Cover image: Cape Alvala on the Ozette Triangle hike. All images: Craig Romano
Washington’s Olympic National Park is one of America’s most visited and most diverse national parks. Established as a national monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt and elevated to national park status in 1938 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Olympic currently consists of more than 922,000 acres across Northwest Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
Olympic consists of one of the largest stretches of wilderness coastline on the Lower 48; temperate rainforests that receive in excess of 12 feet of annual rainfall; and a rugged range of glacier-covered mountains—one of the last ranges in the Continental US to be explored. It is in essence three parks in one.
Olympic is home to incredible biological diversity. The park harbors prolific elk herds, rafts of sea otters, whales, spotted owls, marmots and flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet. This special national park has been recognized as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. You’ve never seen so much living matter in your life until you’ve hiked up an Olympic rain forest valley.
I’ve explored most of the park’s trails and authored a best-selling guidebook describing them and the incredible experiences awaiting you. While I am enamored with the entire park and all its many facets, below are five of my absolute favorite adventures. Five hikes that capture the full essence of one of America’s greatest places. Five hikes that I never tire of---and that never cease to amaze me no matter how many times I have taken them. So lace up your Oboz and hit the trail. I hope to see you out there in the near future.
The views from this open windblown ridge are, indeed, grand. The array of wildflowers painting this lofty ridge are grand. And hiking this 7.4-mile trail, the highest in the Olympics is indeed a grand experience. From 5,200-foot Deer Park on Blue Mountain, set out on a cloud probing journey to 6,100-foot Obstruction Point.
Enjoy nonstop views of craggy glacier covered peaks—including Mount Olympus, the highest snowiest peak in the Olympics. Savor too views down into deep emerald valleys of unbroken old-growth forest. And at your feet are miles of wildflower-saturated meadows and alpine tundra.
This 19-mile loop to one of the most famed places within the Olympic Mountains has it all; sparkling alpine lakes, resplendent alpine meadows, sweeping mountain views, prolific wildlife, primeval forest, and inspiring waterfalls.
Mount Olympus from High Divide.
Hike along a mile-high wildflower-carpeted ridge separating the Sol Duc and Hoh River valleys.
Hoh River Valley
Look south at the glistening glaciers of Mount Olympus hovering over the verdant Hoh Rainforest. Look north into the glacially-scoured Seven Lakes Basin. There more than seven sparkling alpine lakes invite further explorations—and perhaps a night or two too camped by one.
Petroglyphs on Wedding Rocks on the Ozette Triangle route.
Named for the shape of this 9.4 mile coastal loop hike, the Ozette Triangle is full of wonders. Start at one of the largest lakes in the Olympics and walk boardwalks and through dense vegetation towards the coast. Pass a couple of prairies where tenacious homesteaders tried to eke a living.
Hiker on the beach, Ozette Triangle hike.
Then reach the beach! Walk along reefs, tide pools, and silver strands of spectacular sandy beaches. Scout for whales, eagles, harlequin ducks and oystercatchers; and admire ancient Native-American petroglyphs. Sea stacks, sea otters, sea lions, and ocean scenery for as far as you can see. Then return to your start through more salt-sprayed maritime forest. Spend the night or make it a good day hike.
Blue Glacier on Muont Olympus
Follow the Hoh River Trail for 17 glorious miles through one of Olympic National Park’s famous rainforests all the way to the glaciers of 7,969-foot Mount Olympus, highest mountain within the range. This is an epic journey along a wild glacier fed river passing through groves of colossal trees draped in mosses and lichens. Elk herds are legendary in this valley and there is no shortage of bears and other wild critters, too. Once the trail leaves the river, expect a challenging climb including an unnerving section via a long ladder dangling on a washed-out slope before arriving at the majestic meadows at the moraine of the Blue Glacier. Hike to the top of the moraine and savor one of the most spectacular vistas this side of Alaska. There are lots of great campsites along the way including ones in a meadow near an historic ranger station.
One of the wildest and most spectacular places within the Olympics, there are no easy or short ways to this wilderness lake within the heart of the park. The Lake LaCrosse basin represents the very essence of Olympic National Park. It’s an untrammeled place of striking natural beauty cradling sparkling pristine lakes amidst sprawling alpine meadows set against a backdrop of cloud-catching snow-clutching jagged summits. And solitude—come here in autumn and count more bears than humans. My preferred route is the 20 mile journey via the North Fork Skokomish River to the meadows of Home Sweet Home. From there it’s a steep drop to the Duckabush River—an invigorating ford—and a grueling climb before entering the gates of this earthly heaven.
Craig Romano is the author and co-author of sixteen Northwest hiking guidebooks including the bestselling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (Mountaineers Books), which includes detailed information on 125 of the very best trails on Washington’s Olympic and Long Beach Peninsulas. Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook.