Native Americans were living
in several villages along the Olympic Coast when
explorer Juan de Fuca stopped by. He is thought
to have been the first European to have landed
on these shores. Later, in 1774, Juan Perez
sailed along this coast, followed by British,
Spanish and American explorers, including Capt.
George Vancouver, a representative of the
British Crown, and American Robert Gray.
The first expedition into the Olympic
interior was led by Lt. Joseph P. O'Neill, in 1885. In
1889-1990, James Christie led a north/south expedition,
taking five and one-half months to complete the difficult
crossing. Lt. O'Neill completed an easier east/west
crossing in 1890, moving up and down river valleys.
Today, more than 900 miles of hiking trails
take visitors into virtually every valley, forest and
meadow, as well as glaciers and several mountain peaks. A
few of the trails are remnants of former logging roads.
Most are trails constructed by the parks and forest
services, or hard packed paths tramped out by hikers who
have long known the Olympic peninsula to be just about
the finest hiking country in America.
Although hiking is the only way to see most
of what the Olympic Mountains have to offer in scenery,
geology and wildlife, there are several accessible areas
in the national park which offer recreational
opportunities, and for getting a feel for the majesty of
the mountains, woodlands, meadows, and rain forests.
How to Get There
The Olympic Peninsula lies west of Seattle
and Puget Sound, and northwest of the state capital of
Olympia. It's possible to get to the peninsula from
almost every direction by car, except from due north from
which you have to take a ferry from Victoria, B.C..
From the South and the Oregon Coast
From Astoria, Oregon, cross the Columbia
River on the Astoria Bridge (toll), and take either U.S.
101 which leads toward the Long Beach peninsula, or take
State Route 401 to join State Route 4 and Highway 101,
arriving in Aberdeen. Highway 101 leads north, and is the
major highway route around the Olympic Peninsula. Should
you wish to sample some more southern Washington
shoreline along the way, take Highway 109 west from
Aberdeen to Ocean City, Pacific Beach and/or Moclips,
before heading east to join Highway 101.
From Portland, Oregon and Vancouver,
There are two routes, both scenic, to get
you to the southern part of the Olympic Peninsula from
the Portland/Vancouver region. From Portland, take U.S.
30 northwest along the southern bank of the Columbia
River to Astoria, cross the Columbia River Bridge and
take the suggested route, above.
Another route uses Interstate 5 north from
Portland and Vancouver, exiting to take Washington State
Route 4 near Kelso. Route 4 leads west along the north
bank of the Columbia River, past several quaint old
communities including Skamokawa and Gray's River, meeting
Highway 101 a few miles east of the Long Beach Peninsula
and Willapa Bay. Then take the prescribed route north via
Highway 101 to Quinault, Forks, and Port Angeles. The
rain forests lie between Quinault and Forks.
From Olympia and Interstate 5
Take State Route 8 and U.S. 101 west from
the city of Olympia. Highway 101 is the main route for
the Olympic Peninsula, leading along the western shore of
the Hood Canal to Hoodsport, Brinnon, Quilcene and Port
Angeles. Highway 101 continues, in a counter-clockwise
direction, circling the Olympic Mountains.
From Seattle and Interstate 5
Highway lovers would drive south on I-5 to
Olympia and take Highway 101 to Port Angeles (see above).
The more scenic and shorter way to reach Port Angeles is
to drive north from downtown Seattle on I-5 and take the
turnoff to Edmonds (just north of the Seattle city
limits). A ferry will take you and your vehicle to
Bainbridge Island. Following this short cruise, you'll
drive northwest on State Route 104, to Poulsbo, joining
Highway 101 north of Quilcene. Continue on Hwy. 101 to
Sequim and Port Angeles.
From Victoria (BC) by Ferry
The Black Ball ferry company operates a car
ferry with several sailings per day, across the Strait of
Juan de Fuca, from the capital of British Columbia to
Port Angeles. For information, call (360) 457-4491 (Port
Angeles), or (604) 386-2202 (Victoria).
The Victoria Express is a ferry for foot
passengers only. It operates from May to October. For
information, call 800-633-1589 (U.S. and Canada), or
(604) 361-9144 (Victoria)
What to See & Do
Here are the major areas within the
national park, beginning with Hurricane Ridge, near Port
Angeles, and then working in a counter-clockwise
direction through the river valleys on the north and west
sides of the park. The final areas covered are
Dosewallips and Staircase, found on the eastern flank of
the mountains, just west of the Hood Canal and accessed
via Highway 101 and forest roads leading into the
Port Angeles Museum & Hurricane
The best way to begin a tour of the Olympic
Peninsula is to visit the Olympic National Park
Visitor Center and Pioneer Museum, located in
downtown Port Angeles. Not only will you get an overview
of park attractions and the history of the area, but
there is a wealth of printed material available to help
you along your explorations. The shop stocks detailed
topographic maps, and has updated hiking trail
information. Hurricane Ridge is less than a
half-hour's drive from the museum. Take Race Street to
reach both the visitor center and Hurricane Ridge.
