Royal Basin and Royal Lake

My sister and I spent five days up at Olympic National Park in early August. Despite living in Portland my whole life, I have never set foot on the Olympic Peninsula. It was amazingly gorgeous up there and we will definitely be going back!

With limited time, we only spent one night backpacking. We chose Royal Basin as our destination, where beautiful Royal Lake lies surrounded by rugged mountains. Depending on which guidebook you consult, it’s either six or seven miles to the lake, and about 2,300′ elevation gain. Whew! This is a very popular place, so you have to reserve ahead of time and then pick up a permit from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. Plus you’re required to carry a bear canister, which you can rent for cheap from the WIC. It’s a preventative measure; they don’t have a bear problem yet and they want to keep it that way. But those canisters are pretty heavy!

The hike starts out easy, climbing ever so gradually through a beautiful and pleasant forest for the first couple miles. You start out alongside the Dungeness River, and then the trail cuts over to follow Royal Creek upstream to Royal Lake. Soon the forest thins out and every once in awhile you cross an avalanche chute or rockslide. This was the first one, where we finally got a view of our distant destination.

The trail climbs up and up and up, getting pretty steep in some parts. The warm day felt quite hot, especially in the open areas where the sun beat down. I spent all of May and June laid-up with my broken foot and lost a lot of fitness which I have not yet regained. So I was really hurting on this hike.

I don’t have many pictures from the hike in. I was too busy sweating. My sister, in better shape and a faster hiker anyway, had hiked ahead of me after lunch and I hadn’t seen her for hours. When I finally reached the lake, I saw from the little map of campsites that they were quite scattered around the southwest side of the lake. So I set off to find her, pausing often to admire the gorgeous lake.

I spent half an hour looking for her. There were plenty of people and nearly every campsite had been taken, even on that weeknight (don’t come here for solitude). But I ended up exploring nearly every single scattered campsite before finally finding her in one of the last few spots I hadn’t looked yet. Man, I was SO ready to take that pack off! She had set up the tent and was holed up inside hiding from the mosquitoes, which were quite prolific. We rested awhile and then decided to hike to the upper basin. We were tired, but we knew it would be pretty and that we would regret it if we didn’t go. At least we didn’t have to put our packs on again.

It WAS worth it. It was really pretty up there, even though it was all in shadow because the sun had dipped below the high mountains. We saw a marmot….

…and admired the awesome view.

There was a surprise waterfall flowing down into the basin. It’s not on the topo maps and seems to have no name. I climbed up the hill a little bit to photograph it while Deborah continued the last stretch to the upper reaches of the upper basin (I was too tired for that).

Deborah took some shots on my point-and-shoot. Here is a pretty little tarn…

… and a look down at the meadow that was my stopping point.

On the way back down to the lake, Deborah saw a doe and two fawns. Awwwww….!

After photographing the waterfall in the upper basin, I had hiked back down to the lake. While waiting for Deborah to return, I took pictures of the GORGEOUS lupine near the lake. There were several little meadows like this chock full of blooming lupine. It smelled fantastic!

Once we were both back at camp we set to work making dinner. It was a challenge since we wanted to keep our gloves on to protect our hands from the mosquitoes, but we couldn’t prepare the food wearing our gloves. Thank God for the headnets at least. Here we are sporting our stylish nets and our mugs full of wine (yes, my crazy awesome sister hauled a heavy bottle of wine up there!)

At dusk, a deer wandered into our camp. She was clearly used to humans.

I went down to the lake with my accompanying hoard of mosquitoes and experimented with some long shutter speed shots of the lake at dusk, not knowing what kind of results I’d get. Turned out pretty nice!

We slept pretty well that night since it didn’t get very cold at all. We were at 5,100 feet and were expecting colder temps but it was actually quite comfortable. We woke with the light at 6 a.m. and decided to go around to the east side of the lake to watch the rising sun paint the western mountains with light. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning and the mosquitoes were only out in half-force at that hour, lucky us!

Before we headed back to the trailhead, we decided to find the waterfall that we had caught glimpses of and could hear from many areas around the lake. It looked to be near the ranger tent (unstaffed during our weekday visit) so we followed the trail to the tent. The trail kept going so we kept following it and sure enough it led us to an amazing waterfall. Like the one in the upper basin, this one is not on the topo map and appears to have no name, which is a shame since it’s so huge and cool.

We hung out by the waterfall for a long time, not only because it was so pretty and the day was so warm and beautiful, but because the mosquitoes were pretty much non-existent there. Ah, the relief of escaping those little bastards!

After we packed up camp, Deborah took a little swim in the lake, brave girl. The water did look very refreshing, but I didn’t want to expose so much skin to the blood-sucking mosquitoes swarming about.

And then we headed out, sadly leaving behind the gorgeous mountain lake and the stunning scenery around it. Here’s Deborah hiking across the lower part of Royal Basin, where there are a few campsites.

The hike out was long and hard because we were tired and sore and it was quite warm. I was so tired that I tripped and fell twice, twisting both my ankles. Thank goodness for hiking poles or the fall would have been worse. But we finally made it back to the trailhead. I look a little worse for wear.

But I made it and it was totally worth the trip. What a beautiful backpacking destination! I highly recommend this hike. As I said, it’s quite popular, but since they do limit the number of campers allowed that helps. I hope to go back again someday, hopefully when the mosquitoes are not around!