Olympic National Park

Hiking Overview
Gorp.com
A hike through the woods at Olympic National Park
A hike through the woods at Olympic National Park (Purestock/Getty)

Nearly 600 miles of trails traverse the park, ranging from short, easy loop trails to rigorous and primitive trails along high passes or rugged ocean beaches.

The Olympic Coast , the longest wilderness coast in the lower 48, offers hikes both on the beach itself and on boardwalks. The northern edge of the Olympic Mountains offers high peaks and Lake Constance. Elwha River-Hurricane Ridge has opportunities for day hikers up into the alpine meadows or longer trips following the Elwha River into the heart of the national park.

The drier eastern half of the mountains— the Rainshadow —abuts the Buckhorn Wilderness in Olympic National Forest . The Rainshadow is perhaps the most isolated part of the park, and frequently overlooked in favor of the rainforest and the coastline. Those that do are missing out on some superb plant and wildlife, not to mention views and isolation. Moving south, Hood Canal country offers similar terrain with a little more accessibility, especially through the short river passes (attention anglers!). And if you really want to do the rainforest, head for the Western Approaches , land of the majestic Hoh and Queets Rivers. Many of these trails are open in the winter.

Topographic maps are a must for most hikes and are available through visitor centers, ranger stations, or online. The Olympic National Park Trail Map is particularly recommended.

Wilderness use permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry; some backcountry areas of the park now require reservations while others in quota areas of the park have reservations available for 50 percent of the available sites. During the period from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, some wilderness areas require reservations. Reservations may be made up to 30 days in advance by calling the park's Wilderness Information Center at 360-565-3100. At other times of year and for areas that do not require reservations, wilderness use permits are available at all ranger stations and the WIC. The WIC is located just behind the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles.

Off-season

The friendly familiar summer Olympics change from November to May. They become neither friendly nor familiar to the unsuspecting backcountry user.

In the Valleys: The notoriously high precipitation swells rivers and creeks to many times their normal size until even the smallest creek crossing can become difficult or dangerous to cross. Footbridges often wash out. Standing water can be knee deep for long stretches. Temperatures commonly range between 30 and 40 degrees F. They can drop lower but are even more cumbersome in the given range because rain is still cold rain and not snow. The safest time to cross mountain streams is from sunrise to noon. After noon, melting snow water will increase flows until nightfall.

In the High Country: Naturally, snow prevails. Therefore, avalanche hazard is a concern. Map skills, general route-finding, and common sense are essential. Clothing and equipment should be investigated and tested before the trip. Snowshoes or skis may be necessary for mountain travel until June when snow firms up enough to be walked on. Whiteouts are frequent and cold, wet snow is typical. Snow travel in spring and early summer is best done before noon. Afternoon temperatures create "postholing" conditions for the hiker.

These trails are usually snow-free, but check with the visitors center before you go...

  • Skokomish River Trail
  • Elwha River Trail
  • Humes Ranch - Rica Loop
  • Sol Duc River Trail
  • Ozette Loop
  • Hoh River Trail
  • North Fork Quinault Trail
  • Duckabush River Trail

advertisement

Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »