Olympic National Park has no main road passing through it. Instead Highway 101 encircles it on three-and-a-half sides, extending narrow access roads like fingers into the park’s different ecosystems.
From the ferry we drove northeast to Hwy 101, followed that to Port Angeles and then took the first of the fingers, Hurricane Ridge Road, up to our campground in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. Heart o’ the Hills Campground is first-come-first-serve, and we weren’t sure how busy the park might get on a Saturday in mid-May. We were anxious to secure a spot before the campground filled up.
We needn’t have worried. We never encountered any real crowds or lines or full campgrounds during our time there. It’s a beautiful park and I’m glad we visited in what is apparently the off-season.
By the time we’d set up camp it was mid-afternoon, still sunny and mild. The forecast called for clouds rolling in later in the day and hanging out for several days after that. I wished we could do the Hurricane Hill hike that day instead of the next, but it’s almost always a bad idea to start a climb in the afternoon in the mountains. We decided to just drive up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to check out the views from there, since it might be our last chance to see them while the visibility was still good.
The drive up was quite a lot farther than we expected. Port Angeles is of course at sea level; our campground was a little higher at 1771 ft elevation. Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center sits up at 5242 ft, at the top end of a steep and winding road.
The parking lot was clear but surrounded by feet of snow.
The road to our trailhead was also clear, but still closed to vehicles and unlikely to open in the next few days.
None of us really wanted to do the drive again in the morning. We asked a ranger what our chances were of completing the Hurricane Hill hike before the clouds rolled in that afternoon. He said the weather looked pretty stable and he saw no reason why we shouldn’t give it a try, as long as we were prepared to turn back if the situation changed.
By unanimous agreement, we immediately girded our loins for the ascent.
The walk to the trailhead is about a mile and a half of paved, gentle climb. In the spots where the snow borders weren’t too high to see over, the views were gorgeous.
The trail itself is another mile and a half, much steeper, and mostly buried in snow when we were there. But since it follows a gusty ridgeline the snow wasn’t as deep as on the lower slopes, and it got enough foot traffic to pack down nice and solid. Crampons would have been nice, but we managed fine in just boots.
The views continued to be gorgeous.
But the top of Hurricane Hill is the real payoff. It’s breathtaking. You can see Port Angeles and across the Salish Sea to British Columbia.
One of those peaks behind me is Mount Olympus, but I never did figure out which one.
Altogether about six miles round-trip. Perfect weather from beginning to end.
I think tourists must be feeding the local wildlife. This little birb came down and cheeped at me like a hungry hatchling.
When I didn’t give him anything he flew away with a look of disgust like I’d wasted his time.
Snowdrifts along the roadside:
The visitor center was closed by the time we got back to the car. We had been in such a hurry to start the hike, we hadn’t even gotten our national park passport stamp. But there are several other visitor centers in the park, so we weren’t worried about it.
We drove all the way back down to Port Angeles and picked up two pizzas from a nice little artisan place right on the waterfront.
We ate the pizzas at our campsite (but not in our tent, because that’s how you get bears) and turned in for the night. And were reminded that our nice little SunDome is a summer tent and does nothing to keep out the cold. Luckily we had brought warm jammies and more blankets than even I had thought we would need.
And that was our first day in Olympic National Park. More to come!
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