Whiteout Wanderings at Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge

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All we knew is that we wanted to hike in snow. After a weekend of snow dumping down in the mountains, adventure was filling our blood and we were becoming drunk off of potential wanderlust. Reports of feet of powder were trickling in and we longed to be a part of it. It didn’t matter where we had to go to find snow, we just needed to explore the mountains on a pair of snowshoes. We checked roads, checked our gear and headed up Highway 101, eager to reach the wonderland of winter weather that was waiting for us. 

Having snow adventures in the mountains of Olympic National Park can be hit or miss. With limited access to most ridges and summits, the majority of those hoping for an easier trip into the snowy mountain wonderland have just one option, Hurricane Ridge. While the 17 mile drive from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge is easy for most who live on the northern Olympic Peninsula, the long drive up 101 to reach a road that can close at any time is not exactly convenient for those of us who live further away. On this winter day, we knew there was a potential we’d drive for two hours, only to be turned around, but it was a risk worth taking. Or so we convinced ourselves, watching the weather on the drive up from Olympia slowly take a turn for the worst. Frantically, we checked the Olympic National Park website every time we reentered cell service, happy to continually see that the road up to Hurricane Ridge was still open. 

We got to the Heart of the Hills Entrance Station, told them we did indeed have chains in the car and headed up toward the dark clouds. With each turn on the drive up, the snow got deeper and deeper and started falling heavier. Within minutes, we left a small dusting of snow into inches, and then feet. Snow piled up on the sides of the road, freshly plowed and pristine. To say we were excited would be as understated as a ho-hum reaction to having your student loans forgiven. The 17 miles from Port Angeles felt both long and fast, and as we reached the parking area, we didn’t hesitate in starting the adventure. 

The plan was to hike from the visitor center to Hurricane Hill and back, a six mile round trip trek that gains just 800 feet of elevation. Ideal for those new to snowshoeing, Hurricane Hill starts along an old road through trees, gives off stunning views and then climbs to a point 5,757 feet above the Strait of Juan De Fuca, just a few miles to the north. On clear days, this might be the most beautiful snowshoe trek in the Pacific Northwest, but we didn’t have such luck with the weather. Which was perfect for us.

Within the first mile of the adventure, we were overcome with wilderness glee. Heavy snows the past few days had weighed down the fir trees growing along the snowy path, transforming them into real life Dr. Seuss art installations. Curving and wrapping toward the pristine snow below, the snow layered on the trees like frosting. We snapped pictures, shook our heads in awe and carried on, for even more incredibleness was ahead. 

Rounding a corner, our amazement of the trees quickly vanished, as our gaze was now resting on a small hill we had to climb. In the summer, this hill is quickly hiked up, but on this day, it was a snowy mastiff, complete with bus sized cornices, precariously dangling. To this day, I don’t recall if we walked around them, carefully climbed over them or what. The next thing I recall is walking across a huge slope in knee deep powder, barely able to see 100 feet ahead of us. The weather had shifted and the next storm was upon us. In the following years, the park would stop opening the road on days like this, but that was in the future. We were on the side of a ridge now. 

We should probably have been more worried, but instead, we hiked away from each other, so we could take cool pictures of being barely spotted in this winter wonderland. Dangerous, stupid and probably not something to admit, I still love these sets of pictures today, as they capture the power of snowy days at Hurricane Ridge. On our return, we ran into a badass ranger who had hiked down to the Elwha and back up in the snow, making our silly short jaunt seem mundane. For a minute I was envious, but quickly remembered how great of a day we had. Mathias and I had never been snowshoeing together and like many things we do, it quickly became one of my favorite winter memories on America’s Public Lands. 

For more year round adventures and my favorite trails around Olympic National Park and Forest, pick up a copy of my 52 Hikes Guidebook!

CALENDARS 2019

Made in the great Pacific Northwest

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State