The trail’s founder once said that the journey along the Pacific Northwest Trail is a lot like that of a raindrop that falls on the Continental Divide. They both start high in the Rocky Mountains and flow west until they reach the Pacific Ocean.
On the final leg of that 1200-mile journey, it’s easy to imagine that raindrop being swept out of the Olympic Mountains along the Bogachiel River. For more than 20 miles the PNT follows its wild and meandering course through the Bogachiel River Valley in Olympic National Park.
Among PNT enthusiasts, this trail segment has become equally known for having some of the most awe-inspiring rainforests — and dilapidated trail conditions — found anywhere along the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The Bogachiel River Trail segment of the Pacific Northwest Trail passes through the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish, Quileute, Quinalt, and Hoh people. The name “Bogachiel” comes from the Quileute words meaning “muddy waters.”
A CHALLENGING JOURNEY
Many visitors will explore the quiet forested trail along the Bogachiel River as an out-and-back hike. While they marvel at the massive trees and mosses along the route, many won’t realize that they’re also walking along part of the Pacific Northwest Trail. As of this moment, only the sign at the national forest trailhead mentions the young national scenic trail that passes through the valley.
For westbound thru-hikers making a 140-mile long traverse of the Olympic Mountains, the Bogachiel Trail segment of the PNT lies over 1,000 miles into their Crown-to-Coast adventures. By most accounts, the Bogachiel Trail measures 24 miles, a distance that many thru-hikers can easily do in a day — under the right conditions.
Until this summer, hikers have found this part of the park much woollier than expected. In recent years, hikers have even described it as a “bushwhack,” an activity that PNT hikers are quite familiar with. When trails become this ramshackle, forward progress comes with greater effort and at half the pace.
For several years, hikers that have chosen to take the Bogachiel Trail and to stay faithful to the primary route of the PNT compared it to “a jungle gym” because they remember spending almost as much time climbing through tangles of massive downed trees as they do hiking along it. Others recall areas so thick and overgrown that they found themselves “boxing” through head-high brush and being unable to see their own feet beneath large-leaved plants. In places where the trail bed was hidden by salmonberry bushes and sword fern, hikers experienced what it was like to find the next safe place to step by feel alone.
Although most PNT hikers are prepared for rugged conditions and a few surprises along the route, the sheer number of downed trees and quantity of “type 2 fun” went far beyond what many had planned for.
Unfortunately, many hikers would be too focused on the blowdowns to take in their surroundings and appreciate what makes the Bogachiel River Valley so special.
Flood damage and jungle-like conditions along the 24-mile long trail segment have challenged trail crews for generations
THE BEGUILING BOGACHIEL VALLEY
Visitors from across the world come to Olympic National Park to marvel at the temperate rainforests there, so lush with plants growing on plants and some of the world’s largest trees that they inspire awe in all who behold them.
The modest trails that help visitors tour these jungle-like valleys go largely unnoticed and blend seamlessly into the scenery, as they should. As it is with all the things humans build and use, it’s only when trails are most in need of service that we truly appreciate them.
“The lush forests in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel valleys are some of the most spectacular examples of primeval temperate rain forest in the lower 48 states.” –Olympic National Park
All trails need regular maintenance to stay in shape, of course. But primitive trails in temperate rain forests are exceptionally demanding for trail crews to keep tamed year after year. For hundreds of miles in Washington and Idaho, the PNT meanders through temperate rainforest valleys. In places like these, extended growing seasons fueled by heavy rainfall (up to 12-14 feet a year) and mild winters help plants and trees grow to impressive heights and at surprising speed.
As local hikers well know, the same enormous trees that inspire visitors with awe can create big problems when they topple across trails each winter. Without frequent intervention, a hiking trail in the Pacific Northwest can transform into a gauntlet.
PNTA Olympic Trail Crew members cleared over 112 downed trees from the Bogachiel Trail during the summer of 2021 with some measuring over 48 inches in diameter
On the Bogachiel River Trail, the local flora wasn’t the only issue trail stewards had to contend with. Flooding caused by the untamed river has hammered the one hundred-year-old trail with a series of major washouts since it was first created. The trail has been rerouted many times in the last 42 years, mostly along the western end.
