Top Trails Olympic National Park and Vicinity  by Douglas Lorain

Top Trails: Olympic National Park and Vicinity Guide Book

by Douglas Lorain (Wilderness Press)
Top Trails Olympic National Park and Vicinity  by Douglas Lorain
With its rugged shoreline, dense rain forests, diverse plant and animal life, and towering mountains, Olympic National Park offers an overwhelming number of outdoor adventures. Top Trails Olympic National Park & Vicinity describes both the park’s classic destinations and lesser-known jewels in 39 must-do hikes. The trails range from an easy family stroll through view-packed alpine meadows, to an 8-mile trek to a spectacular beach with dozens of sea arches, to a 20-mile overnighter through some of the finest mountain scenery in the country. This guide will help you explore the heart of the park. Whether you’re looking for a scenic stroll to stretch your legs, a full-day adventure, or a rewarding backpacking trip, you’ll find it here.

© 2014 Douglas Lorain/Wilderness Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Top Trails: Olympic National Park and Vicinity" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 39.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 39.

Before I give all the usual glowing reports about how beautiful this hike is, I feel obligated to say that most readers should probably forget all that and not take this trip. There’s no two ways about it—this is a punishing hike on a ridiculously steep trail that will really test your lungs and thighs on the way up. And you won’t get a break on the way back down either because your knees and toes will surely complain about all the pounding and jamming. Also, on the descent, you will need to be very careful with your footing to avoid a fall at places with loose pebbles. Thus, only the strongest and most sure-footed hikers should take this trip.
Quilcene, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.2
Cape Flattery protrudes from the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula and forms the northwesternmost point in the Lower 48. Fittingly, visiting this remote location really gives you the impression of being at the end of the world. Waves pound the cliffs and sea caves at your feet, while winds contort the trees and carry off any hats not strapped down carefully enough. The Makah Indians, who own this land, manage the cape as a nature sanctuary, and you can understand why; it’s a marvelous location for viewing wildlife, including sea otters, various species of whales, and a host of interesting birds. They could just as easily manage it as a scenic viewpoint, however, as the vistas of islands both near and far, dozens of jagged rock pinnacles, and dramatic clifflined coves are exceptional. For such a short and relatively easy hike, the rewards of this outing are hard to beat.
Neah Bay, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.4
Some of the best views in Olympic National Park, and certainly its most famous ones, can be had from just off the road at the top of Hurricane Ridge. Millions of people flock here to take in the scene. For those who want to stretch their legs a bit, a fine assortment of fairly easy trails explore the ridgetop’s gorgeous meadows and lead to arguably even better viewpoints than those from the road. Be sure to visit when the weather is clear, not only to take in the views, but also so you don’t have to deal with walking in the potentially dangerous high winds, rain, or even snow that can hit these high elevations at any time of year.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.9
The summit of Colonel Bob is easily the best trailaccessible viewpoint in the western Olympics. That is not to say, however, that Colonel Bob is easily accessible by trail. It’s a tough climb, but this just makes the rewards at trail’s end that much more satisfying. And what rewards! Views from this high, rocky perch extend well out over the Pacific Ocean, down to the shimmering blue waters of Lake Quinault, and north to the icy mass of Mount Olympus. When you throw in additional vistas that include hundreds of rugged ridges and canyons in all directions, then you have a view that is well worth all that sweat.
Quinault, WA - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 8.2 miles
Deer Park is a busy, high-elevation destination in the northeast corner of Olympic National Park. July–October the park can be reached by a steep and winding gravel road. Locals know, however, that you can also reach this mountain paradise before the road opens via a quiet trail that climbs to the area from US Forest Service land to the east. In fact, on a sunny day in late June, it is hard to imagine a more scenic hiking destination on the entire peninsula. The trip involves a stiff climb, so it’s not for everyone, but for wildflowers, wildlife, and outstanding mountain views, it’s hard to beat.
Sequim, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.2
Located near the center of the Olympic Mountains, the old lookout building at Dodger Point is ideally situated to offer an outstanding view of all parts of this magnificent range. And boy does it ever! Just about every significant mountain, glacier, ridge, and canyon is visible from this grandstand, and simply saying, “Wow!” really doesn’t cover it. Be prepared to be awed. You should also be prepared, however, to lug a heavy overnight pack on a long uphill trail, which probably explains why only a small number of hikers ever get to appreciate this wonderful view. This is fine for solitude lovers, of course, who enjoy the view even more knowing that they have it all to themselves. Note: The Long Ridge Trail to Dodger Point is one of the few trails in Olympic National Park where finding water can be a problem. By late summer, there may be no accessible trailside water between Idaho Creek and the small ponds in Dodger Basin, a distance of 10.4 tough, uphill miles. Carry plenty.
