A Look at Washington State’s Three National Parks

Author’s Note: This is part III in a three-part series. Read more on my account of Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park.

Having lived in Seattle my whole life, I often reflect on what makes this place so special and why I haven’t ventured away. If I had to sum it up in two words, I would say: “The Mountains.” Seattle is bordered by two mountain ranges – the Cascades to the east, and the Olympics to the west – and off in the distance to the south, we are anchored by the sublime Mount Rainier. All these mountains, in addition to their surrounding wilderness, make up the three unique national Parks in Washington State: Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park.


Part III: Olympic National Park

One of my favorite things about living in Seattle is how close we are to Puget Sound. And growing up in West Seattle near the water gave me an especially strong tie to the local parks and beaches that line the west side of the area. It was at these places that I would often find myself mesmerized by the beautiful nature around me, feeling small compared to the vast expanse of water, the tall trees, and perhaps most notably, the towering Olympic Mountains. It’s almost hard to put in words, but these mountains have been a part of my life since I was a young girl and have always held a special place in my heart. From watching sunsets with friends to reflecting on them during hard times, the silhouettes of these peaks have nearly etched themselves into my mind. And the funny thing is, even though I have spent over 20 years looking at these mountains, I had yet to actually go explore them! As it was, heading out for a hike in Olympic National Park seemed like the perfect way to end my summer adventure of visiting each national park in Washington State. Mom and Dad were more than excited to join on this last hoorah. Who better to bring than the two amazing people who raised me in such a great place?

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Olympic National Park Brittany Carchano


History of Olympic National Park:

Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula are some of the best places to experience quintessential Pacific Northwest nature. The park covers almost one million acres and encompasses multiple unique ecosystems. From mountains to rainforests to rugged coastline, you won’t be short of breathtaking views and experiences. And an extensive amount of wildlife calls this place home, including bears, eagles, whales, mountain goats, elk, and more plus species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world such as the Olympic marmot and Olympic torrent salamander.

Luckily for both locals and visitors, this extraordinary land has been formally recognized as such for over 100 years. Beginning in 1909, the area was established as a national monument. About 30 years later it was designated as a national park, and in the late 1900s became an International Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site. Today, over 3 million people visit the park each year to take in its marvels.

Pro Tip: Plan a multi-day trip to the Olympic Peninsula to ensure enough time to explore each of the unique habitats! Quaint and charming towns nearby offer the perfect home base after a long day’s adventure. View the “Local Towns to Stay in” section below for a brief overview of the local towns recommended for travelers.


Exploring Olympic National Park:

When planning our trip to the Olympics, we knew we wanted to do more than just a day trip in order to experience a couple different areas of the park. My grandmother lives in Sequim, WA—a small town located less than an hour away from the Hurricane Ridge entrance to the park—so it was the perfect opportunity to stay with her while we were there and enjoy the local shops and restaurants in town as well. On day one we planned to stop at Lake Crescent followed by a short hike to Marymere Falls, and on day two we planned to stop at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center followed by our big hike up Klahhane Ridge.

Marymere Falls

Our hike to Marymere Falls first began with a stop at Lake Crescent Lodge, a historic accommodation built in 1915 surrounded by charming cottage-like guest rooms. We were only there for a few minutes, but it was enough time to admire the bright sunroom and cozy lobby that is decorated with antiques and a large taxidermy elk head. This is an ideal location to take in the sights of Lake Crescent where visitors can swim, boat, and picnic. There are also several hiking trails around Lake Crescent which was the main reason for our own visit.

Fun Fact: A large landside that happened nearly 7,000 years ago isolated Lake Sutherland from Lake Crescent which caused two distinct trout populations to form within each lake: the Crescenti and Beardslee trout.

Lake Crescent Brittany Carchano

Lake Crescent Lodge Brittany Carchano

Marymere Falls Brittany Carchano

What primarily drew us to Marymere Falls was the opportunity to walk through the lush and green forest leading up to the falls. Throughout the hike, but mainly in the beginning, you are surrounded by dense, moss-covered vegetation and towering trees which left us in awe and curious about how long those trees must have been there. Though the hike is short, under 2 miles long, it’s a great trail to get a taste of the Olympic Peninsula with the reward of a beautiful waterfall at the end that rises 90 ft. above the ground. This hike was just what we needed to warm up our legs and spark our excitement for our adventure the following day.

Pro Tip: You don’t need to pay the $30 park fee to visit Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent, but you will need it for Klahhane Ridge.

Trail to Marymere Falls Brittany Carchano

Klahhane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center Brittany Carchano

We saved our more intensive hike for the second day of our trip. Our original thought was to hike Hurricane Hill, a very popular trail in the area, but due to construction we had to choose a different hike. We decided to go with Klahhane Ridge trail, a 7.2 mile roundtrip hike which, on a clear day, boasts views of the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Vancouver Island to the north, and the interior of the Olympics to the south. Before we hit the ground running, we first checked out the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to learn a little about the area. This is also a beneficial place to stop before a hike to double check trail conditions and speak with park rangers about the various hikes and wildlife you may encounter. Beyond gaining insight on the trails, the Visitor Center also offers a small cafeteria, gift shop, and stunning panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains.

The trailhead for Klahhane Ridge is a short drive east in the parking lot of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, so it was easy to get from one to the other. Our hike began with a very steep incline, a few other hikers, as well as a couple of deer and a marmot. With only being a few paces in, I felt like we were off to a great start! At the first viewpoint, we saw a plaque that mapped out the various peaks directly in front of us and on one of the mountains was an indicator that said “Klahhane Ridge”. At that moment, it was hard to believe we would be traveling that far and that high, but I was excited for the adventure.

Klahhane Ridge Trail Brittany Carchano

Most of the time when I think about hiking in the mountains, I picture a trail that goes up to a beautiful view and then goes down. Simple, and to the point. This trail was far from that typical equation. With a series of ups and downs, pockets of trees, narrow paths on exposed faces, meadows, and switchbacks, we were not bored to say the least. It was fun and daunting all at the same time to see the skinny trail winding across the meadows and mountain ahead of us and imagining what type of terrain we had to cross to get there. One thing that stood out to me as being much different than our hike at Mount Rainier and in the North Cascades, is how exposed and bare the trail was in some sections. Unlike the North Cascades which was also very exposed, this felt different due to the lack of rocks, flowers, and trees surrounding the path. The path was also often very narrow with a steep drop to one side which made passing other hikers quite the feat. Overall, it was fun and interesting to trek through such a diverse landscape with varying grades of incline and difficulty.

One of the many narrow sections of the Klahhane Ridge trail Brittany Carchano

Looking back at the ground we had covered so far Brittany Carchano

The last section of the trail before reaching the ridge is a set of steep switchbacks on a very narrow pathway lined with wildflowers. At this point our legs and lungs were getting the best of us so we took our time and rested at each turn of the trail (for reference, this last mile of switchbacks climbs 800 ft. to the ridge). On the very last leg up we could see the top of the ridge cresting and were overwhelmed with joy to have the switchbacks behind us and lunch in our immediate future. As we reached the top, we had a few minutes of crystal clear views out to the Strait of Juan De Fuca before a thick layer of fog socked us in, but we were grateful to be at the top nonetheless and shared our lunch spot with a few bold and energetic chipmunks.

Heading up the switchbacks on the last section of the trail Brittany Carchano

Home stretch! Brittany Carchano

One of our fearless chipmunk friends Brittany Carchano

Remembering all of the ups and downs on the way up to the ridge, we knew we had our work cut out for us on the way back but were feeling rested and rejuvenated. We packed up our backpacks, said goodbye to the chipmunks, and headed back down—squeezing by other hikers on the thin trail and providing words of encouragement to those looking worried they would never reach the top as we had just recently felt as well. Once at the bottom we rubbed our tired and sore muscles before heading back to the Visitor’s Center to reward ourselves with an ice cream from the cafeteria, peruse the giftshop, and drink in the views on last time.

Some might think that an ice cream cone is sufficient reward for a hike, but after that many miles we had really worked up an appetite. Make sure to stop by Frugals in Port Angeles for a tasty burger and milkshake—you won’t be disappointed!

Pro Tip: We started our hike around 10:30am, reached the ridge by 12:45pm and were back to our car by 3:15pm. We took our time and paused for breaks and photos along the way so this hike can be done in less time depending on your pace! If you are really ambitious, we did see a few people running it as well.


Additional Photos from our hike on the Klahhane Ridge Trail, Marymere Falls, and Lake Crescent:


Other Things to Do in the Area:

If you’re looking to visit Olympic National Park, but don’t want to trek up the mountain, there are wonderful options to explore in different ways. Check out tidepools on the coast at Kalaloch Beach or Ruby Beach; go on a short nature walk in the Hoh Rain Forest; or soak in the mineral pools at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.


Directions & Guided Tours:

Headed to Marymere Falls from Seattle by car? Check out the driving directions below:

  • Take Madison St and Alaskan Way toSeattle – Bainbridge Ferry
  • Take the Seattle – Bainbridge Ferry to Bainbridge Island
  • Continue straight onto Ferry Dock
  • Continue onto WA-305 N/Olympic Dr SE
  • Continue to follow WA-305 N
  • Turn right to merge onto WA-3 N toward Olympic Peninsula
  • Merge onto WA-3 N
  • Turn left onto WA-104 W
  • Keep right at the fork, follow signs for US-101 N and merge onto US-101 N
  • Keep left to continue on US-101 W
  • Turn right onto E Front St
  • Turn left onto N Race St
  • Continue straight onto S Race St
  • Turn right onto E Lauridsen Blvd
  • Turn left onto US-101 W/E Lauridsen Blvd
  • Continue to follow US-101 W
  • Turn right onto Lake Crescent Rd
  • Turn right at the 1st cross street to stay on Lake Crescent Rd
  • Destination will be on the right

 

Headed to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and Klahhane Ridge from Seattle by car? Check out the driving directions below:

  • Take Madison St and Alaskan Way toSeattle – Bainbridge Ferry
  • Take the Seattle – Bainbridge Ferry to Bainbridge Island
  • Continue straight onto Ferry Dock
  • Continue onto WA-305 N/Olympic Dr SE
  • Continue to follow WA-305 N
  • Turn right to merge onto WA-3 N toward Olympic Peninsula
  • Merge onto WA-3 N
  • Turn left onto WA-104 W
  • Keep right at the fork, follow signs for US-101 N and merge onto US-101 N
  • Keep left to continue on US-101 W
  • Turn right onto E Front St
  • Turn left onto N Race St
  • Continue straight onto S Race St
  • Continue onto Mt Angeles Rd
  • Slight right onto Hurricane Ridge Rd
  • Destination will be on the left

Pro Tip: An alternate route that does not require a ferry ride is also an option but adding a ride on a Washington State Ferry is another fantastic way to experience the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

 

Looking for a more guided experience, or shuttle to the park? Visit the resources below:

  • Evergreen Escapes
  • Experience Olympic
  • Wildand Trekking

 


Local Towns to Stay in or Add to Your Visit:

Port Angeles

Located in the center of the Olympic Discovery Trail, Port Angeles is considered the gateway city of Olympic National Park. Outside of recreational activities, visitors will find a farmers market open every Saturday and multiple wineries. For those looking to add in a day trip, Victoria, BC is only a stone’s throw across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Port Townsend

If you’re into history and quaint village-by-the-sea vibes, Port Townsend is a great place to stay. Known best as a Victorian seaport with many Victorian architectural homes and structures still intact, Port Townsend also has deep Native American roots and was home to the S’Klallam tribe centuries earlier.

Sequim

Surrounded by mountains, farmland, and the Salish Sea, Sequim boasts a charming downtown, active arts community, and a variety of culinary options making it a perfect stop for outdoor enthusiasts. Make sure to visit in mid-July for the annual Sequim Lavender Festival!

The post The Mountains Are Calling:
Olympic National Park
appeared first on Visit Seattle.