Encompassing three distinct ecosystems and nearly one million acres, Olympic National Park has limitless opportunities for outdoor adventure, discovery and relaxation. With Pacific Ocean beaches, rainforest valleys, glacier-capped peaks and a stunning variety of plants and animals, there’s something for everyone at Olympic.
To help you plan the perfect escape to Olympic National Park, Trail Talk posed questions from our Facebook community (and a few from NPF) to Dave Reynolds, Park Ranger at Olympic:
What do you consider to be a “can’t miss” half-day hiking trail? And how about the best hiking trails for the most scenic views? – Jerry Briix and Donald J. Pickert
I think if you’d ask 10 people, you might get 10 different answers. But I’m going to go with Humes Ranch Loop trail in Olympic National Park’s Elwha Valley. From the Whiskey Bend trailhead, it’s a 4.5 mile loop to Humes Ranch and back. It’s a moderate-level hike through lowland forests and past historic homesteads. You’re highly likely to see a few deer and maybe an elk.
What are three can’t miss activities at Olympic National Park? – NPF
1. For a first-time visit to Olympic National Park, you’ve got to hit the Hoh Rain Forest. I definitely recommend a day hike up the Hoh River Trail. It’s about 17 miles to Glacier Meadows near Mount Olympus, but I’ve yet to make it that far. But you can follow the trail down to the river, walk along the gravel bars there and get an amazing view of Mount Olympus. For visitors with young kids, a leisurely stroll around the Hall of Mosses, a .8-mile loop from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, or Spruce Nature Trail, a 1.2-mile loop from the Visitor Center to the Hoh River and back, are great ways to learn more about one of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforests.
2. This month, the world’s largest dam removal begins on the Elwha River. Elwha River Restoration is a $325 million federal project to restore the river’s anadromous fisheries and the entire valley ecosystem through the removal of two aging dams, built without fish passage in the early 20th century. While the areas surrounding both the Glines Canyon (inside the park boundary) and Elwha dams are now closed to visitors, the National Park Service and Olympic National Park have explored a number of ways to enable people to watch this historic project as it happens. A short overlook trail has been constructed, leading to a panoramic view of the Elwha Dam as it impounds the Lake Aldwell reservoir. To reach the trail, just park at the top of Lower Dam Road and make the short hike and you’ll have a birds-eye view as the dam is deconstructed and the reservoir drains. Check out the Elwha web pages at nps.gov/olym and you’ll find links to webcams and weekly updates on deconstruction.
3. Take the winding 17-mile drive up Hurricane Ridge Road, breath in the fresh subalpine air and enjoy views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, Mount Baker and the Olympics. For the second straight year, Olympic National Park is prepared to keep the road open 7 days a week (weather permitting of course) through the winter, thanks in part to a community fundraising effort which raised $75,000 to help cover increased costs. It’s about a 45-minute drive up the hill (watch for rocks) but well worth the trip and easily accessible from town. Want a sneak peak? Click Here.
Can you raft at Olympic National Park? – Dave Hansen Whitewater
Of course! The park’s official concessionaire for rafting trips is Olympic Raft & Kayak, www.raftandkayak.com, and they offer trips on the Elwha, Hoh and Sol Duc Rivers.
I’m going to Olympic in late September for a day and I’ve decided to go to the Hurricane Ridge area. What would be the best way to spend our time there? Any tips? – Jessica Pellerito Eilerman
Hurricane Ridge has a number of hiking trails, from ridgetop traverses to steep trails that descend to subalpine lakes and valleys. Obstruction Point Road (weather and snow permitting, open from July 4 through October 15), branches off right before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, and provides access to a variety of trails as well. You’re coming in September, but the Ridge can be enjoyed throughout the year. During the winter months, snow enthusiasts enjoy the winter scenery, along with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are offered on the weekends and are a popular way to explore and learn about the Ridge's winter environment.
Why did you become a park ranger? – NPF
I got lucky! I like the idea of working in support of something much larger than myself, so I’ve always been drawn to public service. I am especially proud to work for NPS because it’s government at its best, providing educational and recreational opportunities for all of its citizens, and highlighting our country’s natural and cultural history to others as well. The most inspiring thing is knowing that what we do here matters: not just here and now, but for future generations. I think what the National Park Service does truly is “America’s Best Idea” and I’m glad I get to help tell that story.
What can people do to support Olympic National Park? – NPF
For starters, make sure to come see and experience the park for yourself. For folks in the local area, there are plenty of opportunities to help out as a Volunteer In Parks (VIP), such as the adopt-a-trail programs, assisting in plant propagation at the native plant center, and getting out and photographing far-flung wilderness locations around the park.
There’s also the Washington’s National Park Fund, the park’s non-profit fundraising partner. This year they’ve donated nearly $50,000 to support research on the park’s herd of Roosevelt elk as well as monitoring recently introduced fisher populations. They’ve also set aside funding to produce a native plant guide to the Elwha Valley. The Elwha Valley is where botanists from Olympic National Park and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will install approximately 400,000 plants over several years as part of the Elwha River Restoration project. Find out more about what they’re doing at Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks at wnpf.org.
Also, don't forget to sign up with the National Park Foundation and get the latest national park news, information on how you can support our parks, and the tools for you to get the most out of your next national park visit.