Hiking Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
When we’re not lounging on a Florida beach in the hot sun or gallivanting the globe, we love to hike locally. Local, to us, is anything within a few hours’ drive of Seattle. One of our favorite local activities is hiking in Olympic National Park. It’s such an interesting place, with beaches, lowland rainforests, snow-capped peaks, and sweeping views from terrifying ridges. If you’re visiting Seattle hiking Hurricane Ridge is a great idea as it’s one of the closest access points to the Park.
I think most people in the Pacific Northwest will tell you that no visit to the Seattle area is complete without going hiking. There are tons and tons of options, but we truly prefer and will direct visitors to either Mt Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park. Both can be done as day trips or long weekends. Since we live closer, we more often go hiking in Olympic National Park and hiking at Hurricane Ridge is unforgettable every time.
What you'll find...
Locale of Hurricane Ridge
As you’re driving on Highway 101 looping around the Olympic Peninsula, you must go through Sequim and Port Angeles. Although the town itself might not grab your eye immediately, it’s worth investing a day in…but we’re talking about hiking, not playing tourist. So, you’re driving through downtown PA and you see a sign for Hurricane Ridge and you turn. You instantly start heading up hill.
You’ll wind past the Port Angeles Olympic National Park Visitor Center, up through a few tunnels and keep going up out of the forest. All of the sudden you’re driving on the side of a mountain with little to no shelter and you keep going up. Eventually the road flattens out and you’re in a parking lot on the top of the mountain. Weird and beautiful.
Note: Hurricane Ridge is one of the areas of Olympic National Park that has a fee to access. If you have the National Parks Pass/Interagency Pass/Access you’ll be covered, otherwise it is $20+ to drive through the gate.
Wildlife on Hurricane Ridge
There are several trails to choose from that all leave from the same spot. This is one of those times that we’ll tell you to go into the ranger station and see what’s up. Sometimes there are mountain goats or cougar warnings, so trails may be closed. Sometimes there’s been a wash out far down the trail and you won’t be able to hike to where you want. The ranger can make a recommendation on how far is safe to go or just tell you “No, you can’t hike there today.”
The big thing is though, listen to the rangers and DO NOT go seeking out wildlife. The animals you might encounter at Hurricane Ridge are dangerous, even if they don’t seem it. These ones aren’t as docile as what you encounter in Yellowstone (which are still dangerous) and you don’t want to be a headline. There are also bears in the Park, so following all food storage and safety precautions pertaining to black bears is also a must.
Note: the mountain goats in Olympic National Park aren’t endemic, but we brought in for hunting purposes in the 1920s and are still around today. They’ve taken a toll on the Ridge and surrounding areas, so be wary of loose soil on and around trails from their pawing and such.
One other fun species to look out for up on Hurricane Ridge is the sooty grouse. You’ll be walking along and hear this low thumping sound, like a cartoon rabbit in a log. That’s one of the interesting sounds the grouse makes. And we’ve seen then several times up on the Ridge.
Hiking Hurricane Ridge
We like the Lake Angeles / Klahhane Ridge trail for hiking at Hurricane Ridge. It starts off mellow, providing sweeping views through mountain valleys, down to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and across to Vancouver Island and Victoria. Hiking this path is a great way to hone your trail-chops. While you’re still early in the hike, it’s very kid friendly. The climbs aren’t too steep and the path is wide. There’s even an old ski hut and ancient chair lift to provide a bit of historical creepiness.
Once you’ve been hiking for a bit you do start to climb as you ascend to the Klahhane Ridge. You’re in a sub-alpine forest, which means that the trees are scarce and the ones that are there are grouped in stubby little stands. You’ll find that there’s not much shade from the sun or wind, so being prepared with hats and sunblock is a must.
Tip: When you think you need a little break, take one, because that sun and wind are out to get you and zap your energy and common sense. With a narrow trail, take advantage of the wider spots you come across.
The trail continues on and the hikers become fewer. The hillsides become steeper and the trail morphs into what we’d call not kid-friendly. Big kids are fine probably, but little kids that like to run or trip or not look where they’re going, yeah no. The views change too. Instead of looking north to Canada you’re taken around the ridge for a glance at the rest of Washington State: Hood Canal, Seattle, Mt Rainier, and the Cascade Mountains. It’s breathtaking.
If you go all of the way on the trail you’re looking at 3.5 miles to Lake Angeles and twice that to the Klahhane Ridge. Just like with any hiking, be prepared and know what lies ahead.
Picnics at Hurricane Ridge
Of course we’ll tell you about where to have a picnic. It’s us. We picnic everywhere. After hiking at Hurricane Ridge you have three great options. If it’s cold, windy or rainy, you can use the tables inside the ranger station lounge. It’s got picture windows all around and a grand fireplace. Outside of the building are picnic tables too, all with the same amazing view looking across the Olympic Mountains.
Tip: the ranger station also is a Visitor Center, but its displays and information for perusing are minimal. There is a gift shop and snack shop if you need as well, say for perhaps a dandy sweatshirt when it’s windy, but it’s not the full Visitors Center facilities you may be used to in other National Parks.
For a more secluded lunch, you can pack in your picnic to the top of the ski lift area or hop in your car and head northwest away from the lot to the picnic areas just a few minutes away and down the hill a tad. There are TONS of actual picnic sites, all located within the stubby forest, and there are restroom facilities for when nature calls. Know that we’re directing you past the Visitors Center and NOT back down the hill towards the Park exit.
Hurricane Ridge in the winter
If you happen to be on the Olympic Peninsula during the winter and spring months, there is still hiking at Hurricane Ridge… in a manner of speaking. When the Olympics get covered in snow, they still do have clear days and the Visitors Center up on the Ridge is manned. During those winter months you can use designated areas for cross country skiing or sledding. It’s always best to plan for some super cold moments if you’re head up into the mountains in the winter, so be sure you’ve got your warmest coats, hats and gloves. Oh, and don’t forget your toboggan or sled.
Note: You will need to have chains available in your car even if you don’t see snow down in Port Angeles. If you’re comfortable with it, studded tires may also be approved.
Where to stay to visit Hurricane Ridge
Since we live close we usually make hiking at Hurricane Ridge a day trip, but sometimes we add it to longer weekends. There is camping in this part of Olympic National Park at the Heart O’ the Hills campground. The sites are not the biggest you’ll find in a National Park, but the campground is quite mossy and beautiful. As of 2017 it is fully on a first-come-first-served basis so you cannot make a reservation.
Another great option for lodging is staying either in Port Townsend or Port Angeles. Fort Worden in Port Townsend has some really cool accommodations in the old barracks that have been remodeled. We have also enjoyed staying at a really nice bed and breakfast in Port Angeles called Domaine Madeleine. Both are cool spots for a few night and both are very family friendly.
As you can see, we really enjoy hiking at Hurricane Ridge and taking advantage of all of the beautiful spots around the Olympic Peninsula. Olympic National Park is best experienced on a weekday in the summer, as our fall storms here in the PNW can be just gross and, well, there’s a reason Hurricane Ridge is called that: it’s crazy windy up there. Plan your trip wisely and you’ll have a great time hiking at Hurricane Ridge and seeing why we love to call this place home.
Want to pin this for later when you’re planning your summer hiking? Go for it!
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”