Top Hikes of Olympic National Forest: Lena Lake & Jefferson Lake

LENA LAKE

Distance (RT): 7.0 miles

Rating: Moderate

Elevation gain: 1,610 feet

Dogs okay

If you only have time for one day hike in Olympic National Forest shouldering the Hood Canal, put Lower Lena Lake and Jefferson Lake at the top of your list. You can visit both in one day.

The Lena Lake trail head is located in the lush Olympic National Forest off Highway 101. About seven miles round trip, this out-and-back trail switchbacks through a splendid old growth forest drenched in a zillion shades of green. The trail is rocky in places, with plenty of toe-catchers, tangle foot and other trip hazards. Wear sturdy boots and step lively.

In the early portion of the trail, you’ll hear Lena Creek cantering downhill until a long traverse takes you away from the big stream. You’ll cross two bridges. At about three miles you’ll wind down to “Lunch Rock.” A popular rest or picnic stop, this flat rocky outcrop overlooks crystal-clear Lena Lake. You’ll likely hear plenty of “Oh wows!” and “This is beautiful!” “Sure was worth it!” at this point.

Continue down over more rocks for a short distance to the camp sites hugging the lake. The lake’s turquoise blue waters are ringed by magnificent mountains studded with conifers. On a warm summer day, butterflies flutter past often and you’re bound to hear a song bird chorus tuning up.

Some sources rate the Lena Lake Trail as “easy.” It’s not. “Moderate” would be more accurate, due to both the distance and the climb to the lake. The outbound incline is not particularly steep. But it’s steady. The trail includes almost twenty switchback (we counted). Plan accordingly. Trekking poles advised.

One of the most popular  hikes on the eastern slope of the Olympic Mountains, this is a heavily trafficked trail. A couple of really dumb hikers would choose to hike it on a sunny weekend in summer, along with half the population of the Free World. And boy, did we ever run into crowds. Also lots of dogs. Since this trail is in a national forest – not a national park –  Fido is allowed on the Lena Lake trail. This is not the case inside most national parks.

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Getting there:

Head north on Highway 101. Pass Lake Cushman, the Hamma Hamma River and Lillwaup. About 14 miles north of Hoodsport, make a left onto Hamma Hamma River Road (Forest Road 25) near mile post 318. Follow the signs for about eight miles to a parking area at the trail head, which is a couple miles past the Hamma Hamma Campground. It is well-marked.

This is a popular trail that’s well-maintained. Narrow in places. If you choose to hike it on a fine summer weekend, arrive early. Parking is limited.

Northwest Forest Pass required. Available at the trailhead for $5/day.

A quiet alternative to the crowded trail to Lena Lake.

JEFFERSON LAKE

For more solitude and fewer crowds, consider beautiful Jefferson Lake. It’s a teeth-rattling eight mile drive on a wash-boarded gravel road a few miles from the Lena Lake trail head. But it’s more secluded and sees much less traffic.

A river (we didn’t get its name) parallels the road for the first few miles of the drive. Beware of pot holes. There are quite a few. Look for the brown kiosk marking the lake. It’ll be on your left. It’s a steep downhill to the lake, but it’s short – maybe 200 meters.

Jefferson Lake

Calm, serene Jefferson Lake is so worth the effort, especially if you want to escape summer crowds thronging the Lena Lake trail. There were only two other people here when we arrived on a late Sunday afternoon in June. We didn’t see another soul the whole time we were there – a couple hours.

After the heavy traffic of the Lena Lake trail, Jefferson Lake is a beautiful, serene place to soak up some quiet and solitude. Allow about 45 minutes for the eight mile drive out and back to the paved road.

Getting there:

After turning onto Hamma Hamma River Road off Highway 101N, continue past the campground and go left at the fork where signs show Lena Lake to the right. Continue up FR 2480 and turn right 3 miles past Hamma Hamma campground onto FR 2401. Go right at the Y and continue over the bridge up FR 2480 for 3.8 mi. Follow the signs to the lake. You can’t see it from the road. The trail head down to the lake is marked by a kiosk on the left. Park here and head downhill.

Coming from Lena Lake, back track toward Highway 101. Veer right at the sign indicating Jefferson Lake, 8 miles. Follows the signs to the lake.

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Continuing our series on 30 West Coast Ways: Celebrating GREAT OUTDOORS MONTH in Washington, Oregon and California, join us next time for a visit to the Olympic Rain Forest!