Olympic National Park - Wilderness Sanitation & Water Treatment

Backpacker filtering water out of river.

Treat All Drinking Water! Water is readily available in most areas of the park, though there are exceptions. On higher ridges and in some areas along the coastal strip, water may be hard to find during late summer. Inquire about water sources. Water from coastal streams typically has a harmless “tea” stain from root tannins but contains invisible microorganisms that can cause illness.

Giardia lambia is a protozoan that can cause mild to severe diarrhea or severe intestinal distress requiring medical treatment. Giardia could exist in any water source in the Olympics.

Cryptosporidium is another protozoan found in some coastal water sources. Ingesting the parasite can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps necessitating medical treatment. Iodine and chlorine are ineffective water treatment methods for cryptosporidium! Disinfection with chlorine dioxide has a low to moderate effectiveness in killing Cryptosporidium.

Boiling (one full minute at a rolling boil) or proper filtering are the only reliably effective methods of water treatment on the coast. For water collected in the interior of the park, iodine and chlorine may be used to treat giardia and other microorganisms.

Carry a large collapsible water container in addition to a smaller water bottle. Use the larger container to collect water when in camp. Treat water from this container to minimize trips and damage to the streamside or lake shore.


Human Waste
If a toilet is present, use it. If no toilet is available, bury your waste 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from campsites or water sources. Use toilet paper sparingly and please pack it out. Always carry a plastic zipper bag to carry your used toilet paper out of the backcountry. Toilet paper should not be burned because of fire hazard. Remove diapers, tampons, and sanitary napkins to the frontcountry for disposal.

Example of a cathole.

Human waste can affect water quality and wilderness aesthetics. In areas where there is no toilet, dig a cathole at least 200 feet from water sources and well away from campsites. Use a trowel or ice axe to dig a shallow pit 6-8 inches deep in organic soil. Completely bury human waste, then fill and disguise the hole.

When traveling over extensive snow fields, or in the winter when organic soil is not exposed, human waste should be buried two feet deep at least 200 yards from any campsite or established travel route (not including the Blue Glacier climbing route).


Pit, composting, and vault toilets are available in many popular areas of the wilderness. Human body waste must be disposed of in these structures when you are within 1/4 mile of a toilet. You are encouraged to urinate on rocks or on the trail, away from water sources. This reduces vault toilet fill and minimizes plant and soil damage caused by wildlife digging for human salts.

Only human waste and toilet paper are to be deposited in toilets. Other materials, such as hygiene products and disposable diapers, interfere with composting processes and clog the pumps used to empty vaults. These materials also introduce nondegradable material and fill toilets too quickly.

Washing of body, dishes, or clothing should occur a minimum of 200 feet from any campsite or water source. If you must use soap, use a minimal amount. Remember that even biodegradable soap breaks down slowly or not at all in cold water. Never put any kind of soap in streams or lakes. All soapy water should be disposed of 200 feet from any lake or stream. When washing pots and dishes, strain and pack out food particles from your wash water.

Waste Disposal on Mount Olympus
A “blue bag” policy for removal of human fecal waste has been adopted for the Mount Olympus climbing routes, including Blue Glacier. This effort is to reduce the amount of human waste encountered while climbing the mountain. Help us by doing your part, so all can enjoy the best possible climbing experience.

Last updated: March 9, 2017

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