There are a number of hikes within the Olympic national park, from hefty trails that shoot right up from Port Angeles, to ones which take on the relatively tame 2,342m Mt Olympus. However, things often change and in fact in the Pacific North West things change regularly. In almost clockwork fashion snow drops on the park throughout most of winter, roads close, businesses board themselves up until spring and the park operates a skeleton service of road closures.
The premier hike in both summer and winter is across the famous hurricane ridge. Let me explain, in the US roads and locations are often named to represent something. In this instance Hurricane ridge represents two things; firstly it is a ridge, secondly it gets lashed with winds up to 120mph. Ergo – Hurricane ridge. Original I know.
Start: Hurricane ridge visitor centre
End: Hurricane ridge visitor centre
Distance: 4 miles round trip
We did the hike in winter with six foot of nicely compressed snow on the ground. In summer you can actually drive past the visitor centre to a designated car park, in winter this road is closed so you have to start at the visitor centre.
Regarding the road from Port Angeles, check whether this is open HERE. Generally it is open Friday thru Sunday throughout winter. Snow chains are a requirement, and you will get asked for them at the entrance. Your vehicle will not be checked so technically you don’t actually need to have any, but when businesses within Port Angeles will happily let you return chains you haven’t used for a full refund there is no reason to go ill prepared. We bought ours from Walmart in East Port Angeles for $75 inclusive of tax. Thankfully we didn’t need them so returned them later in the day for a full refund.
Rocking up at Hurricane ridge I felt unprepared, folks skied past us and everyone but us seemed to have snow shoes as a minimum. You can rent these from the visitor centre at about $22 for half a day. Personally I thought that was an absolute scam so we went in the boots we were wearing.
Unless you start the hike early or during heavy snow fall you cannot miss the route. It is nicely compacted snow etched with snow shoe evidence and ski tracks. In boots I have to say, we found it quite effortless and there was no point where I thought we would’ve benefited from snow shoes.
The hike itself, I am told is stunning. Set to a back drop of the Olympic mountains interrupted only by deep green pine trees which serve to offer up glimpse of beauty whilst adding an Alpine flavour. I say that ‘I am told’, because on the day of our hike it was completely over cast and foggy. Occasionally the clouds would thin out and show a minute long sneak preview of what we were missing and it really did gorgeous. Unfortunately that’s all we were given, and the hike though enjoyable was done in a bubble of cloud as we knew full well the beauty that was hidden from view.
Overall I would say this is a hike that even the smallest of legs can enjoy, the kids made a snowman en route, threw snowballs and slid on their bums. Refraining from snow shoe use was initially a cost saving exercise but ultimately turned into a portal of fun. Those in snow shoes soldiered on with determination and grit whilst we kind of fell around, relaxed and took our time to enjoy our time in the snow and in what was supposedly beautiful surroundings. I have to say though, we didn’t get the views but we certainly had the magic.