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 holiday season.
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.
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.
The Olympic Peninsula is one of the last bastions of wilderness. Rugged and untamed, the forests, rivers and mountains surrounding Olympic National Park are some of the most impressive forests in the nation. Despite over a century of logging, the Olympic Peninsula’s wilderness areas have thrived, providing countless hiking, backpacking and fishing opportunities for visitors from around the world. Tucked away in the rainy, forgotten corner of the Pacific Northwest, the six wilderness areas are spread out around the region, each waiting to inspire your wanderlust. Whether you fall in love with the wilds of Olympic at Lake Constance (pictured above) or find yourself in the complete solitude near Wonder Mountain, Olympic is sure to inspire a love for natural beauty.
Toward the end of Spring, Doug and I explored one of Mt Rainier National Park’s many forgotten corners, the Westside Road. We hiked up to the Mt. Tahoma Suspension Bridge and from there, trekked along a portion of the Wonderland Trail to Emerald Ridge and back along the Puyallup River and Round Pass. In whole, it was just shy of a 20 mile day in balmy pre-Summer heat with glorious and surprising views of the mountain.
Summer is finally here and after a record rainfall over the past winter, Pacific Northwest residents are drying out and are getting ready for wilderness exploration. School is out, summer vacation is just getting started and families from all over the nation are flocking to the great state of Washington to experience the natural beauty of America’s greenest region. The start of the summer means a lot of things, from the return to hiking and camping to exploring our backyard National Parks and experiencing the serenity of nature. Our little corner of the world is blessed in endless beauty and the return of summer gives us a much needed connection to nature. Luckily, we have thousands of options, but no place in America is as saturated in beauty as the trails around Olympic National Park.
Mount Ellinor is quickly becoming one of the iconic day climbs in Washington State. Averaging over 25,000 hikers a year, the panoramic wonderland that is the summit is one etched in the midst of generations of hikers and climbers. High above Lake Cushman in Mason County, overlooking the majority of Western Washington, Mount Ellinor is one of Olympic National Forest’s most popular trails. While most know Mount Ellinor’s breaking views during the snow-free months, one of the most incredible experiences comes when you can stand atop this majestic peak in the winter, surrounded by mountain goats, snowy summits and the entire Pacific Northwest at your feet. We had though we had seen the mountain in ever possible way. That is, until we saw the following video.
In Olympic National Park, bridges serve many functions. They obviously help us cross rivers, keep out feet dry and get us from Point A to Point B, but they also do so much more. They act as gateways; serving as portals to wilderness and adventure over deep ravines and stunning box canyons. The bridges of Olympic National Park are as unique as the destinations they lead to, each with as much personality and beauty as the rivers themselves. Those of us who hike here often have our favorites and we all keep striving to find more and more of them, hoping to further being inspired to hike further and reach deeper into America’s favorite wilderness. For beginners and those visiting Olympic, the bridges act as catalysts, encouraging longer hikes and a deeper connection with the nature of the area.
Long before the giant yellow orb in the sky makes its triumphant return, residents around the Pacific Northwest start to buzz with sunny anticipation. On TV news stations around the region, anchors and meteorologists exchange flirtatious banter, hinting at something great looming on the horizon. I swear, Seattle TV news anchor Dennis Bounds once even winked seductively at the camera, his lip quivering before saying that ‘we’d get to see the seven day forecast after the break.’ The forecast brought smiles to our faces; numerous days of sun and warmth were coming, something the region hadn’t seen for half a year.
Everyone loves the LaPush region of the Olympic Peninsula. From amazing sea-stacks, salmon, whales and eagles, to some of the most beautiful sunsets on the planet; the remote, rugged beauty of the LaPush has been and will attract visitors for all of human existence. Most didn’t know LaPush even existed until the “Twilight Phenomenon”, but for those part of the Quileute community and residents of the Olympic Peninsula, LaPush has always been an incredible area. The Quileute made a living off of fishing and whaling along the coast in relative isolation until a little over a century ago. Now, the secret is out. Each year, tens of thousands visit Rialto, First, Second and Third Beaches, but few know that the area used to house scores of amazing cedar buildings, totems and was mostly isolated from outside influences until the 1860s.
