Olympic National Park is the 13th largest national park in the country which made my task of trying to hit the most notable locations in one day a mighty, mighty challenge.
But, just like life in general, I took it head on. Here goes day six!
- Hurricane Ridge
- Crescent Lake (you drive right by it so I figured I’d stop)
- Sol Duc Falls
- Hoh Rain Forest
- Second Beach (for sunset)
According the REI National Parks App (have you downloaded it yet?), I missed probably half of the “Gems” but they are either spread throughout the Washington coast or in the back country where most people can’t get to anyways. Regardless, these are the spots I would recommend visiting and are very accessible to most able-bodied adults and kids.
I was out of the Toad Lily hostel by 8am (maybe even earlier…I’m not sure the coffee hadn’t hit yet and I was still half asleep). The drive from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge is about an hour and it’s the easiest drive you can make. One way up. One way down.
You’ll hit the visitor center first. There’s not a ton to see in it but I love these places so I stopped to check it out. After the quick pitstop, I hopped back in my cozy rental car and kept driving for about a half-mile before reaching the parking lot that will take you on the Hurricane Hill via Hurricane Ridge trail.
This 3.2 mile round trip hike is one of the most popular in the park, so get there early or late to beat the crowds. The trail slowly meanders upward for a total elevation gain of 740 feet. Not too shabby for a early morning excursion.
And the views at the top…WOW!
For a place called Hurricane Ridge, it was surprisingly not windy which was a pleasant surprise.
On the way down, I came across a deer getting its daily dose of Vitamin D. Very majestic.
With Hurricane Ridge checked off, I headed west towards Crescent Lake and Sol Duc Falls which is about an 80 minute drive depending on road closures/construction.
There’s not much to say here other than it’s a nice lake that I wish I had had time to jump into. And the road trip continues!
Sol Duc Falls
If you haven’t noticed yet, the only reason I could accomplish all these things are because they are all pretty damn easy hikes. Sol Duc Falls is less than a mile from the parking lot, but be warned, it fills up fast, and I ended up parking on the side of the road, making this close to a two-mile round trip walk.
I ended up having lunch here. I couldn’t think of a better spot amongst the trees, flowing river, and in the shade. I hopped a fence (sorry NPS) and went down by the water for a relaxing break from the craziness.
After filling up and recharging the internal batteries, I was back on the road for the longest part of the drive (not including the return trip at the end). It’s slightly under two hours from Sol Duc Falls to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, so find a good podcast and settle in.
Hoh Rain Forest
My parents had talked this place up to the heavens before I left Arizona. Both mom and dad went here in the 80’s on their bike trip throughout the PNW and coming from the midwest, there aren’t forests like this.
For me, though, I had already been to Sequoia National Park which sort of skewed my reaction. It’s still a very nice place to visit, but it aint Sequioa. For those looking to get wet, there’s a river nearby, giving you something more to do than just hike.
By the time I arrived at the Hoh Rain Forest, it was nearing 5pm which meant the Visitor Center was closed. But no worries, I knew where I was going.
The Hoh River Trail.
This is a flat hike that doesn’t seem to end as you can see it goes for over 17 miles (one day I’d love to backpack this to the top of Mt. Olympus). I went about two miles in and and then turned around, cognizant of my goal to watch the sunset on the beach, as the sun slowly lowered from its perch above.
There were very few people on the trail which made for a perfect, uninterrupted walk in this lush green forest. When you’ve been busting your butt all day getting from place to place, a quiet walk is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Once I was back at the car, I realized that, ‘woah, the drive to second beach was longer than I thought!’ From Hoh to the beach was an hour. I..err..I did it in a slightly faster time, until I caught up to a ranger/police car that was in front of me (sorry mom).
This is where the fun truly begins.
The sun was beginning it’s final descent when I skidded into the parking lot. I tossed on my running shoes, grabbed the camera, and GoPro+tripod and sprinted – yes, sprinted approximately a mile through a quickly darkening forest to the beach.
Huffing and puffing, I passed startled families, ill-prepared for a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound man rounding corners with catlike agility (humble brag, lol).
When I finally arrived six to seven minutes later, I had technically missed sunset but the views were still amazing and simply being on the beach, something I hadn’t planned on doing when the trip began, was all I could ask for.
As the sun set on the Pacific Ocean, it also set on my day exploring Olympic National Park. It was one of the most exciting and invigorating days I’ve had, spanning from the mountain tops of Hurricane Ridge, to the towering trees of the Hoh Rain Forest, and ending on the sandy beach with waves lapping behind me. I honestly couldn’t believe I fit everything in.
As I walked back through the dark forest alone (the one thing I forgot to grab was a flashlight), I recognized how few people will ever get to experience what I did – let alone in one day.
In all, I traveled 263 miles that day to see just a fraction of the sights and sounds Olympic has to offer. Andt it was well worth it. Now, if you’re crazy like me, you can follow in my footsteps.
All you need is the love of nature to keep you going.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.