The one "must do" hike in Olympic National Park is Hurricane Hill. That's what everybody says, and while I'm skeptical of all "must do" suggestions, we were going to do that hike today. However, I also knew that Hurricane Hill is a very, very, very popular hike, and I didn't want to do it with a hundred or so others.
So, we got up at 5:00 a.m., and while Linda was having a cup of coffee, I took some sunrise photos. In this photo from right in front of our campsite, you can see the outline of 10,781-foot Mt. Baker in the North Cascades.
Rarely are we in a place where we get to see both a sunrise and a sunset over water, but that's what we have here at Salt Creek Recreation Area.
My goal was to be on the road by 6:00 a.m. for the 35-mile drive to the trailhead. It should take about an hour as it includes 19 miles on the scenic, curvy Hurricane Ridge Road. The first five miles of Hurricane Ridge Road are under construction, but going early and going on a Sunday alleviated the very long delays people have been experiencing during the week.
Hurricane Hill Hike
The Hurricane Hill Trailhead is past the Visitors Center and you can drive to it, except that the road and parking area there are closed. You have to park in the Picnic Area B parking lot a quarter-mile short of the trailhead, and when that fills up, you choice is the Picnic Area A lot. When we arrived, there was only one other car.
However, there was this sign.
The headline was ominous, but the details indicate the trail is closed certain days and open certain days this summer (and, apparently, the next few summers). We happened to arrive in a 6-day open period. Whew. I never even thought to check, but information on the trail re-construction and the open/closed times are located here: Hurricane Hill Trail Project.
On the trail by 7:15, we had it to ourselves. From Picnic Area B, you can either walk the closed section of road or the gravel trail through the trees right next to the road. The paved path through the picnic area is not the right trail - ask us how we know.
We walked the quarter mile to the trailhead, ....
and were on our way. The trail itself is 1.6 miles one way, so the walk from the picnic area adds an easy 0.25 miles for a little less than four miles for the round-trip.
By the way, it's called Hurricane Ridge and Hurricane Hill because of the hurricane-force winds often experienced here during winter storms. Fortunately, today was gorgeous with just a light breeze.
The Hurricane Hill hike is popular because there is always a view of the snow-covered Olympic Mountain Range ("The Olympics), and the higher you go, the bigger the panorama and more mountains you see. At the top, you have a 360-degree view that includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the port city of Port Angeles, Vancouver Island, the Canadian city of Victoria, and possibly even the San Juan Islands and the mountains of the North Cascades.
The trail starts out fairly level and provides views of the mountains similar to what you can see at the Visitors Center.
From pretty much everywhere in the Hurricane Ridge area you have views of snow-capped mountains, and the Hurricane Hill hike is no different.
There is a paved path, but it clearly couldn't handle the traffic, so there are worn dirt paths on both sides. The trail project will be widening the paved portion of the trail, and they will create an accessible trail for the first half mile.
I stalked this chipmunk until I could snap one decent shot.
It turns out it's not just any old chipmunk; it's an Olympic Chipmunk, a sub-species of the Yellow-pine Chipmunk, that is endemic to the Olympics. It's one of five mammal species here that can't be found anywhere else in the world.
The trail is pretty level at first, but soon we would start an uphill climb to the top of Hurricane Hill here.
From this point on, it's a steady climb, but there are no steps, stairs, or extremely steep sections.
With the change in elevation, you are rewarded with an expanded view of the mountain range.
This early in the morning, this one sidehill section of the trail (on the left in the photo below) was shaded by the hills, but generally the trail is fully exposed to the sun.
We stopped often just to admire the views and the wildflowers.
This bench is a fine place to rest.
Continuing through a large open meadow, ....
the loud, high-pitched alerts of the marmots echoed.
As we approached the top on a ridge, there was a small pond below, ....
and the mountain range spanned all along the east and around to the southwest.
A group of Olympic Marmots (also endemic), greeted us at the rocks at the top.
They certainly weren't shy, and this one came up to check us out.
Rounding a corner for a different view, this one was a few feet away, and it ignored me while it continued to eat.
Looking north there was a burned out section in the lower hills, and then the town of Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the southern end of Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria, British Columbia. A little to the northeast we could see outlines of the San Juan Islands, and Mt. Baker.