In the 1930s, the Forest Service built a
road to Hurricane Hill, a marvelous meadowland sitting
high above Port Angeles, accessible until that time only
by a trail from the Elwha Valley. The trail is still
there, offering a wonderful climbing hike with great
views, but most people save time by driving to the
Hurricane Ridge site, now the most visited area in the
national park. The eighteen-mile drive from Port Angeles
to Hurricane Ridge is filled with scenic views as the
road twists and turns up the mountain. Heart O' the
Hills Campground is just inside the park boundary,
with 105 sites, at an elevation of 1,807 feet. The road
continues, running beside Klahanie Ridge to climb to the
Hurricane Ridge parking lot. Here, you'll find a ranger
station, a snack bar, picnic area and several trails,
both short and long. After the first snowfall or two, the
cross-country ski center is opened, with skis and
snowshoe rentals. Ski lifts are nearby.
This is an excellent place for those
driving wheelchairs to get a taste of the park. Most
other locations (with a few notable exceptions) require a
significant amount of hiking to scenic viewpoints.
Hurricane Ridge Day Hikes
Hurricane Hill Trail begins at the
Hurricane Ridge parking area. The trail leads 1.5 miles
to the top of the hill, providing views of the nearby
mountain peaks, plus a look at Port Angeles and the
Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. This area of alpine
meadows offers wildflower displays in early summer. The
first half-mile is paved and suitable for
The Meadow Loop Trails begin near
the Hurricane Ridge visitor center and offer walks
through prime wildflower areas, in a sub- alpine
environment. Black-tailed deer are frequently seen, as
are the unique Olympic marmots, often seen sunning
themselves near the trail.
Heart of the Forest Trail begins at
Loop E of the Heart O' the Hills Campground, offering a
4-mile round-trip hike through a dense lowland
Backcountry trails leading from Hurricane
Ridge are covered at the end of this chapter. Trails lead
from the Meadow Loop trails to Klahanie Ridge and Mt.
Because the Olympic Mountains are
dome-shaped, rivers fan out in every direction from the
central peaks. The Elwha River flows in an approximate
south-to-north direction, with its mouth on the Strait of
Juan de Fuca, at Angeles Point. Its source is in the
Elwha Snowfinger, between Mount Queets and Mount Barnes,
flowing through the Elwha Basin and then turning north
toward the strait. Along the way, it drops into narrow
canyons, cascading through rapids, and then forming deep,
quiet pools. What used to be a fine salmon stream is now
fished only for trout. Two dams were built before the
national park was established, cutting off the salmon
from their spawning waters. The Parks Service is now
preparing to have the dams removed, and after much future
public consultation and planning, the salmon will return.
The lake now held back by the Elwha Dam is called Lake
Aldwell. The reservoir impounded by the Glines Canyon Dam
is called Lake Mills.
The only access route into the valley is
Elwha River Road. The road has its junction with
Highway 101 at the Elwha River, 8.5 miles west of Port
Angeles. The road provides access to the Elwha
Campground, which sits at the base of the Elwha River
Range. There's a park amphitheater near the campground,
with regular summer interpretation sessions. The Elwha
Ranger Station is located another mile along the
road. Whiskey Bend Road branches to the left, just beyond
the ranger station. The river road continues and crosses
the Elwha, providing access to Altaire Campground.
While the Elwha Campground has sites suitable for
trailers and RVs (up to 21 feet), the Altaire Campground
has sites which are better for tenting, although trailers
The river road, now called Boulder Creek
Road, then climbs to pass by the Glines Canyon Dam
and continues above Lake Mills. There's a good view of
the valley from Observation Point. The road
follows Boulder Creek until it ends at a parking area
near Olympic Hot Springs. There is a paved path to the
Boulder Creek (walk-in) Campground.
Olympic Hot Springs was quite a
popular resort in its day. The commercialization of the
springs, discovered by Andrew Jacobson in 1892, began in
the early 1900s when a trail was blazed. A Forest Service
Road was constructed in the 1930s. A resort was built,
attracting hot spring fans from far and wide. Now, only
the seven pools remain.
Day Hikes in the Elwha Valley
Cascade Rock Trail leads east from
Elwha Campground, to a high point with views of the small
Elwha River Range. The trip involves a four-mile,
Griff Creek Trail begins behind the
Elwha Ranger Station, offering a round-trip hike of 5.6
miles. The trip out involves a steep climb, with more
than 30 switchbacks, from the ranger station at 390 feet,
to the end at 3,300 feet. There is no water available
along the route. Rising from river level, the trail
passes through old-growth conifer forest, with some
madrone (arbutus) trees, and a thick understory of
mosses, sword ferns, and Oregon grape. A short side trail
leads left to a lookout hill, with views of the Elwha,
the Highs Creek Valley, and Lake Mills. The trail levels
(more or less) beside large moss-covered rock formations
and again enters the forest. Crossing a ridge, the trail
ends with a view of Griff Creek Valley, Unicorn Peak (to
the left at 5,100 feet), and Griff Peak (5,120 feet).
Krause Bottom Trail is taken from
its trailhead at the end of Whiskey Bend Road which leads
south from the Elwha Campground. The trail follows a
ridge above the Elwha River. The full trail involves a
round-trip of four miles. A spur trail (at 1.5 miles)
leads to Krause Bottom, and down to the river. The main
trail continues for another half-mile to Humes Ranch, an
old cabin built by homesteaders.
Madison Falls Trail This short trail
(0.2 mile, round-trip) is wheelchair-accessible. It
follows Madison Creek after passing through a meadow and
forested area, running through a narrow cleft to the
falls, which cascade from a 100-foot-high cliff.
Olympic Hot Springs Trail This is a
short path leading from the west side of the parking
area, at the end of Boulder Creek Road, to the seven hot
pools. The round trip is one mile long.