As the gray covers the Pacific Northwest, negative attitudes about the weather become as commonplace as raindrops. When the clouds and dreariness return, a collective sigh is emitted, and pictures of the summer make #tbt that much more special. It seems like years ago that we were in swimsuits (hell, even in shorts) on the beaches or lakes, standing on top of mountains and drinking beer around campfires. We were cuddling in tents, tired after long days of exploring ever inch of of glaciated basins and tide pooled beaches. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were outside, falling in love, connecting with our friends, family and smiling in the wilderness. Then the gray returned.
Twenty miles south of the Canadian border and twenty miles east of Bellingham, there is a gathering of America’s flying mascot. Along the shores of North Fork of the Nooksack River, hundreds of bald eagles feast upon the schools of returning chum salmon. As the chum slowly start to decompose after arriving in freshwater and spawning, eagles from around the Pacific Northwest flock to the region in hopes for serious sustenance. Visible from the road, this amazing display of nature is the perfect weekend trip for residents of the Pacific Northwest.
“Every so often, I feel like a condensed version of a Jack London novel. I answer the call of the wild, but I can only get away for a weekend.”
Those of us lucky enough to live in the Puget Sound region know that are spoiled. Within a few hours drive, we can be sleeping at a volcano, relaxing on the wilderness coast, set up on majestic mountain or slumping deep in the rainforest. Often, I find myself needing to get away from it all, longing for a nature-filled oasis of wonder and beauty. While summertime camping trips tend to lead many of us to the beaches and mountains, the off season destinations are more often than not to the beautiful rainforests, with campgrounds ready for backpackers and car campers alike.
Residents of Washington State are spoiled with beauty and probably more spoiled than anywhere else in the nation. Washingtonians have access to the most incredible scenery in America, just 90 drive minutes away from nearly every major city. To the north, south, west and east, we have no shortage of jaw-dropping destinations. Even often over-looked Eastern Washington is full of amazing places to see, explore and discover. Yet, when most people think of Washington State, they think of the westside: the wet side, the green side… You know, the side with the mountains.
Raindrops are falling once again around Olympic National Park. The endlessly glorious summer ended long ago, and amazing warm, blue skies are a thing of the past. The days are growing short, like baby boomers, while the sun hides behind gray clouds, giving us a mere shadow of its potential. The rain is here for awhile, hopefully, and we should be rejoicing. Our life force, the blood of Cascadia, is water. The rain has arrived, and I want it to dump buckets and buckets on the region, giving us the shimmering green we all know and love. This is the Evergreen State. We live in the land of rainforests, wilderness coasts and snowy mountains dotted with glaciers. Without rain, we are nothing.
There are more classic hikes around Washington State than can be listed, though many authors try. It seems like early every road, from the gravel ones in the forest service to the paved ones in the National Parks, leads to a trail that is incredibly, jaw-dropping and beautiful. Around every bend, and in every corner of the state, the classic hikes in the Pacific Northwest are timeless. Many hikes lead to incredible views, and the hike to Summit Lake Trail above the Carbon River by Mount Rainier is one of the greatest.
There are hikes serious hikers are afraid to admit they enjoy.
Maybe it is ego, or maybe it is the expectation that each time they go out, they need to crush 15+ miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but talk with hikers tends to be about their most epic hike. Comparing where you have hiked helps establish a supposed hierarchy of experts, which I have no problem with. Imagine if you know someone and they are sharing with you these incredible peaks, difficult climbs and remote destinations you only daydreamed about visiting. Now imagine in the same breath you hear that last weekend, they only hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. You might raise an eyebrow.