Port Angeles, WA - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 27
Dungeness Spit, the longest coastal spit in the continental United States, is a narrow peninsula of sand that extends almost 6 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Because it juts so far out into a busy shipping lane, the place is a natural location for a lighthouse, and the one sitting near the end of the spit makes an excellent hiking destination at any time of year. The peninsula is protected as a national wildlife refuge, so it’s not surprising that there is also a lot of wildlife here to spot. Deer are extremely common along the short forest walk to the start of the spit, and birds are everywhere. You will see a wide variety of seabirds, and bald eagles are particularly abundant. Most visitors see several eagles during the course of their hike. The star attraction, however, is the lovingly restored and exceptionally photogenic lighthouse. Tours are provided by a group of dedicated volunteer lighthouse enthusiasts, and the views from the top of the tower are terrific.
Sequim, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.8
Anchoring the western end of aptly named Grand Ridge, Elk Mountain offers some of the best views in Olympic National Park, which shouldn’t be surprising because it features the highest maintained trail in the preserve. The “mountain” is really just a knob atop a long alpine ridge, and the trail doesn’t even reach the official summit. But who really cares when the views from the trail itself are unsurpassed? And because the trailhead is already very high, you can reach these enchanting highlands after just a short (but steep) uphill. Once on the ridge, the walking is easy and about as close to hiking heaven as you can imagine.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
The Elwha River is one of the longest and largest streams on the Olympic Peninsula and is certainly in the running for the prettiest. Its rushing cleartoemerald-green waters drain a very scenic canyon flanked by heavily forested ridges. The entire drainage is surrounded by arguably the most sublime mountains in the range and includes some of the most beautiful lower-elevation meadows in the region. The area is also home to a wide assortment of wildlife (elk, bear, and deer) and some fascinating historic log cabins. A very popular and enjoyable trail travels the entire length of this magnificent canyon before climbing over Low Divide and exiting via the North Fork Quinault River Trail to the south. This historic 44-mile trail, which traces the route of the Press Expedition that made the first known crossing of the Olympic Mountains, is a favorite of backpackers. Day hikers can enjoy a superb sampling of this terrain on this pleasant and relatively easy semi-loop trip through Geyser Valley.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 5.9
Grand is such an extreme superlative that only a handful of places in this country really qualify: Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Wyoming’s Grand Teton are at the top of the list. Perhaps not quite in the same league, but still on that list (which is really saying something), is Olympic National Park’s Grand Valley. After a view-packed ramble along a high alpine ridge, the trail to this beauty spot plunges more than 1,600 feet down to the valley floor with its string of sparkling lakes, pretty stream, gorgeous meadows, and excellent campsites. Once in this mountain paradise, you can take a rugged but rewarding side trip to the stupendous viewpoint at Grand Pass before returning on a loop via the wildflower haven of Badger Valley.
Port Angeles, WA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 13.9
The best trail-accessible viewpoint of the lower Elwha River Valley is found on the little-traveled Griff Creek Trail, where solitude is virtually assured. It’s not as if this trail is hidden or hard to reach; after all, it starts from a good paved road right beside the Elwha Ranger Station. The stiff climb, however, discourages most hikers, who go instead to the better-known paths in Geyser Valley or to Appleton Pass. But don’t make that same mistake because Rock Viewpoint at the end of this challenging little hike is worth every tiring step and repays your sweat equity with the best of interest: marvelous views and a blessedly natural return on investment.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.2
Perhaps the most renowned natural attraction of Olympic National Park is its temperate rain forests. Watered by prodigious amounts of rain, giant (make that massive, no, positively enormous) conifers tower up to 300 feet over the forest floor, creating a nearly unbroken canopy of branches and needles. Living exclusively in that high canopy are a host of unusual organisms, such as lettuce lichens, various mosses, and numerous small animals that spend their entire lives in the treetops and are rarely even seen by most people. At a lower level, shorter (but still quite large) trees, such as big-leaf maples, vine maples, and red alders, fill the available space and are literally covered with club mosses that drape off the branches like thick green hair that is up to 6 feet long. Shrubs, such as salmonberry, crowd into what niches they can find, while numerous ferns, liverworts, mosses, oxalis, and dozens of other plants carpet what is left of the uncovered forest floor. Green is literally everywhere, and it truly is a sight to behold.
