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.
It only takes one trip into the wilderness of Olympic to get addicted. The fresh air, stunning forests and jaw-dropping panoramas will leave you hooked, longing for the days when you can return to this majestic wonderland and get another fix of pure, pristine wilderness. Along windswept ridges, covered in salty mist from waves crashing against sea stacks along the Pacific or surrounded by the greenest, most dense flora and fauna in the country, the Olympics are more than just a gateway park: They are the strongest dose of wilderness you can find, all just a short drive from your home.
The seemingly frozen-in-time rainforests of Olympic aren’t too far off the road, but far enough to make you feel away from it all. We like the five sensory experiences. You know the ones. The hikes where you feel the muddy rainforest ground under your feet. You smell freshly fallen cedar nearly every step. You taste oxygen so rich it goes straight to your thighs. You hear babbling brooks so peaceful they put Father Time to sleep. You get to see greens so deep, its like Kermit the Frog became a philosopher. As you can tell, the rainforests of Olympic make me giddy with adjectives, similes and metaphors. I can’t help it.
If you have ever hiked in Olympic National Park, you undoubtedly have fond memories. This is the place where I first got hooked on nature, and every few weeks or so, I have to go back to get my fix. When I don’t get my dose of wilderness, I get cranky, irritable and miserable- the same as an addict when they are going through withdrawals. In fact, my friends and family call me a rainforest junkie behind my back because without it, I am a mess. They say, via text because I am a bit of a hermit, that they rarely see me, and when they do, I seem distant, out of touch and smelling a bit funky. I know they are kidding. Wait, they are kidding, right?
I have moss pumping through my veins.
I couldn’t help it, I was raised a short drive from the Quinault rainforest, taking trips nearly every weekend to new trails and old favorites. I quickly found myself falling in love with the forests of Olympic, the Quinault being my first love. Each experience just got better and better. Hiking around the rainforests of Olympic isn’t hard; there is very little elevation gain and the views are incredible year round. That meant each time I would head out, I could go deeper and deeper into the woods, seeing fantastic sights with a lot more ease than I thought. These trails opened the doors to the Olympic National Park I know and love. They are the trails I got to hike with my family as a kid, the ones I took my first backpacking trip across the Olympics and the ones I have shared with countless people. I will never forget the first, of now frequent, times I was lucky enough to stay in the Enchanted Valley. The experiences hiking the Quinault, for me, were life changing. The rainforests of Olympic defined my character, making me a passionate and dedicated supporter of our public lands for all.
For some, the rainforests are overrated or too crowded, but even the most jaded individuals still find a way to feed their wilderness addiction in the Olympics. High on the ridges, where marmots and mountain goat encounters are overshadowed by out-of-this-world views of the entire Pacific Northwest, those who need to get high can easily find solace. On top of rugged peaks, or along the banks of remote alpine lakes, all seems right in the world. There is literally nowhere in the world quite like the high elevations of the Olympics and those who frequent the area find themselves with a lifetime of soul-nourishing views. From the tops of scree-filled peaks, take in the grandeur of the region, seeing salt water and glaciers, volcanoes and rainforests all from well-marked trails. Even the trails on the windswept ridges lead to majestic destinations, exposing your soul to breathtaking views of the entire Olympic Peninsula. Sweeping views await those who climb the switchbacks or loose rocks, allowing you to take in the beautiful panoramas expanding in every direction.
The peaks of the Olympics are rarely climbed, aside form a few popular peaks that offer views that boggle the mind. Many mountains have only been summited a handful of times, leading modern day adventurers up to panoramas seen by a dozen or so eyes, most of which have been closed forever decades ago. The peaks are where the last untouched exploration destinations await, luring you up the loose rocks to summits named after anything from Greek Gods to numbers marking their elevation. It is here, just under the heavens, that many of us get our fix, getting high off endorphins that were long dormant as we worked our desk jobs. While the peaks of the Olympics don’t scrape the skies like the Alps or even the Cascades, the remoteness, combined with the pure and pristine high alpine wilderness make this an unrivaled destination.
If for some reason the rainforest and ridges of Olympic don’t tickle your fancy, you don’t need to resort to extremes and end it all. Olympic is still full of hidden wonders, including 73 miles of wilderness coast. Complete with sea stacks, petroglyphs, and miles of undeveloped lands, the Olympic Coast is heaven for those of us who prefer our beaches to be wild. Offshore, the Olympic Marine Sanctuary is home to shore birds, otters, seals, killer and gray whales, as well as an ecological wonderland few will ever see. Along the coast, trails weave to and from the beach, highlighting the region’s history and beauty with spectacular views, breathtaking sunsets and some of the best backpacking you’ll ever find.
The Olympic Coast has hundreds of hidden secrets, but we highlighted seven of our favorites in previous blogs. The coast is where you go in the offseason, where you watch a sunset, or go to find a seat on a piece of driftwood and watch the waves crash for hours. As eagles soar overhead and whales swim offshore, there is little to complain about along the Olympic Coast. Sure, the weather might not be ideal, but where else will you be able to hike for days along the beach, seeing archeological sights, life-changing sunsets and pure, pristine wilderness. There is nowhere as rugged and wonderful and Olympic’s coastal destinations, and that includes the beautiful, yet overrated Oregon Coast.
To explore the Olympics, we all need a trail to start. We all need an experience or a hike to finally allow us to shift from going hiking once or twice a year to making it your form of relaxation and fitness and the rainforests of Olympic need to be your first option.
Sure, it might be a longer drive than Mt Si, Rattlesnake Ledge, Wallace Falls or the other hikes a short drive from Seattle, but they are worth it. The aforementioned trails are nice, but are the equivalent of a flirty text compared to a real connection during a steamy date with the Olympic’s wilderness. Failed analogies aside, the Olympics are where you actually get to be in wilderness, pushing your limits of hiking to experience breathtaking views without the REI crowd. That is why I wrote The Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and Forest, giving you the best possible experiences to become a full-fledged Olympic addict.
With mountains and coast, waterfalls, gorges, towering trees and all that “rainforesty” stuff, you really need to come experience Olympic. It has turned me, someone sarcastic and extremely pessimistic, into a being full of sunshine and hope. It has quenched my wanderlust and soothed my soul in ways that other substances have failed. The Olympics are the purest dose of amazingness I have experienced and I want you hooked. After all, junkies need friends too. If you have been here before, come back. It is worth a visit and may just cause you to turn out like me, addicted to the wilderness of Olympic National Park.
Discover a Hike a Week through our Olympic National Park Area Guidebook