Olympic National Park
Tucked way far up in northwest Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is nearly a million acres of barely touched wilderness known as Olympic National Park, home of Mount Olympus. This location gives Olympic National Park four different ecological regions: coastline, alpine, forest, and temperate rainforest. Over two days of exploring the Park, we managed to get to all of them for short periods.
Our first venture into the park was to head up to Hurricane Ridge to see Mount Olympus and the Olympic range and to visit the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center has a short movie and a relief display of Olympic National Park, but the views are the main reason to head up. Once you get up there, you’re going to feel like spinning in a circle with your arms wide open, singing “The Hills Are Alive” like you’re Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
The drive alone offers some great vantage points, but there are a few short trails that we ventured out on for better views. There’s a paved loop trail with a few dirt spurs leading up to higher points on Hurricane Ridge. The Khalane Ridge Switchback Trail offers some serious hiking, if you have the time and energy to hike 1500′ vertical feet over 1.6 miles. We had the energy, but not the time with Knox waiting in the truck.
And there are some very brave deer. They walk right across the parking lot. One of them let a guy stand less than 10 feet away while grazing.
Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls is a must-see in the Park. The hike to the falls is just under a mile each way over a rather flat and well-maintained trail through Olympic National Park’s forest land. While certainly not in the class of a falls like Niagara or Victoria, Sol Duc Falls is beautiful.
Right before the falls, the Sol Duc River splits into three or four channels, depending on the flow volume, then turns sharply left before dropping 37 feet into a narrow canyon. With the sunlight streaming through the trees and the spray from the waterfall, you get rainbows everywhere you look in the canyon. It’s claimed to be one of the most photogenic falls in Washington State and, possibly, in the nation.
Our final stop in the main part of Olympic National Park was the Hoh Rainforest. We stopped in on a chilly morning for a hike around the forest loop on our way south to start the drive down the coast to San Diego. The Hoh Rainforest is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US, getting 12-14 feet (yes, FEET!) of rain each year.
As soon as you walk in, you realize how different Hoh is from the forest around Sol Duc Falls. It’s moist. It’s sticky. The air is dense and humid, even on a 55-degree morning like we had. The ground is covered with ferns and moss. The trees are covered with moss. There are fungi everywhere. And then there are the fat black slugs, which aren’t actually a natural part of the ecosystem, but are instead an invasive species from Northern Europe.
There are several hikes in the area, the loop that we took called the Hall Of Mosses (0.8 miles) and the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles). These are easy trails that most anyone can handle. If you’re heading to Mount Olympus, this is also your jump-off point. The Hoh River Trail leads 17.3 miles from the rainforest to Glacier Meadows on Mount Olympus. From there, it’s only another 4-6 miles and 3,500 feet of elevation to get to the peak.
The coastline of Olympic National Park is separated from the main wilderness area. US-101 will get you there, but you have to drive a bit further south from Hoh Rainforest. We happened to be driving right through, so we stopped at several of the beaches.
The Olympic coastline is diverse. There are the big sandy beaches you’d expect. There are also the huge plunging cliffs that the Pacific Coast is known for. The thing that struck us at the two beaches we visited were the huge swaths of old trees washed up on shore. (Be very careful around the trees…they can move and cause serious injury if you climb on/over them.)
Unfortunately, like Denali, Glacier, and numerous other parks up north, dogs aren’t allowed on trails in the main portion of the park, although they are allowed on leash on most of the beaches. Luckily, the weather was cool enough to allow us to leave Knox in the truck for short stints, but that meant we were limited to only doing some of the short hikes.
If you want to really explore the interior of the wilderness, you have to do it on foot. People with serious hiking/climbing skills can go all the way to the top of Mount Olympus, where presumably, they can have a cup of coffee with Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and the other Greek Gods.
For the rest of us though, there is a huge network of trails in Olympic National Park to get you to some of the best scenery.
Believe it or not, a National Park actually has a ski slope within the park. With a 700 foot drop, 10 runs, and 3 lifts (2 rope tows and 1 poma lift), Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is the westernmost ski area in the United States. Of course, getting to this very small ski slope requires that the road leading up to Hurricane Ridge be open. It can be closed for entire days due to avalanche risks in the winter.
There are 16 campgrounds with 910 total sites in Olympic National Park with amenities ranging from pit toilets to running water. Pretty fancy, right? The prices range from $10-18, depending on the campground. Most campgrounds can handle RVs up to 21 feet long. But there are no showers at any campground.
Getting to Olympic National Park is simple. You can either fly into Seattle or Olympia and drive up US-101 to your chosen entrance. You West Coasters can skip the flight and just drive US-101 all the way up to the northern reaches of the Olympic Peninsula. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
We noticed one thing about Olympic National Park that is slightly different than Glacier National Park and Denali National Park. Glacier has a single road that runs through the park that is open to public vehicles. Denali has a single road that runs into the park, which isn’t open to public vehicles. Olympic doesn’t even have a road that runs all the way through the park. There are only spurs leading in to a handful of locations. To visit all of the places we went to, you have to get back on US-101 several times.
Lions and tigers and bears! Oh wait! Not really. More like waterfalls and slugs and moss and some mountains.