Located in the Olympic National Forest on the majestic Olympic Peninsula, Mount Ellinor beckons hikers looking for a challenge. This iconic Olympic Mountain peak is a hike that challenges and inspires those that dare to trek to the summit.
Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer seeking the thrill of a nearly 6,000-foot summit or a nature enthusiast yearning for breathtaking views of Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and the eastern Olympic front, Mount Ellinor promises an unforgettable journey.
In this comprehensive trail guide I’ll share all aspects of this iconic trail, from how to access it to what to pack for a safe hike. I’ll discuss the best season to hike Mount Ellinor, so you can choose the time that suits your preferences. I’ll also give you insights into what you can expect when hiking this incredible peak, including the breathtaking views of Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and the eastern Olympic front.
Let’s get into the basics of the trail in the next section!
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Complete Hiking Guide to Mount Ellinor Trail in Olympic National Forest
Mount Ellinor has is a short and spicy hike on the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest. This extremely steep, but short trail is well loved by everyone who dares to trek to the summit. Follow along in this comprehensive guide as I cover everything you need to know about hiking to the peak of Mount Ellinor.
General Trail Information
Region: Olympic Peninsula
Distance: 6.6 miles (lower trailhead), 3.3 miles (upper trailhead)
Level: Very Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 3,300 ft (lower trailhead), 2,300 ft (upper trailhead)
Time: 5 hours
When to go: July – Oct.
Pass/Permit: None (lower trailhead), Northwest Forest Pass (upper trailhead)
Dogs Allowed?: Yes
Date Completed: 9/16/2023
Accessing the Mount Ellinor Trailhead
Before you begin your adventure on the Mount Ellinor trail, it is essential to have a clear understanding of how to access the trail throughout the year, and what you need to know before your trek.
Map to Trailhead
Mount Ellinor is located on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish tribes. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
Getting to the Trailhead
To embark on your Mount Ellinor hike, you’ll first need to reach the trailhead. Mount Ellinor is located in the Olympic National Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. You can access the trail from two primary trailheads: the Lower Trailhead and the Upper Trailhead.
The trail from the Lower Trailhead is longer round trip at 6.6 miles and 3,300ft of elevation but offers hikers time to warm-up prior to the steep grade of the upper trail.
The trail from the Upper Trailhead is 3.3 miles round trip and 2,300ft of elevation gain.
While the dirt road to the trailhead is long, it is well maintained making it accessible in any vehicle.
Both the lower and upper Trailhead offer basic facilities and small parking lots. Arrive early to get a spot in the lot otherwise you will need to park along the narrow dirt road.
Season to Visit
The ideal time to hike Mount Ellinor depends on your preference and the experience you’re seeking. Since the trail is technically accessible year-round, there are many different experiences you can have on the trail depending on the time of year.
Spring and Fall
Summer is the most popular season to visit, offering clear trails and vibrant views. Be prepared to run into lots of hikers along the route and experience potential wildfire smoke.
Winter provides a unique snowshoeing opportunity to reach the Mount Ellinor Summit via the Winter Route. Do not attempt the Mount Ellinor Summit in the winter unless you have experience navigating heavy snow conditions and have proper winter gear and safety equipment.
The upper trailhead requires a Northwest Forest Pass.
If you visit National Parks and Forests more than three times annually the $80 pass will pay itself off after the fourth visit. You can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass here!
The lower trailhead does not require a permit.
With two trailheads to choose from and a variety of seasons to explore, you have the flexibility to tailor your experience for hiking Mount Ellinor. Let’s check out what to pack for your trek!
What to Pack for Hiking Mount Ellinor
As you prepare to conquer Mount Ellinor’s breathtaking heights, here is some gear you should consider packing in addition to the ten essentials of hiking. If you’re doing this hike for sunrise or sunset, make sure your headlamp is charged!
If you’re unsure of what the ten essentials of hiking are, here is a short read!
While a short hike, this short and spicy hike requires some effort! A comfortable pack will go a long way. Here are three of my favorite options for packs.
REI Co-op Flash 22
Osprey Tempest 20
Gregory Maya 22
For a more affordable technical bag, the Gregory Maya 22 is a great option. WIth amazing structure for organization, this bag will work for any gear you bring on the trail.
Sturdy shoes and wool socks are a must for this trail. When you’re spending so much time scrambling and stepping on rocky terrain, a structure boot is key.
Oboz Bridgers are my favorite boot for rocky terrain. They have fantastic traction and hold up will in all weather conditions.
For a beginner-friendly hiking boot, the Columbia Newton are amazing boots for anyone looking for a structured hiking boot.
Darn Tough Socks
While hiking boots are important on rough terrain, a good quality pair of socks goes just as far. Darn Tough wool socks are the only socks I trust on the trail.
Mount Ellinor is a very strenuous and steep trail. Bringing a pair of hiking poles is recommended, especially for the descent which is tough on the knees.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
For a splurge pair of trekking poles, these Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles are extremely lightweight and comfortable to hike with.
REI Co-op Trailmade Trekking Poles
When I hiked to Mount Ellinor, I started at 4am when the trail was extremely cold, but as the sun came out, layers started to come off! At the summit, it can get extremely windy and layers become necessary again. Here are some of my favorites:
Beyond Yoga Cropped Tank Top
If I am being honest, I wear these every day. The Cropped tanks are perfect for every day and every trail.
REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie
The Sahara Shade Hoodie is my go to sun hoodie for trails with long sections of exposed trail. They make for the perfect layer.
Patagonia Nano Puff
For an extra warm layer, I wore my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket and it was perfect on the cold morning of my hike.