Around 2014, parts of the trail became dangerously undercut or had washed away when the river flooded under heavy winter rains. A few years later, the fierce river also triggered landslides that destroyed part of the road leading to the trailhead — and claimed two more trail segments in the process.
“In previous years the Bogachiel River Trail has been in quite the state of disrepair. There’s been many downed trees and it’s been super overgrown. People had been going through and were barely able to see the trail. So coming through this year and seeing no trees down has been really wonderful. It’s definitely not overgrown like it used to be.”
– Angela Sloan, NPS backcountry ranger
Replacing missing and damaged trails and roads in the area would take time. Before any trail crew’s boots could hit the duff, it would take a lot of administrative leg work before trail reroutes could begin. Coming up with a lasting solution would take funding, environmental assessment and interagency planning and cooperation, complicated by the fact that this part of the PNT spans a national park and a national forest.
While this important prep work took place behind the scenes, access to the eastern reaches of the trail remained restricted by washouts and aging puncheon bridges no longer capable of holding a horse and rider. These conditions made it difficult for trail crews — and impossible for packers and their stock — to keep the entire 24-mile long stretch of the PNT clear for visitors for several years.
Until the tread on the west end of the trail on the Olympic National Forest was rebuilt, nearly all restoration and maintenance along the Bogachiel Trail slowed to a crawl. For several years, only the most determined hikers attempted to traverse it.
2021 thru-hiker Natasha “Poppy” Volkmann shares her encounter with a PNTA trail crew working to restore the Bogachiel River Trail. Westbound PNT thru-hikers will walk over 1,000 miles from the Rocky Mountains before they reach the temperate rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula.
REBUILDING THE MISSING MILE
Restoring the 24-mile trail segment of the Bogie to national scenic trail standards would be a huge undertaking. Fortunately, PNTA and our partners with the National Park Service, US Forest Service and local volunteer groups would support each other to get the job done.
Beginning in 2019, with the help of a WTA volunteer crew, the US Forest Service kickstarted the multi-year project to restore the trail. They began restoration work on an essential, one and a half-mile long segment of the PNT on the Olympic National Forest which borders the park. Starting at the Bogachiel Trailhead, they worked eastward along the Bogachiel Rain Forest Trail relocating parts of the trail that had washed out and making the trail passable to stock again.
It was a critical first step that would take the dedicated volunteers two seasons to tackle. Restoring equestrian access on the first mile of the Bogachiel Trail would be key to the entire effort. In Olympic National Park, stock animals are used to transport trail crews’ tools and supplies to remote worksites.
Experienced volunteers with the Olympic Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen, Larry Baysinger and Harold Wiese led pack strings laden with the crew’s tools and supplies to backcountry worksites up to 17 miles from the trailhead
With reroutes roughed in on the national forest and stock access restored, PNTA’s Olympic Trail Crew would have the pack support they needed to get started during their 2021 season.
To reach their goal of restoring nearly 20 miles of the Bogachiel Trail system — the western artery of the PNT in the park — the six person crew would need to spend their entire summer working there, over five “hitches.” For a PNTA Performance Trail Crew, a hitch encompasses two weeks’ work over 7-10 consecutive days.
“I’ve found that people bond quicker while doing manual tasks [on a trail crew] and there’s a kind of trust and rapport that you develop that ordinarily might take years to happen.” -William Yates, PNTA crew leader
To be sure, that’s a long time to spend in the woods working long days and camping out in all sorts of weather. And it may seem especially long for our youth crew members to spend that much time unplugged, away from screens and family and friends, but it sets crews up for an immersive outdoor experience — and to get a lot of work done on the trail by shortening the commute between the trailhead and worksites.
Their first hitch would begin in June, just after the spring semester had ended. Pack support provided by volunteers with the Back Country Horsemen and the national park would make it all possible. Pack strings, composed of several horses and mules, were used to carry the crew’s food, trail tools and other supplies to their first destination at Bogachiel Camp, six long miles from the trailhead.
Outdoor gear may have changed a lot over the years, but trail tools have stayed pretty much the same. Basic trail maintenance tasks like brushing, grubbing and sawing haven’t changed much since the Bogie was first built over one hundred years ago as part of Mount Olympus National Monument.
