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. On March 23rd, 2019, Sol Duc Hot Springs Road reopened to vehicles, giving every access to this incredible region. While many trails still have snow, you can once again hike the falls and explore this pretty corner of Olympic National Park.
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.
You might know Sol Duc by a different spelling of the name, but that is easily explained. Before 1992, the accepted spelling for the region was “Soleduck”. However, in that year, the State of Washington’s Board on Geographic Names officially changed the spelling to “Sol Duc” which is the Quileute name meaning “sparkling waters.” The waters of the Sol Duc are now what brings nature lovers from around the world to this incredible destination. Once the snow starts melting in the mountains, the rivers and streams will be raging, transforming the triple falls of the Sol Duc into a raging torrent of water.
Sol Duc is one of the most scenic destinations in the PNW’s most-visited National Park. Far from big cities and busy roads, this remote area is one of the best representatives of beauty on the Olympic Peninsula. Just south of the well-known Lake Crescent area, Sol Duc has played an important part in tourism around the region for over a century. What is now a small resort was once the crown jewel of tourism in the Pacific Northwest. Along a gorgeous river, complete with one of the more memorable waterfalls in the country, Sol Duc should be your next destination stop when touring the Olympic Peninsula.
Sol Duc wasn’t always a tourism hot spot. Before the resorts, before the creation of the Olympic National Park, Sol Duc was just another spot where a settler laid claim to the land. Ignoring the local Quileute tribe who had called the region home for millennia, a man named Theodore Moritz filled out paperwork with the State of Washington and built a cabin near the site of the current lodge, along the 78-mile long Sol Duc River. It was the 1880s, and times were tough, so soon after the cabin was built, Mr. Moritz passed away and big city entrepreneurs bought his land.
By 1910, a road had been built to the area and by 1912, a four story, 165-room hotel had been built. In 1914, despite the start of World War I, over 10,000 people came from all over the world to take a dip in the 130 degree waters, far below the tops of the massive temperate rainforest canopy. Tourists would bathe and drink the waters, hoping that the chemical compound would cure what ailed them. However, the waters didn’t keep Theodore Moritz alive, so it probably didn’t work for them either.
The water wasn’t the only luxury for those visiting the Sol Duc though. As guests arrived in Port Angeles from their cruise ships, they were taken to their fully furnished rooms via private car. Their rooms were amazing, especially since it was the 1910’s. With hot and cold water, electricity and phones inside the rooms, as well as golfing, tennis and a theater outside, it was one of the most lavish resorts in America.
Like all things that seem too good to be true, this all came to an end. On May 26th, 1916, after four years of excess and amazingness on the Olympic Peninsula, a single spark started a fire, burning down the entire complex in a matter of hours. Rumor has it that the electric organ, hooked up to the PA system, played Beethoven’s “Funeral March” over and over until the fire consumed the speakers. A small resort was built on the same spot in 1920 and ran without any of the past fanfare well into the 1970’s, until it had to be remodeled to fix a problem with the access to the Hot Springs. Today, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has been remodeled and is quite an amazing, romantic and scenic place to rest your head after a long day of hiking, soaking in hot springs and enjoying the Olympic Peninsula.
For those looking for a more natural experience than soaking in hot springs, the hiking in the Sol Duc region is some of the most well known in Olympic National Park. Those willing to hike into the wilderness have a chance to see deer, elk, mountain goats and bears near high alpine lakes, mountains, box canyons and one of the most iconic and beautiful waterfalls in the National Park system. With gorgeous hikes and easy access to lodging, food, and a hot springs resort, it is little wonder why this region of Olympic National Park is so popular year round.
There are numerous hikes around the Sol Duc area, but the most scenic and famous hike is the Sol Duc Falls Trail. At less than a mile to the waterfall, this well-maintained, family-friendly trail is sure to be a favorite for explorers of all ages and abilities. For beginning hikers, the trail opens up a wonderland of nature, transporting one to a land of fairy tales. For advanced hikers, this trail is the perfect start to get deeper into one of the more gorgeous regions of Olympic National Park, the 7 Lakes Basin. The trail weaves through a magical feeling forest on the way to the falls, crossing over small creeks that cascade down the hillside over moss-covered rocks and logs. Contrasted off of the browns of the dirt and trees and the blue of the water, the entire scene is nearly impossible to describe or capture on a camera. Cross the log bridges and take in the awe of the Sol Duc Falls trail.
If you catch Sol Duc Falls at the right light, it can be truly brilliant. When you arrive, stand upstream from the falls, and watch the sunlight dance and play as the mist rises from the three-tiered natural wonder. With beams of light shining directly on the falling water, secrets of the universe seem to unlock and a better connection with nature is possible. With the sun slowly lowering along the trees behind you, watching Sol Duc Falls during the late hours of the day is something everyone should do. As the sun drops toward the Pacific, stand on the wooden bridge and watch the light hit the mist rising from the falls. As the light and mist interact, rainbows will start appearing over the falls, making this already beautiful and magical place somehow even more spectacular. Bring a loved one and take in this view wrapped in each other’s arms.
This is one of the most scenic, family-friendly trails in Olympic National Park. With multiple small falls making up one large waterfall flowing into a gorgeous fern banked gorge, you might just feel like you have traveled back in time. The Sol Duc region is now once again open, hoping you stop by and reconnect with it’s sparkling waters.
Written by a local, with the aim of making everyone feel like a local, Doug Scott’s Olympic National Park Area Guidebook is sure to give you the best trip possible around Olympic!