Off the Beaten Path On the Olympic Peninsula

Imag­ine pri­mal, windswept Pacif­ic coast­lines, hot springs steam­ing between old-growth ever­greens, remote peaks hid­den deep in the for­est, draped with ancient glac­i­ers. The Olympic Nation­al Park, locat­ed in the north­west cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton state, cov­ers almost a mil­lion square acres. 95% of that area, des­ig­nat­ed as the Olympic Wilder­ness, is undis­turbed by roads or build­ings. So while the park receives three mil­lion guests annu­al­ly, most of those vis­i­tors only see a tiny frac­tion of the park’s unique envi­ron­ment. And the best part? These vast stretch­es of untouched wilder­ness are only three hours by car from the city of Seattle.

The park fea­tures four dis­tinct envi­ron­ments: pacif­ic coast­line, tem­per­ate rain­for­est, alpine tun­dra, and dri­er forests cre­at­ed by the rain shad­ow of the Olympic Moun­tains. With 75 miles of wilder­ness coast­line, 490 off­shore islands and sea stacks, and 18 feet of rain each year, the Olympic Nation­al Park is con­sis­tent­ly described as one of the most awe-inspir­ing parks in the Unit­ed States. If you’re new to the park—or just want an excuse to explore off the beat­en path—check out these highlights.

Olympic National Park | ©istockphoto/antonyspencer

If you want sand between your toes:
Head toward the Olympic Wilder­ness Coast. The 73 miles of sand and head­land are the longest stretch of unde­vel­oped coast­line in the Unit­ed States out­side of Alas­ka, and hik­ers can walk for miles along the rugged, sandy shore. Some routes require a shim­my over the occa­sion­al head­land, but you’ll be reward­ed with col­or­ful tide­pools of starfish and anemones, breath­tak­ing views, and the park’s per­mis­sion to set up camp wher­ev­er you can find a spot above the high-tide line. Hikes can be scaled up or down depend­ing on each party’s abil­i­ty and avail­able time, but the north­ern­most 15 miles of wilder­ness between Shi Shi Beach and Cape Ala­va are world-renowned—just be sure to watch the tides.

Hurricane Ridge | ©istockphoto/am Camp

If you want to see wildflowers:
Vis­it the Hur­ri­cane Ridge, which is near­ly a mile high. Start at the Hur­ri­cane Ridge Visitor’s Cen­ter, where infor­ma­tion­al exhibits, an ori­en­ta­tion movie, and restrooms are avail­able year-round, then ask the rangers to point you toward the best views. In the sum­mer months look for sub-alpine flow­ers like lupine, avalanche lilies, and Indi­an Paint­brush, and con­sid­er a hike to Hur­ri­cane Hill for a breath­tak­ing panoram­ic view of the Straights of Juan de Fuca. For more soli­tude, climb the Mount Ange­les trail to Sun­rise Ridge—and keep an eye out for marmots!

Hoh Rainforest | ©istockphoto/Stanislav_Moroz

If you want to go climbing:
Check out Mount Olym­pus, the high­est peak in the park. At 7,980 ft, it’s one of the most heav­i­ly glaciat­ed peaks out­side of the Cas­cade Range—but climbers have to work hard to earn the sum­mit. The mas­sif is posi­tioned in the heart of the Olympic Moun­tain Range, guard­ed by a 17½-mile hike from the trail­head. The approach, which takes most par­ties two days, leads climbers through the lush Hoh Rain­for­est to a camp at Glac­i­er Mead­ows at the toe of the Blue Glac­i­er. The sum­mit day involves glac­i­er moun­taineer­ing, snow climb­ing, and a short pitch of rock on the sum­mit block. Tena­cious climbers are reward­ed by spec­tac­u­lar 360-degree views of the park and the Pacif­ic Ocean. As the Eng­lish nav­i­ga­tor John Mear­es wrote, “If that not be the home where dwells the gods, it cer­tain­ly is beau­ti­ful enough to be, and I there­fore will call it Mount Olympus.”