Some summits don’t need to be extreme to be breathtaking. While many of the world’s most stunning peaks stand alone, easily reaching heights of well over 12,000 feet above sea level, the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula are comparatively low-key and mellow. One of the classic mountains to climb, offering unrivaled views of the Puget Sound, Salish Sea and the Olympic Interior is the ever-popular, always beautiful, Mount Townsend.
Often, visitors who explore our National Parks and other public lands are hurried and rushed. The sheer size and scale of the gorgeous stretches of wilderness are too much to see in a day, weekend or even a week. That is why, whenever I have an extra afternoon, I try to find a peak to summit or a trail that leads to a lesser known viewpoint. One of those places in Olympic National Park and Forest is the rugged, wild and wonderful summit of Colonel Bob peak, high above the Quinault Rainforest.
There are places on America’s public lands that are often overlooked, skipped over for the more popular and well-known destinations. Each year, as millions explore the must-see spots around our National Parks, a handful of adventurers find themselves satiating their wanderlust on trails that are off the beaten path. For me, one of those favorite, underrated regions is the Bogachiel Rainforest region of the Olympic Peninsula. Here, where dense forests meet stunning river scenes, the wildness of the Olympics is impossible to ignore. While many overlooked areas are far from cities or roads, the Bogachiel is right off of Highway 101 by Forks, making it a perfect “secret” spot to explore for all who pass through the region.
The first hint of warm weather after the rainy season is enough to drive someone mad with glee. After a long winter, full of wind and rain and what always feels like an oppressing gray cloud both in the sky and in the mind, the first sunny day of spring stirs up long lost emotions. Maybe it is the first hit of Vitamin D, or maybe it is the anticipation of what is to come, but that first sunny day after a long winter has me grinning from ear to ear.
I have said it before and know I will say it again- America’s Public Lands are multi-sensory experiences.
As our eyes gaze out into the wilderness, our noses smell the scents of the terrain, while our mouths taste the pure, clean air. We wander through trails, touching the ground with our feet and occasionally reaching out to feel the bark of an ancient tree. While all of these are amazing experiences, the sounds found on our public lands are the things that I feel are most underrated and under-appreciated.
The majority of visitors to National Parks enter it the same way. Passing through a guard station, we pay our entry fee or show our America the Beautiful Pass and then drive into the beautiful landscapes that rekindle our wanderlust. In Yellowstone, you can drive under the Roosevelt Arch when entering from the north entrance, while other parks, like Mount Rainier, have their own memorable signage. While I love entering parks in the car, there is something incredible about entering into a park by foot, especially on a trail that is often overlooked. In my backyard of the Olympic Peninsula, there are dozens of entry points like this into Olympic National Park. Wild, rugged and removed from the masses, they the perfect entry point for those seeking true wilderness.
We hike in wilderness to experience the most pure form of nature, hoping untouched lands still exist. We search for the wildest square miles on the continent, longing to get away from the metropolitans and pavement that brings stress and worry. When we find it, we become addicted, jonesing for the next fix of pure oxygen. We explore rugged ridges, wild coastlines and forests that feel like they are as old as human civilization. We return to a timeless wonderland for a day or a week, reconnecting with the history of Earth with each step. In wilderness, we never expect to see signs of civilization.
I was somewhere near Roaring Winds when the wanderlust began to set in. I remember mumbling something like “this place is flippin fantastic,” but not loud enough for anyone to hear. As a sea of ridges and snowcapped peaks rippled with the faintest wisps of smoke as far as the eye could see, I knew that this would be an adventure that would stick with me for a long time. As my eyes darted out toward Mount Olympus, and then back to the Salish Sea, I sat next to an old wooden sign, slightly askew, like me.
I am not a tall person. Not super short, either, but almost all of my friends are taller than me. It isn’t uncommon for me to feel like everything around me is huge. Yet, even standing next to the tallest of people doesn’t make me feel as small as when I am dwarfed by the awesome grandeur of wilderness. Climbing a peak to see barely finite wilderness expanding as far as the horizon makes me feel like an ant in a State Park and I love that feeling. I long for the days of being completely insignificant in the middle of pure wilderness and recall the days when I was with happiness. One such memory was my first trip up to Glady’s Divide in Olympic National Park. The link is to an old post with old books. Get your new Olympic Guidebook here.
We all know the Olympic National Park is pretty much the greatest park to hike. With beaches on the wild Pacific Coast, thousands of rocky, high-alpine ridges that lead amazing panoramic views, and rainforests as green and dense as a lobotomized Kermit the Frog, Olympic National Park is home to some of the greatest trails in the country. Over 611 miles of trails weave through the various eco-systems of Olympic National Park, but one trail encompasses nearly all of them. Made even better by the brilliant colors of autumn, the trek up to Upper Royal Basin will leave you blown away by beauty.
