The puffed white clouds billow up from the Pacific Ocean. The winds push them east over the craggy shore pushing walls of sand. Carried over lush grasslands and forest, the clouds slam into the towering Olympic Range, kiss the glaciers with snow, pour water into the rivers and deluge the trees and ferns with water. The weather phenomenon creates the setting for Olympic National Park, Port Angeles and beyond, Washington.
Multitask National Park Visit
Without even thinking hard, this is a national park where just about anything outdoors is waiting:
- Beach walk
- Rain forest
- Tidal pool exploration
Hurricane Ridge is the Must See
If there’s just a day with Olympic on the agenda, the must-see is Hurricane Ridge. A winding 17 mile road with a trio of tunnels and multitude of overlooks tops out around 5,000 feet with an unforgettable view of the Olympic Range. Clouds weave, dance and veil the peak of Mount Olympus, the glaciers shimmer bluish-white in the shafts of sunlight between the threatening puffs in the July 4 sky.
Hundreds of people from around the world stroll the paved walkways that take travelers from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to a mountain overlook. The multiple languages universally share “oohs and ahs,” laughter and clicking cameras. Accessibly paved paths ring the alpine meadows. A faun is laying in the deep grass munching flowers and clover. Nearby, a trio of young bucks graze oblivious to the photo-snapping park visitors.
A pair of trails offer easy walks up the steep slope to the Hurricane Ridge International Overlook. At the edge of a sharply cut glacial valley, even in the misting sky, Victoria Island, British Columbia, Canada, is clearly visible. A ferry plods its way across the Straits of Juan de Fuca on its route to the island. The paved trail navigates the ridge and offers an option to climb to the highest peak at Hurricane. This is one mountain to be climbed even pushing a stroller—and numerous people are doing so this Independence Day.
Getting off the Paved Path
Nearly 95 percent of Olympic National Park is wilderness—nary a drivable road traverses from one boundary to the other. This results in two options for exploring the park: By car to the various roadside sights or through the wilderness on foot. The 1.1 million acres are encircled by U.S. 101 with the park’s primary visitor center in Port Angeles, Washington. Vehicle access to overlooks, family-friendly hikes, picnicking and camping sprout from the highway like the lush groundcover along the way.
Without some digging, Olympic National Park appears to be the only U.S. treasure to include ocean beach walks and skyscraping mountaineering.
Driving U.S. 101 counterclockwise from Port Angeles, northern reaches of the park include the luscious Crescent Lake, national park lodges, campgrounds, and emerald forests. The surprise for park visitors, is the 75 miles of continuous, coastline and islands comprising the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The headlands and beaches are homes to hundreds of marine mammal species. A coastal trail connects much of the route, with certain headlands inaccessible and rivers unfordable. Rialto Beach northwest of Forks, Washington, is listed as one of the ten best beach walks in America.
On the west side of the park, deer, elk and vampires are prevalent on the ‘twilight’ drive through Forks, Washington, home to the Twilight book series. The community has a fair-sized grocery and outdoors shop to stock up for ocean or forest wildernesses. There are remnants of the fantasy trilogy everywhere in the town, including foods, galleries and tours. Forks is a proud logging community, and the expansive visitor center on the south city limits includes a logging museum and antique equipment. Logging is a dangerous business, and a loggers memorial is also part of the complex.
Just south of the town is the road into the Hoh Rain Forest. It’s an emerald empire where the thick lushness of the forest canopy and floor cast a green light on every view. The forest is in layers, and looking into its depth green curtains appear to part showing scene-after-scene of trees, leaves, moss and ferns. The Hoh Campground is beautifully set adjoining the Hoh River. Try for a site in the ‘C’ Loop, where about half the campsites sit on the river terrace. The Hoh’s incessant song lulled sleep during the night while snuggled warmly into sleeping bags. The air temperature was projected to sneak into the lower 50s, but with dampness in the air, it felt colder lower temperatures in desert campgrounds.
Lodges and Cabins
Park service lodges are located at Crescent Lake and Lake Quinault, there are cabins at Crescent and also within the Olympic foothills at Sol Duc Hot Springs. Motels, beds and breakfast, and other lodging dot the highway around the park and in the various small towns. Several sovereign Indian nations have casino resorts. There are Park Service and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds everywhere.
Something for Everyone
Olympic National Park has a combination of easy and moderately easy family-friend trails as well as lengthy, challenging backpacking routes high into the Olympic Range. The Hoh River trail runs 17.5 miles from the Hoh Forest Visitor Center to 7,500 foot Blue Glacier near Mount Olympus. There are several trails that make it possible to hike across the park from north-to-south and east-to-west. These meander deep into the forest and over high passes in the subalpine heights of the Olympics.