OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, just two and a half hours from Seattle on Washington's
Olympic Peninsula, offers extraordinarily diverse hiking. Glaciated mountains, waterfalls, rainforest and the wild
Pacific coast are all here, and all are well served by hiking trails. This page lists a handful of the best
days hikes I found on a short Olympic visit.
High Divide loop trail, Olympic National Park
Trailhead: the loop starts at the end of the Sol Duc River Road, off Highway 101 west of Port Angeles
Distance: 18 miles round trip, with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain
Distant view of Olympic's Blue Glacier from the High Divide trail
Sol Duc Falls
As long as you're up for a long and strenuous day on trail, Olympic's High Divide loop
can't be bettered. It combines a pleasant walk through
Olympic's forest with unsurpassed alpine views once the trail breaks through treeline. My brother and I did the loop in August,
when the trail was snow-free. If you attempt it earlier in the season (before about mid-July in a normal year) you might need
an ice axe to safely cross lingering snowfields along parts of the High Divide.
From the trailhead at the end of the Sol Duc River road, it's a short level walk through
the forest to Sol Duc Falls, pictured to the left above. Here, the trail divides. We opted to hike the loop counter-clockwise,
which makes for a shorter but steeper ascent in return for which you gain a gentle descent at the end of the end of the day
(going counter-clockwise also means that if there is more snow on the High Divide than you're comfortable with,
there's no problem retreating). From the junction it's a relentless climb through the forest until you reach Deer Lake, the
treeline, and the start of the best section of the trail along the High Divide. The views here across the deep Hoh River
valley toward Mount Olympus and the Blue Glacier are outstanding. After several miles, the trail reaches Heart Lake and then
descends along the Sol Duc Valley, passing numerous small creeks and waterfalls along the way.
We did this as a day hike, but it's also possible to camp in the Seven Lakes
Basin above treeline. Lunch Lake and Heart Lake in particular would make for great campsites. Backpacking permits are
required in Olympic National Park, and limited in number between May 1st and September 30th, so it's worth making plans
in advance for backpacking trips.
Boulder Falls and Appleton Pass
: at the end of the Elwha Valley road, a short drive west of Port Angeles
: 8 miles round-trip to Boulder Falls
One of the highlights of the park is the temperate forest, which covers much of the lower
elevations and provides a beautiful backdrop to numerous waterfalls. Upper and Lower Boulder Falls are both very attractive, and I'd recommend the
pleasant and easy day hike to see them. It's about 8 miles out-and-back. The same trail continues on to Appleton Pass, 8 miles from the trailhead,
from where you can continue on into the Sol Duc valley. The high country here is good for wildflowers. The trail along Boulder Creek can also be
combined with the Happy Lake Ridge for a (near) loop, which might be worth considering if it's too early in the season to tackle the High Divide
: Hurricane Ridge Visitors' Center
: 7 miles out-and-back
The Klahhane Ridge offers exceptional views across the interior of Olympic National Park, that are
even better than those available at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors' Center. It's a 7 mile out-and-back to the Ridge from the Visitors' Center,
initially along a rolling trail that follows Sunrise Ridge. In July, this is one of many Olympic high country trails that are good for
wildflowers. After a couple of miles the trail reaches a junction with the Switchback trail, and begins a steep ascent of about 800 feet to the
Klahhane Ridge. In the summer this is hot and hard work in the direct sun, mitigated by the spectacular views out across numerous ridges and distant ranges of
mountains. On reaching the Ridge we ate lunch and returned, but it's also possible to continue further toward Lake Angeles, along a trail that eventually descends to the
Hurricane Ridge road near the park boundary.
Cape Alava / Sand Point loop, Olympic's Pacific coast
Trailhead: Ozette Ranger Station. From Highway 101 take Highways 113 and 112 to the Hoko-Ozette
Distance: 9 mile loop
The coastal strip of Olympic National Park runs along 70+ miles of the Pacific shore. You can drive to the
coast at several points, including Rialto beach, and do an out-and-back hike north from there. Instead, we did the Cape Alava / Sand Point loop,
which accesses a strip of the northern coast that's not accessible by vehicle. Doing the loop counter-clockwise, it's about 3 miles through the
forest to reach the ocean, then three miles along the beach to reach Sand Point, then three more miles back to complete the loop. The forest
sections are mostly along flat boardwalk, so this is a moderate hike that allows plenty of time to savor the stretch along the coast. The ocean
here is backed by dense forest and feels quite wild. It's interesting, though probably not as scenic as the more easily accessed beaches further
Hoh rain forest
: Hoh Rain Forest Visitors' Center
: variable, from a one mile walk to a full day out-and-back along the Hoh River Valley trail
The valleys of the Hoh, Queets and Quinault rivers on the western edge of the park receive enough
rainfall (more than ten feet annually) to qualify as temperate rain forests. The ancient forests within the park stand in sharp contrast to
areas blighted by clear cut logging, which continues apace elsewhere on the Olympic Peninsula.
The Hoh rain forest is the most accessible, and you can get a flavor of the area by walking the short loops that leave from the Visitor Center. You
can also hike up the valley on a trail which parallels the river - eventually this leaves the forest behind and reaches the foot of the stunningly
beautiful Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus. That's much too far away to reach on a day hike, unfortunately, though you can make a pleasant (and flat)
hike through the forest for as long as you want before turning back the way you came. After a few miles the scenery of ferns, moss-draped trees,
and huge fallen logs starts to get a bit same-ish, so unless you're a real afficionado of rain forests you can probably see all you want of the
Hoh river valley in half a day.
Other Olympic hiking options
There are numerous easy walks that offer good photographic opportunities in the
park. Marymere Falls, just a stone's throw from Lake Crescent, is well worth seeing if you're driving Highway 101 en
route to the coast or the Hoh rain forest. From the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's center, it's a short climb to great views
at Sunrise Point. Deer and other wildlife are common in this area.
There are also numerous longer trails that can only be explored with a backpack.
On my personal to-do list is the hike along the Hoh River valley to Glacier Meadows, at the snout of the Blue
Glacier flowing off Mount Olympus. That's 17.5 miles one way. If you're looking for more solitude, several ambitious
traverses of the park are possible, especially in the southern section which I haven't visited. Long hikes along the
Elwha, Quinault and Dosewallips Rivers, for example, could be combined for a week or more in the backcountry.
Olympic National park is easy to get to. The shortest route from
Seattle involves taking the ferry to Bremerton (2.5 hours, 100 miles to Port Angeles), but it's just as quick
to take I5 south and cross at the Tacoma Narrows bridge on to the peninsula. Highway 101 more or less
rings the park, providing access points from all directions, though most of the
routes into the park from the east and south are along unpaved forest service roads.
The most developed areas are to the north and west, and for visiting these
the moderately large town of Port Angeles on the north coast of the penninsula
makes the best base. Port Angeles is a work-man-like destination unlikely to feature high
among your most cherished memories, but there are plenty of accommodation and eating options.
The area is visitable year-round as the climate is mild,
with dry-ish but often cloudy summer days, and lots of rain in the winter
falling as heavy snow on the peaks.