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.
The last week of March, 2016 is when we get to celebrate the return of the sun, marking the end of the long, gray winter. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 70s by the end of the week, and the snow level pops up above 9500ft, making creek crossings difficult in the backcountry of Washington State. Our snowpack is 125% of normal, and the winter hasn’t exactly allowed any melt off. This year, we haven’t had six straight days without rain since the last week of September. That is half a year without a nice full week of weather and rain at least once a week. While normally rain once a week is what we love, the winter of 2016 was the wettest and probably grayest winter in PNW history. Of course, we survived. Like the return of the whales and salmon each year, the return of the sun marks a special occasion in the upper left corner of the contiguous United States.
The sun’s rays feed us; photosynthesizing and energizing the wanderlust of humanity. While some explored in the rain and snow, the vast majority of adventurers were waiting for this, eager to finally return to nature without serious gear. The return of the warmth and sun means that the snow is melting in the mountains and once again, the region becomes a destination for outdoor adventure. Spring is in the air, blue skies have returned and you are feeling inspired to get outside and reconnect with the wilderness, but where should you go to best enjoy the return of the sun?
As always, the answer to your question is the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympics have everything and there is nowhere more beautiful on a sunny, warm day. While many of the sunny summits may not be ideal for hiking and climbing due to slushy snow in the afternoon, there are still dozens of destinations to explore. I could list them all in one article, but instead I wrote a 430+ page book, The Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and Forest. If you don’t like my suggestions in this article, buy the guidebook, as it is sure to get you out somewhere fun and new. Seriously, your new favorite trail will be listed in the book.
Until then, enjoy these five destinations.
Wildflowers, an old mine, mountains and a plane crash? This is the ideal good weather hike in the Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. Located along the rain shadow side of the Peninsula, a mere 22 miles from the city of Sequim, Tubal Cain Mine is a historical and awesome place to visit. The trail to Tubal Cain is 8 miles in length and gains just 1,400 feet of elevation. Passing blooming rhododendrons in the mid to late spring months, hiking to the old mine is family-friendly wonderland. From the mine, you have two options for exploration. The first is to cross the creek and head up the switchback to Buckhorn Mountain and Marmot Pass. This will be snowy until June or so. If that seems extreme, hit up the place crash site. Heading back to the parking lot, you’ll see a steep trail heading up the ridge a quarter mile or so from the mine site. This leads to Tull Canyon, where the wreckage of a rests in this remote valley. The trail is quite steep, but worth it!
You could explore the beautiful beaches at Kalaloch or LaPush, or even wade in the muddy trail to reach the stunning Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches, but there is something magical about Ozette. Located nearly five hours drive from the organized chaos of downtown Seattle, the trail to reach the beaches at Ozette is one of the classic Pacific Northwest hikes. Starting right next to Lake Ozette, the trail to the beach is also called the Ozette Triangle Trail. The 9-mile round trip hike works its way through the forests, swamps and marshlands along the coast, before reaching a stunning stretch of rocky beach full of history and beauty. The beach section of the hike is about three miles in length, with the highlight for many being the petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks. During low tide hikes, you can trek out and see carvings on a sea stack in the coastal wilderness of Olympic National Park. You should, if possible, bring a headlamp and stay for sunset along the beach near the trail. It is amazing.
Hike the Olympic Coast: http://outdoor-society.com/seven-heavenly-beaches-escapes-in-olympic-national-park/
While most visitors to the Olympic Peninsula visit the Hoh to get their rainforest fix, it seems few know of the beauty of the Quinault. The Quinault Rainforest is wet and gorgeously wild, making it a perfect place to roam during the long awaited warmth of the sun. Once the snow melts, mounts like Colonel Bob await your adventurous spirit. Until then, heading down the now washed out road to Graves Creek is a fun adventure in the middle of elk habitat in fern and moss-filled forests. With the road closed six miles before the Graves Creek Campground, a long day hike will give you solitude and wilderness the entire trek to Pony Bridge. Sure, this is a 17-mile round trip hike, but it is totally worth it. You can even load up a backpack and camp at Graves Creek for the night, which I can’t recommend enough. The Quinault is magical, and this road/trail is just the tip of the iceberg to true wilderness adventures.
Just as the Quinault is overlooked, so is the Staircase Region of Olympic National Park. Located along the Hood Canal side of the Peninsula, visitors to Staircase get to see the beauty of the Skokomish and Lake Cushman region. Miles of hiking, camping and climbing adventures rest in the Skokomish River Valley, though a heavy snowpack usually means the more remote areas aren’t accessible until June or later. That should never deter you from driving here, though. Close to Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, the Staircase region of Olympic has two awesome destinations that will fuel your wanderlust. The first is the always gorgeous, always reliable Staircase Loop Trail. Following and crossing the North Fork of the Skokomish River, the trail is a testament to the rugged beauty of the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains. Seven highlights await you on this trail, while even more hidden gems hide in the wilderness trails in the region. If Staircase Loop seems too easy, try heading up to the short, steep and sweet summit of Mount Rose. Overlooking Lake Cushman, the panorama view from Mount Rose is tough to beat. With Mounts Rainier, Adams and St Helens visible, as well as glimpse at the other Olympic summits of the region, the 6.3-mile trail is awesome. The trail does gain 3,334 feet, but it can be hiked by children, as well as dogs.
Explore Staircase and Lake Cushman: http://outdoor-society.com/tag/staircase/
If you love mountains, lakes, waterfalls and awesome bridges, you must head to Olympic National Park’s Lake Crescent region. Lake Crescent is the most-visited region of Olympic, and for good reason. Stunning hikes of all styles can be explored, though the most popular are the Spruce Railroad Trail and the Marymere Falls/Mount Storm King Trail. The Spruce Railroad Trail is located on the northern shores of Lake Crescent, the second deepest lake in Washington State. Starting on the east side, just past Log Cabin Resort, the Spruce Railroad Trail skirts the lake for four miles, with the main highlight, the Devil Punchbowl Bridge, coming after one short mile. The trail, if hiked in completion, is an 8-mile out and back path that offers jaw-dropping views of the entire lake and the local mountains. If the mountains are what entices you, hiking to the summit of Mount Storm King is something you need to do soon. Quickly becoming one of Olympic National Park’s most-climbed mountains, Mount Storm King is a 3.8 mile jaunt with 1700ft of elevation gain to reach the top of this peak. The rocky summit is not for the faint of heart, as ropes are often set up to assist hikers and calm the fears of exposure. The views from the summit are worth every bit of sweat, though. Looking out, over Lake Crescent and Highway 101 below, this popular mountain top is truly drool inducing.