Fall in Olympic National Park is full of beauty and wonder unlike anywhere else in the world. The moment snow dusts the towering, craggy peaks of the Olympic Mountains, the rainforest river valleys below become alive. When the snow hits the mountains, rain in the lower elevations triggers something in the plants and animals. Almost overnight, the forest floor erupts in mush- rooms, the leaves on the huge maples in the Hoh and Quinault start to turn color, slowly falling on the elk majestically bugling away the morning and evening hours. Salmon, returning to their spawning grounds after years at sea swim upstream, jump over logjams and rocky cascades to the arriving to fulfill their life mission in the famous waters of the Hoh, Quinault, Sol Duc and Elwha Rivers.
Few hikes perfectly encapsulate the spirit and feel of a region like Gladys Divide does for the Staircase region of Olympic National Park. Full of stunning views, breathtaking lakes, wilderness adventure and relative solitude in the midst of unrivaled natural beauty, the long trek to Gladys Divide is one of those trails you’ll yearn to hike, year after year.
A rugged peak exists in the Southeast corner of the Olympic National Park where few hikers venture to go. The top is ragged in places, with exposed rocks teetering precariously at the top of a 3,000ft summit, giving unrivaled views of one of America’s most wonderful wilderness regions. Rarely visited, seeing only a handful of hikers each month, Olympic’s Cub Peak is a mountain you need to experience this summer. Considered to be the steepest hike, per mile, from a parking area in Olympic National Park, Cub Peak is one of our favorite destinations high above the Hood Canal.
In a simple and quick post to Olympic National Park’s Facebook page, the announcement we were all waiting for occurred on March 29th, 2017. It reads a follows: The Elwha (Olympic Hot Springs) Road is now OPEN to vehicle traffic, to just above the Glines Canyon Overlook. The Whiskey Bend Road is now OPEN all the way to the trailhead.
Closed during the snowy, winter months, the Sol Duc region of Olympic reopens during the spring months, allowing the masses to rediscover the beauty found along this majestic river. Highlighted by the stunning Sol Duc Falls and the Sol Duc Campground and Hot Springs Resort, this gorgeous section of Olympic National Park is one of the areas that deserves the national spotlight. Offering miles of hiking and backpacking through pristine forests, along sparkling water features and up to high alpine lakes, the opening of the Sol Duc region means that the gloriousness of snow free adventures in Olympic are just around the corner.
Tucked away in the forgotten corner of the Pacific Northwest, hours from what most consider civilization, 611 miles of hiking trails are ready to take you on an unforgettable journey into the most beautiful wilderness in the lower 48. Below dense fir and towering cedar trees, along wild and scenic rivers full of spawning salmon, out along the rugged and rocky coast or up on peaks only summited a handful of times, well beaten, unmaintained paths lead you to some of the most-scenic wilderness destinations in the world. Full of awe and wonder, every inch of Olympic National Park will rejuvenate your soul and replenish your desire to get outside and explore.
In March, April and the early parts of the month of May, the Washington Coast becomes a highway for 20,000+ Gray Whales migrating back to the cool waters of Alaska, with babies in tow. Swimming just 1/2 mile or less from the crashing waves on the rugged beaches of the Pacific Coast, the gray whales partake in not just an amazing migration, but also a chance for the millions who live with a few hours drive of the ocean to see these massive sea dwelling mammals.
Winter in our National Parks can give the most spectacular memories and experiences of any season. America’s seventh most-visited National Park, Olympic, is home to seven of the most unique winter experiences in the country. From skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing on snowy ridges, to walking along rainforest rivers full of salmon, and watching storms on the coast, Olympic has something for everyone. 611 miles of trails await you in this park that is 95% wilderness, making Olympic a perfect destination to get away from it all before and after the winter season.
The world is a hectic place, with the noise of uncertainty distracting us from our own needs. We are stressed as a society, running full speed in the rat race of life, hoping our hard work is rewarded with a lot of cheese. We are often overwhelmed by the sheer responsibility of “adulting,” finding solace in binge watching shows and a release by screaming our lungs out for our favorite sport’s team. We have pushed for the legalization of marijuana, while creating more and more craft breweries and distilleries, helping us escape into substances. Millennials drink more wine than any other generation, downing half of all wine consumed each year. Washingtonians have spent $637,295,296 in three years on marijuana. We long for distractions from our jobs and responsibilities, turning to anything we can to numb the monotony. It seems that we are dying for an escape from reality, hoping to find meaning somewhere, somehow.
These five day hikes are for the rugged, the hearty and the slightly insane.
Each of us has a hike that we consider to be the hardest day hike we have ever attempted. These hikes have caused pain and agony, both physically and mentally. Tucked in the deepest recesses of our minds, we compare each and every trail we come across to the last treacherous trek we undertook. You always remember the trail that last kicked your ass and left you feeling exhausted, even if while you were hiking it, you cursed between panting breaths. For some of us, these often brutal day hikes become addicting, border lining a near masochistic relationship with Mother Nature. We look for trails that challenge our minds and bodies, pushing us out of our comfort zone. The sore legs, the small cuts and bruises, the nettles burning your skin; it all goes away with the view from panoramic wonderlands.