Most trail tools are still powered by muscle, and that’s part of what makes the work so challenging. The axes, shovels, McCleods, pulaskis and buckets that are used demand strong backs and constitutions. And the enormous chainsaws needed to cut through the giant timber, while gas-powered, are equally as demanding. Swinging tools, coping with weather, insects and other hardships provides an unexpected benefit — youth crew members learn they’re capable of doing hard things, especially when they work together.
PNTA trail crew members commemorate their summer working on the Bogie with NPS technical advisor Bryan Jensen. Left: Oz, Andres, Alec, Alina, Bryan, Mari, and William
A SPECIAL MISSION AND A SPECIAL CREW
The Bogie project was at a scale unlike many others. PNTA crews are used to traveling great distances to work on new projects each hitch. But our 2021 Olympic Trail Crew would need to spend an entire season working on the Bogachiel Trail — and they would need support from the trail community if they were to get the job done.
Working from June to September on the same project also gave the youth crew a rare opportunity to see the progress they were making as they hiked back from camp along a trailway that they had restored together.
As the Olympic Trail Crew worked further east along the trail they’d have the help of NPS technical advisor, Bryan Jensen and a rotating cast of amazing volunteers. The trail work they were doing was anything but routine. They eliminated serious obstacles over long woolly stretches that had frustrated PNT hikers for many years.
“Working on a trail crew has been an experience unto itself. I was expecting hard work — and this is certainly hard work — but I wasn’t expecting to find the sense of ease that I feel amongst my crewmates and in these woods.” – Alina, PNTA Olympic Trail Crew member
First, there was the brush. During each hitch they’d need to spend entire days pruning it back to restore the trail corridor. In all, the crew estimated they cleared 15 miles of vegetation from the PNT. It won’t be too long before PNW plants try to venture out into the trail corridor again. For the time being, the salmon berry and Devil’s club won’t be dealing out “car washes,” scratches and splinters to visitors.
Next were the logs. The crew cleared over 112 downed trees between Bogachiel Camp and 21-Mile Shelter. With some well over 48 inches in diameter and requiring several cuts, clearing them would take time and skill. On their second hitch, PNTA’s technical advisor Sean Miller joined the crew to help clear the fallen giants out of the way. Logout work would also make a huge difference to visitors on foot and horseback, including the packers that supported the crew over the summer.
The Bogachiel River Trail spans 24 miles between the vast forests along the western side of the Olympic Peninsula and the popular Seven Lakes Basin. For over 140 miles the PNT traverses the Olympic Mountains.
With some worksites an entire day’s walk from the trailhead, horsepower became even more important to the crew. Each time they made the trip from trailhead to a new spike camp, experienced packers with the Back Country Horsemen and National Park Service helped lighten their load so that our Olympic Trail Crew could spend more time working to restore the badly overgrown trail.
As the summer progressed, the youth crew would notice the subtle changes in the environment around them. By camping out on the trail for days at a time and living in the backcountry, they’d have the chance to get acquainted with their fellow crew members and the campsites along the Bogachiel Trail that park visitors and NPS trail crews had been using for generations.
By late summer, the off-time between hitches began to feel shorter and the days did too. Meeting hikers that appreciated their work and the qualities that made the valley so special was deeply rewarding for the crew, as was the experience itself. Living and working on the trail together for 40 long days, they formed unexpected friendships and bonded with the Bogachiel River Valley, their home for one unforgettable summer.
Thanks to their combined effort, the Bogachiel Trail is now more accessible to hikers and equestrians than it has been in nearly a decade.
- Bogachiel Camp to Little Divide Trail junction
- 2,955 combined crew hours
- 40 ten-hour days
- 6 crew members
- 8 volunteers
- 381 volunteer hours
- 112 logs removed (many 48” across)
- 15 miles of brushing
- 7,675 feet or 1.5 miles of tread work
- 5 stock crossings repaired
- 50 feet of new stone cribbing built
- 253 drains maintained
It’s long been said that many hands make light work. PNTA would like to thank volunteers, Larry and Sherry Baysinger, Harold Wiese, Mark and Noah Arvidson, Miranda Taylor, Mitchell Wolf and Ward Ralston for joining us on the trail this summer and making the project a success.
Learn more about volunteer opportunities and seasonal trail stewardship jobs with the PNTA at www.pnt.org.