If you look at a map, you’ll see that the park is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes it somewhat of an ecological island. More than 95 percent of the 922,000 acres is remote wilderness—no roads cross the expanse, although two-lane highway 101 (and a few miles of connecting highways) makes a 320-mile loop around the park. A dozen spur roads lead into the park, with visitors centers, rustic campgrounds, lovely lodges, and numerous trails to scenic destinations just a few miles from the park’s perimeter.
In just one day you can do a speed-tour that includes mountains, lakes, forests, and coastline. But that’s not our style. We like to take our time, sinking in and savoring the essence of a place. And so we chose just a couple of activities, heading into the park for hikes and happy hour (yes, really). We had a wonderful taste of the park—just enough to entice us to return, sooner rather than later.
We explored Olympic National Park while staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area, 15 miles west of Port Angeles. Here, our adventures in the park:
Hiking Hurricane Ridge
Just 17 miles south of Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the most accessible mountain area in the park. The views of the distant mountains and glaciers are outstanding, even from the visitor center, and a network of trails offers the opportunity for more in-depth exploration.
We chose the Hurricane Ridge trail, a 3-mile round trip hike with enough elevation gain to make it feel like a decent trek. The trail winds through alpine meadows and traverses a ridge with spectacular views along the way, leading to a really spectacular 360-degree view at the top—a panorama that includes the Olympic Mountain range with glaciers shimmering in the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island in Canada. It’s called Hurricane Ridge for good reason—the winds are crazy. We had a picnic on top of the ridge (while holding everything down to keep it from blowing away) and enjoyed the views far below of hillsides cloaked in their fall attire of crimson and gold.
Exploring Lake Crescent
Nestled into the valleys of Olympic National Park are some of the largest stands of ancient forests left in the country. These venerable western forests are filled with Douglas firs and Western hemlocks, many of which are more than 200 years old, and up to 300 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is a quieting experience to stand among these beautiful giants.
We chose to explore the Lake Crescent area of the park, a 20-mile drive southwest from where we were staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area. A two-mile round trip hike leads to Marymere Falls, which although pretty, is not spectacular in the world of waterfalls. The hike, however, is a gorgeous trail through old-growth forest rich with the spicy scent of firs and spruce.
The Lodge at Lake Crescent is one of the loveliest we’ve seen anywhere. Situated on the shore of the glacially carved lake with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting. Vintage 1916 and charmingly simple, it’s the kind of place we would stay if we didn’t have our little home on wheels.
It was late afternoon when we finished our explorations of Lake Crescent, and we enjoyed the sunset over the lake from the glassed-in porch of the lodge. A delicious plate of steamed Penn Cove mussels and a platter of local cheeses with lavender honey accompanied by drinks was the perfect ending for our brief forays into Olympic National Park. We can’t wait to return.