Forks, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.2
On maintained trails in the Olympic Mountains, not much really compares to High Divide. Here, the views are arguably better, the wildlife more abundant, the flowers more numerous, the lakes more common, and the scenery unsurpassed. If you only have time for one overnight hike in the Olympic Mountains, then this should be it. Of course, lots of other people agree with this assessment, so don’t expect solitude.
Port Angeles, WA - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 20.3
You certainly won’t be lonesome on this heavily used trail, but the crowds are there for a good reason: an easily accessible trail to a mountain overlook with few equals in the park. The solitude-seeking hiker, however, should not avoid this path because a steep but amazingly quiet side trail departs from near the summit of Hurricane Hill and takes you to a lonesome meadow viewpoint on the ridge to the west. Here, the vistas are just as grand as those from the busy main objective, but even on a nice summer weekend, you’ll probably have them all to yourself.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.4
Jefferson Cove offers the chance to escape the crowds found at some other Olympic Coast destinations (notably Kalaloch Beach, Ruby Beach, and Rialto Beach) without sacrificing anything in the way of scenery. The trail here is a bit off the beaten track, and the beach route requires some tricky low-tide scrambling over unstable and slippery boulders, but for lovers of tidepools and wild coastal scenery, that is a small price to pay.
Hoh Indian Reservation, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.2
Depending on your mood and abilities, this trip can be either a moderately difficult hike to a lovely mountain lake or a challenging but classic loop trip that showcases all of the many charms of the Hurricane Ridge region. Starting in a low-elevation forest, the trail makes a pleasant climb to large and very attractive Lake Angeles. You could camp or simply turn around here, well satisfied with your efforts. For the best scenery, however, trudge your way up (way up) to a dramatic alpine ridge with outstanding views. After a couple of tremendously scenic miles along this rugged ridge, you loop back along a rough trail to your starting point. The full loop is worth every one of the many calories required to do it, but it is only for well-conditioned and experienced hikers.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 12.9
Lake of the Angels is a favorite of rangers and, arguably, the most beautiful trail-accessible lake in the Olympic Mountains. That said, in this case, the word trail has to be in quotes. This is one of those old boot-beaten paths so common in this range that tends to scare away all but the best conditioned and most experienced hikers. Though the route is in pretty good shape and generally easy to follow, it is also wickedly steep and even has a few places that are dangerously exposed, where you’ll have to use your hands to both steady your nerves and help pull yourself up a steep rock face. And please keep in mind that the downhill on these sections is often more difficult and dangerous than going up. This is not a hike for anyone who is afraid of heights or who is unwilling to expend a lot of energy to reach the destination. So, while the rewards here are certainly great—an absolutely stunning little alpine lake in a setting that will draw rave reviews from even the most seasoned hiker—the costs in sweat and fear are also great and must be strongly considered before you set out from your car.
Hoodsport, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.4
This is a very popular trail that was once described in another guidebook as being the best day hike on the Olympic Peninsula. I think that is an overstatement, but there is no denying that this is a wonderful hike with a great deal of variety along the way. Here, you will enjoy miles of ancient forests, a clear and cascading stream, plenty of wildflowers, the opportunity to see wildlife, and stupendous views from trail’s end. Though better examples of all of these features can be found on other trips, few hikes can boast of including them all on the same trail. The journey is relatively long, so only fairly strong day hikers should attempt it, but it can also be done as a moderate overnight hike, which would allow you to stay longer and enjoy the trip’s many charms.
Quilcene, WA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 12.4
Marymere Falls is one of the most popular trail destinations in Olympic National Park. Thousands of sneaker-clad tourists trek up the easy trail to this falls, which offers them a welcome opportunity to stretch their legs. Of even greater appeal, however, is that the falls is a very beautiful and photogenic destination set in a mossy canyon where the waters of Falls Creek drop impressively over a basalt cliff and spread out in a veil at the base. You won’t have this trail to yourself, but you also won’t regret the relatively minimal effort required to reach this lovely spot.
Port Angeles, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.6
Without argument, Mount Ellinor offers the finest on-trail viewpoint in the southeastern Olympic Mountains. Because this portion of the range is also the most easily accessible to day hikers who live in the heavily populated Olympia and Tacoma areas, it’s not surprising that this is a very popular trail. In fact, despite the trail’s steep grade and considerable elevation gain, it is frequently hiked by more than 100 people on a nice summer day. But even with the physical challenge and the lack of solitude, this is still a must-do hike; those crowds of hikers know that the views here are truly superb. Stunning vistas extend for more than 100 miles, so you can pull out the maps and pick out landmarks for hours. There is also plenty of wildlife in the area, which may or may not be a good thing because the mountain goats here are sometimes a real danger to people. Call ahead about the latest conditions.
Hoodsport, WA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.4