The Mount Ellinor Trail has limited water access throughout the trail. Be sure to pack enough water, plus some for your trek. Consider packing 0.5 liters for every hour on the trail.
3L Hydraulics Water Reservoir
Hiking the Mount Ellinor Trail
The Mount Ellinor Summit felt surreal and rewarding and beautiful. This is how it went for a sunrise hike:
Lower Trailhead to Upper Trailhead
Hiking from the lower trailhead starts with a gentle climb, giving you an opportunity to ease into the hike. In “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”, Mount Ellinor is designated as a legacy hike by the original writers from the lower trailhead.
One of the highlights of this section is the first chance to experience the unique beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. The forest gives way to breathtaking glimpses of Lake Cushman. I actually couldn’t see any of this on the way up, because it was 4 am, but I knew it was there!
The Lower Trailhead to Upper Trailhead section offers an engaging hike that steadily gains elevation, setting the stage for the more challenging segments ahead. Many people opt to hike from the upper trailhead, because hiking from the lower trailhead adds 3.0 miles and 1,000 ft of gain to an already challenging hike.
Hiking from the Upper Trailhead is not any easier.
Upper Trailhead to the Lookout
The path from the Upper Trailhead becomes steeper and rockier, requiring more effort and concentration. Hiking poles can be especially valuable here for added stability on uneven terrain.
The lookout is not designated on any of the maps, it is simply an area where the forest begins to open up and the exposed section of the trail begins. This is roughly 1.0 mile from the Upper Trailhead Parking Lot.
As you near “the Lookout”, you’ll begin to appreciate the payoff for your efforts. The Lookout offers an excellent resting spot, providing a panoramic view of Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and the eastern Olympic front. I was truly in awe of the incredible 360 degree view. You’ll have a moment to catch your breath and soak in the breathtaking scenery that stretches out before you.
My time at the lookout was short lived because of my race against the sunrise.
The Lookout to Mount Ellinor Summit
As you leave the Lookout behind, you’re just half a mile away from reaching the ultimate pinnacle of your Mount Ellinor adventure—the summit.
The path becomes increasingly steep, and you’ll find yourself navigating through rocky terrain and alpine vegetation. Steps carved into the mountain make the ascent more manageable thanks to the Mount Rose Trail Crew.
It felt like I was walking vertically on parts of the trail! During this final 0.5-mile stretch, you’ll gain significant elevation. From the Upper Trailhead to the Mount Ellinor Summit, 2,200 ft are gained in 1.5 miles.
From the Mount Ellinor summit, you can gaze upon the Olympic Mountains, Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and the surrounding wilderness, offering a 360-degree perspective of the Pacific Northwest. On a clear day it is possible to see Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens in the distance too!
Take your time at the summit. It felt so rewarding to chase the sun to the summit and then to have picturesque views of the Olympic Mountains, surrounding Puget Sound and distant PNW Mountains.
The hike back down was slow going, but we were still riding the high of crossing off a bucket list hike.
Commonly Asked Questions
Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to the Mount Ellinor Hike:
Should I hike Mount Ellinor from the Upper or Lower Trailhead?
In my humble opinion, start from the upper trailhead. While the lower trailhead offers hikers time to warm-up prior to the steep grade to follow from the upper trailhead, it is not worth the extra 1,000ft of elevation gain. There is still almost one mile of forested hiking from the upper trailhead.
How long does it take to hike Mount Ellinor?
Don’t let the length of this trail fool you, Mount Ellinor is a challenging hike due to the elevation gain. On average, it takes about 4 to 6 hours to complete the round-trip hike to the summit and back, not including additional time for breaks and enjoying the views.
What pass do you need for Mount Ellinor?
Is Mount Ellinor open year-round?
conditions and accessibility can vary depending on the season. Be sure to check current conditions, weather forecasts, and any trail closures or restrictions before planning your hike.
Is Mount Ellinor dog-friendly?
Yes, dogs are allowed on the Mount Ellinor trail. Be mindful of your dog’s safety and consider their fitness level and the potential challenges of the trail, especially in steep and rocky sections.
Meatball stayed at home for this one.
Is Mount Ellinor a hard hike?
YES! Regardless of the start point, the final stretch to the summit is particularly steep and demanding.
My rule of thumb for ranking the difficulty of hikes is: 1,000ft gain/mile is hard. The last section of Mount Ellinor is about 1,500ft/mile making it extremely strenuous.
Can you backpack along the Mount Ellinor Trail?
No, backcountry camping is not allowed along the Mount Ellinor Trail.
Should Mount Ellinor be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
I am hiking all “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”. But the question is, Should Mount Ellinor be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Mount Ellinor is a well-loved trail in the Olympic National Forest. I found the trail enchanting. While the trail is challenging to say the least, it is a trail I would love to hike again in the future. It is a trail I would suggest to anyone looking for gorgeous views on the Olympic Peninsula that is outside of the main areas of Olympic National Park. This is a contestant for being one of my favorite hikes.
Let me know in the comments if you think Mount Ellinor should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!
If you’d like to complete your own 100 Classic Hikes journey, you can purchase the book here.
Pack it Up
Whether you choose the Lower Trailhead for a shorter but steeper climb or the Upper Trailhead for a warm-up, every step of the way is an opportunity to connect with nature, conquer your limits, and immerse yourself in the wild splendor of the Pacific Northwest.
Mount Ellinor beckons adventurers, from seasoned hikers seeking a new challenge to nature enthusiasts yearning to embrace the Pacific Northwest’s wilderness.
So, as you prepare to embark on your own Mount Ellinor adventure, remember to pack essentials, stay informed, and embrace the unpredictability of nature. Leave It Better than you found it and Happy Hiking!