going to be a hot day!
The initial climb from Sol Duc Park up to Heart Lake was fairly short, but steeper than the trail was the day before. If I were to backpack the loop again I would spend the night at Heart Lake, which had much more scenic views than Sol Duc Park. From Heart Lake the trail climbed up to the star of the hike- the High Divide Trail- where the grade mellowed out as the trail rolled across the ridge.
The four miles along the High Divide Trail were some of the most beautiful backpacking views I’ve ever seen. It was a rare bluebird day in the Olympics, so we had stunning views of Mt. Olympus to our left and Seven Lakes Basin to the right. The trail was pretty exposed, so I was grateful that I was wearing a sun shirt!
There were more hikers on the trail on day 2 including people who were day hiking the loop. We were wearing wooden signs on our packs that said “just married” which were a hit with the other hikers. We had quite a few couples stop to tell us about their own honeymoon backpacking trips!
Our permit had us camping at Lunch Lake, which required hiking down into the basin. Once we arrived there were a few campsites to choose from. We chose a site at the top of a hill that overlooked Lunch Lake and the mountains. Again, it was close to the privy, but not too close to the privy.
After setting up camp we went down to Lunch Lake to make some soup. William stripped down and took a dip in the lake, but the water was way too cold for me! We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area and hanging out at camp. We had heard that black bears often hung out around Lunch Lake, so we were vigilantly keeping an eye out, but didn’t see any.
Day 3: Lunch Lake to Trailhead
We woke up early on day 3 to watch the sunrise before making some coffee by the lake. We thought that we only had a 5-mile hike back to the trailhead, but we were sorely mistaken and actually had to hike 7 miles (not a huge difference, but this was my first backpacking trip after a bad ankle injury and I was really feeling it).
The hike out started with a steep climb out from Lunch Lake back to the High Divide Trail. It was another (unusually) warm day, so I worked up a sweat quickly. Once we were back on the High Divide Trail it was all downhill from there!
I was in the middle of thinking about what a bummer it was that we didn’t see any bears at Lunch Lake, when a giant blob rolled across the trail. It was a black bear! He was on the hunt for berry bushes to help bulk up for winter, and didn’t pay any attention to us or another hiker that also passed by. Once we were confident that he was far enough away from the trail and didn’t want anything to do with us, we resumed hiking.
After a couple of miles of hiking we hit Deer Lake, the last lake on the trail. At this point I was over the hike and ready to be back at the trailhead, but we still had a long climb down. After Deer Lake the trail got rockier and steeper, which slowed us down considerably. We were also back in the forest, so the sweeping views were gone.
We passed the occasional day hiker on the hike down and once we made it to Sol Duc Falls we were back with the crowds and in the home stretch. It got hotter and more humid as we descended, and I was exhausted by the time we got back to the trailhead. We celebrated with some cold beers and took our time unpacking, changing, and eating snacks at one of the picnic tables at the trailhead.
Post-Hike: Staying at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Lodge
We spent the night in a cabin at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Lodge, which was only a couple of minutes from the trailhead. Soaking in the hot springs was much needed after our trip, but I wouldn’t stay there again. There was mold in the bathroom, weirdly mismatched furniture, and our cabin just looked…sparse. It was a much different vibe from our cabin at the Kalaloch Lodge even though it had a similar price tag. The one plus was that we got access to all of the hot spring soaking windows during our stay (otherwise you have to purchase a 2-hour slot). The staff also provided exceptional hospitality.
The main pool at the Sol Duc Hot Springs was closed, which meant everyone was confined to two smaller pools. It was crowded when we soaked in the evening, but we got in during the first soaking window in the morning and had a nice experience. While it wasn’t the best lodging experience, it was nice after a couple of nights in the backcountry!
Looking for more Washington adventures? Check out this 3-day itinerary for North Cascades National Park!
Want a backpacking packing list? Check out this guide on what to pack for an overnight backpacking trip (the guide also works for a 2-3 day trip).