This was the view out to the northwest.
There is one concrete bench at the top, ....
and we had it, the views, and the marmots to ourselves for several minutes.
Eventually, two young ladies joined us. We learned that they met in nursing school, keep in touch, and get together to travel. One of them, Meredith, was from Paducah, KY and lived in Louisville for a little while. Also, she had recently done a short trip to Iceland where we will be going next month, so she gave us a couple of tips, and we provided her with some suggestions for her upcoming trip to Glacier National Park.
We enjoyed talking to these lovely young women, Elizabeth (left) and Meredith (right), ....
until we could see the lines of people coming up from below.
They took our picture, ....
and I shot a quick video as others arrived.
Then we started down.
I took a shot of this group coming up as they stopped at the edge of the large meadow for photos of their own.
We took a short side trail for another quick look to the northwest, when a doe and fawn ambled up one of the game trails in front of us.
They veered off toward the pond, ....
and I took several shots of the very cute fawn.
On the way down, I got this shot of the trail below us.
As I mentioned, this is a very popular trail, and we passed hordes of people on the way down. And I'm sure the periodic trail closures just makes it more crowded when the trail is open.
However, I now agree it is a "must do" hike in Olympic National Park, even if you have to share the summit with several others. We would just recommend picking a great weather day and go as early as you possibly can for the best experience. We're glad we did it, and I thanked Linda several times for getting up so early so we could have it to ourselves for a little while.
Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center
We got back to the Jeep around 10:30 and the Picnic Area B parking lot was full. The Picnic Area A lot was nearly full already as well. We drove back to the Visitors Center, and parked to the right where there were several parking spaces still available. However, the much larger left side parking area nearer the trailheads was nearly full. Here is a photo I took just a little later.
We went inside and perused the gift shop briefly before watching the 20-minute movie on the park. Actually, the movie they were showing only covered the mountain region. I suppose including the coastal and rainforest areas would just make it too long, and perhaps the Visitors Centers in those areas show a different version.
After the movie, we enjoyed our early lunch at a picnic table behind the Visitors Center with views of Mt. Olympus and Blue Glacier.
At just under 8,000 feet, Mt. Olympus is the tallest mountain in the Olympics.
From our vantage point, we could also see the Carrie Glacier (on Mt. Carrie) which was quite a bit closer, yet still quite distant.
While we were there, there was a ranger talk and a ranger-guided walk with multiple ranger programs scheduled for this Sunday.
At the Visitors Center, there are three short trails - High Ridge, Big Meadow, Cirque Rim - that intersect and can be combined for up to about two miles of hiking/walking. Details can be found here: Hurricane Ridge Area Brochure.
Linda wanted no part of those trails with all the people, so she waited in the Jeep while I did a quick loop.
The Cirque Rim and Big Meadows Trails are paved, short, and very easy. I stopped out an overlook and took a picture of Hurricane Hill which we had just hiked.
After a shot of the parking lot, ....
and this one with purple flowers, ....
it was on to High Ridge. Now High Ridge may be only a half-mile loop, but it gains 220 feet very quickly. It's actually steeper than any portion of the Hurricane Hill Trail, so you can probably do Hurricane Hill if you can do High Ridge.
I went counter-clockwise, and on the way up, there were twin fawns.
View of Mt. Olympus, Mt. Carrie, the Highline Ridge Road, and more from a viewpoint.
Climbing higher was this view of the Visitors Center and beyond.
Coming down the other side was a 0.1-mile spur trail to Sunrise Point.
From Sunrise Point, you can see the Klahhane Ridge Trail, ....
and north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Coming back down is this view of the Cirque Rim Trail and the Visitors Center.
Certainly, if you don't have time to do Hurricane Hill, you can still enjoy fabulous scenery on the short walks from the Visitors Center parking lot.
This is one of the most popular areas of Olympic National Park for good reason. As we descended on Hurricane Ridge Road, there was a half-mile line of cars waiting to just get through the entrance station. So, we'll say it again - go as early as you possibly can to avoid traffic and crowds.
Nearing the bottom of the Hurricane Ridge Road, we had a hazy view of Mt. Baker from one of the scenic viewpoint pull-offs.
So, there you have it. A wonderful morning spent in the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park.