Trekking Across the Olympic Peninsula
I’ve been to some truly remote places in North America, but nothing has ever felt as far-away and alien to me as the Olympic Peninsula, which is widely renowned as the most natural and untouched wilderness in the contiguous United States. Driving through its myriad of peaks and along its coast truly feels like riding along the edge of the world. Naturally, the best way to explore such a place would be in a well kitted SUV hauling a dual sport motorcycle on the back.
Hurricane Ridge is a necessary stop for any first-time visitor to the Olympic Peninsula. The visitor center offers a well maintained place to rest and take pictures, as well as a space for picnics, skiing, and snowboarding. The drive to the ridge from Port Angeles is roughly 45 minutes, but extra time should be accounted for, being that the drive is filled with scenic vistas, trailheads, overlooks, and quiet walkways that shouldn’t be overlooked. They really help to give context to just how remote and wild the area is.
Once you reach the visitor center, it’s well worth making the short hike to the summit. It offers a 360-degree view of the Olympic Mountains and their alpine meadows, which appear to be meticulously manicured and well kept. The entire area is filled with deer and mountain goats that are in no way afraid of approaching humans. This makes great fodder for stunning photos, but can be a bit perilous as there have been fatalities from foolish tourists approaching goats. It sounds silly, but they can be seriously dangerous if they feel threatened. Don’t let this scare you, but it’s certainly a good idea to be aware of the fact that despite the parking lot and signs of human development, Hurricane Ridge is at its core, a wild and unforgiving place that’s to be respected and revered.
After passing Port Angeles on the north end of the peninsula and heading west toward the small town of Forks, it starts to feel like you’ve entered some sort of forbidden area that’s alive with moving water and a dynamic and changing landscape that’s dotted with signs of rockslides.
Like much of the drive through the Peninsula, there’s no shortage of pull-offs and short trails to explore; many of which are along the shore of Crescent Lake. Its turquoise water and mountainous backdrop are enticing for swimming to say the least, but be warned that its water is extremely cold, even in the warmer months. This didn’t stop me from diving in for a swim, though the temperature took my breath away. The small beaches under moss-covered trees are covered in small and smooth stones which are warm from sunlight and perfect for relaxing, having a drink, and taking in the day.
Just south of Forks is the entrance to the Hoh Rainforest, which is veritable labyrinth of spruce, hemlock, and towering cedar trees coated with a thick layer of soft and green moss. The Hoh area of the park is easily accessible, and the park rangers are more than willing to direct you to the most popular sights and explain the history and ecology of the forest.
A multitude of trails, both casual and intermediate are available for walks through the old growth forest which are dotted with signs and placards containing poetry and prose from well-known authors and artists who were inspired by the tranquility of the area.
The Olympic Peninsula, while a bit withdrawn from the typical lane of sightseeing that runs from Seattle to Bellingham and the Canadian border, is well worth the detour if a remote and isolated experience is what you’re looking for
As an added tip, I highly recommend returning by way of the Port Townsend to Fort Casey ferry. It’s an amazing experience in and of itself.
Originally published at treadlong.com.