When we hiked on Hurricane Ridge a couple of years ago in October, we were enthralled by the display of autumn colors blanketing the hills. A fellow hiker on the trail remarked, “You really should come in the spring to see the wildflowers.” Hurricane Ridge went right back onto our list. (This is precisely why our list never gets any shorter.)
In late June this year, we hit the trail on a perfect day for another hiking adventure with our friends Pam and John. The sun was shining, the colors almost blinding, and we had a crystal clear view of the Olympics. As promised, the wildflowers were beautiful. But even better was the wildlife, which we didn’t expect.
Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area in Olympic National Park. A gently winding 17-mile road from Port Angeles climbs 5,242 feet to the visitor center. From there, we hiked the Hurricane Hill Trail (1.6 miles one way) to the top of Hurricane Ridge. It’s a beautiful trail, with grand views all along the way. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, from the crest of the ridge you’ll be treated to a panorama of snow-capped mountain ranges, islands, and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.
We were hoping to see Olympic marmots, a species that lives only on the Olympic Peninsula. We saw them last time we were here, and sure enough, they made a repeat appearance. Apparently, Hurricane Hill is one of the best places to see these engaging creatures. They whistle to one another across the meadows, sun themselves on rocky outcroppings, and occasionally scamper across the trail. “Back in Pennsylvania, we call those groundhogs,” said John. (He’s right—they are groundhogs. But they are exotic groundhogs.)
As we hiked, we enjoyed displays of the colorful alpine wildflowers that thrive in the rocky, wind-buffeted landscape. Hurricane Ridge gets its name from the hurricane-force winds that assail the mountain, but we lucked out with nothing more than a gentle breeze. It couldn’t have been a more ideal day—once at the top, we had views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Canada’s Vancouver Island, and the San Juan Islands. We could even see Lopez, our island destination for the summer.
We love seeing wildlife in the wild, in their natural environment. We even enjoy seeing black-tailed deer, which are a nuisance in our hometown in southern Oregon. There’s a thriving population of “city deer” in Ashland, and they annihilate everything. We tried planting deer proof plants, only to discover that the deer do not read the Sunset Garden Book. The deer are not cute when they’re mowing down your vegetable garden, emptying your bird feeders, killing your Japanese maples by rubbing their antlers on them, and spreading disease via ticks. An eight-foot tall cedar fence solved our problems.
Out here on the trail, where there isn’t an overpopulation of deer, we enjoy seeing them. A few joined us at our lunch spot at the top of Hurricane Ridge. And one popped out from behind a tree when Eric left the trail for a quick rest stop. (Yes, he takes his camera everywhere. You never know when a photo opportunity might come along, right?)
Hiking back down the trail, we spotted a small gathering of people. We knew there was something interesting going on, and quickened our pace. The “something interesting” was a tiny black dot on the hillside. Up close (through our binoculars and camera lens) it was a big black bear.
We returned to the visitor center, thinking we were finished hiking—until we heard that mountain goats were hanging out near the Sunrise Point Trail. Mountain goats have been high on our list of critters that we’ve wanted to see, and our group unanimously agreed to try to find them. As it turns out, it would have been nearly impossible to miss them.
We hustled up the steep, partially snow-covered trail. Just before we reached the crest, we spotted a small herd grazing on the mountainside. When the goats decided to move in our direction, they used the trail, and we gave them right-of-way. Later, we learned that the goats are not native to the park, and have become problematic.
Local sportsmen introduced goats for hunting near Lake Crescent in the 1920s. In 1938, Olympic National Park was established, and the goats were off-limits to hunters. Since then, the goat population has increased by leaps and bounds. They damage native plant communities, seek out hikers for salt (from perspiration and urine), and although it’s unusual, they can be aggressive toward people.
When we returned to the visitor center after our hike, the ranger told us about a tragic incident a few years ago where a goat in the park killed a hiker. He advised that when we encounter goats on the trail, that we should stand our ground and not allow the goats to dominate. (“Right,” I thought. “You first!”)
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