Three very distinct ecosystems are found within Olympic National Park’s 922,000 acres: glacier-capped mountains, moss-draped old growth rain forest, and miles of untouched Washington coastline. With such diversity, it’s like visiting three parks for the price of one. If you especially like places with reach-out-and-touch-it mountain views and purple lupine-filled meadows that attract deer, then head to Hurricane Ridge. There are plenty of hiking trails to wander, but you don’t even need to get your shoes dusty— incredible views begin right in the parking lot! Olympic National Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, so there’s never been a better time to visit.
The drive up to Hurricane Ridge (elevation 5,242 feet) is scenic in itself. Beyond the entrance station, the paved road twists and turns for about 12 miles, but several pull-offs give you the opportunity to stop and enjoy the views. Once at the top, wander inside Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Pick up brochures, maps, snacks, souvenirs, watch a short film about the park, and get tips from rangers as to what to see and do. The patio out back is a perfect picnic spot to admire 7,980-foot Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Olympic National Park and the third largest glacial system in the contiguous United States. Mount Olympus receives over 200 inches of precipitation each year and most of that falls as snow. Interpretive signs identify over a dozen mountain peaks and glaciers. Sunrise and sunset on a clear day provide the most magnificent panoramas!
Hurricane Ridge can be enjoyed in the winter months, too. Weather and budgets permitting, the road up is plowed fairly regularly so that visitors can snowshoe, cross-country ski, and take in the winter scenery. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are offered on some weekends and are a popular way to learn about the park’s winter environment. There’s usually a blanket of over 10 feet of snow, and winds can be fierce (hence the name “Hurricane Ridge”) but on a clear day the vista can’t be beat.
If you need more reasons to visit this World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, the park’s purpose as defined by Congress in 1938 says it best:
“… the finest sample of primeval forests of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red cedar in the entire United States; to provide suitable winter range and permanent protection for the herds of native Roosevelt elk and other wildlife indigenous to the area; to conserve and render available to the people, for recreational use, this outstanding mountainous country, containing numerous glaciers and perpetual snow fields and a portion of the surrounding verdant forest together with a narrow string along the beautiful Washington coast.”
IF YOU GO:
Olympic National Park Visitor Center
Port Angeles, WA 98362
Visitor Information: (360) 565-3130
Road & Weather Hotline: (360) 565-3131
$15 vehicle entrance fee (good for up to seven consecutive days); camping fees additional
All park destinations can be accessed by U.S. Highway 101, which circumnavigates the Olympic Peninsula.
Olympic has 16 NPS-operated campgrounds with a total of 910 sites. Concession-operated RV parks are also located within the park. Campgrounds can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 21 feet in length. For camping information, visit http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm