In the far upper left corner of the contiguous United States, in a land known for towering trees, gray skies and heavy rain, a magical wonderland of wilderness beauty is waiting for you. The wet and wild Olympic Peninsula is where the best outdoor adventures can be found along each of the stunning river valleys and surrounding mountains. With nearly 1,000 miles of trails on the Olympic Peninsula to hike and discover, the trails in and around the proposed Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act are some of the best and most scenic trails in the nation. From stunning high alpine lakes and panoramic peaks, to jaw-dropping waterfalls and remote and wild rivers, the Wild Olympics will capture your heart and your sense of exploration.
Thanks to an incredible map created for outdoor enthusiasts by Peninsula Economic Leaders, REI and Patagonia, exploring the National Forest and DNR public lands of the Wild Olympics has never been easier. While there are 17 stunning destinations begging for your attention, there are seven regions that are widely considered to be the crown jewels of hiking on the Olympic Peninsula. Choose one or choose them all for your next hike and reconnect with the majestic wilderness of the Wild Olympics.
The Majesty of the Quinault Rainforest
Rising up from the heavily forested rainforest surrounding the Quinault River, the south Quinault Ridge is home to one of the most extensive blocks of ancient rainforest not already protected by wilderness designation in the lower 48 states. Miles of trails for families or serious hikers await, leading through stands of huge Douglas Fir and western red cedar trees, often topping out over 300 feet above the fern-filled forest floor below. With trees nine feet or more in circumference, the power and majesty of the rainforest becomes completely evident. The best way to access these incredible forests is to hike the Quinault Nature Trails found on the south side of Lake Quinault. With a 13-mile network of trails providing access to the ancient forest of South Quinault Ridge and the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, exploring here will entice further exploration in the region.
Hamma Hamma’s Five Stunning Hikes
The Hamma Hamma River is home to stunning river views, an amazing waterfall and a handful of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Capped off with the equally breathtaking Mildred Lakes and Lake of the Angels, hiking in the Hamma Hamma region is where wilderness dreams become a reality. As marmots and mountain goats scamper around on huge boulders that stand guard around alpine lakes, your steep and rewarding hike is like a time machine, letting you see how life was a millennia ago. Towering trees line the steep hillsides, hiding meadows and creeks full of beauty and awe. The Hamma Hamma is where hikers go to rekindle their love affair with nature, enjoying every inch of the wild and picturesque landscape. Families will enjoy the Lena Lake Trail, while those searching for more can find themselves atop mountains that showcase the entire Pacific Northwest.
The Remote Beauty of the South Fork of the Skokomish
In the south east corner of the Olympic Peninsula, far from the popular regions of Olympic National Forest and National Park, one of the most gorgeous stretches of wild river and towering trees is accessible. Longing for protection and attention, the South Fork of the Skokomish River has been a local favorite for as long as people have been living in the region. Highlighted by the Upper Fork Trail, the South Fork of the Skokomish is a stunning example of the immense and unique beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. The trail is easy to follow, leading over logs as bridges, passing huge box canyons and passing through stands of pure and ancient timber. If you haven’t hiked here, no description can properly describe the wild beauty of the South Fork of the Skokomish. It will be, and will remain, a favorite trekking destination for families and those looking for remote access to Olympic National Park’s Six Ridge Trail.
The Wonders of Mount Ellinor
The greatest panorama in the Pacific Northwest is found atop the rocky and mountain goat-clad peak of Mount Ellinor. Some might think this is hyperbole, but the views from Ellinor showcase the very best of the entire Pacific Northwest. As Mounts Rainier, St Helens and Baker showcase the stunning beauty of the Cascades, the glaciers of the Olympic Range, including Mount Olympus, glisten off to the west. Sure, the city of Seattle, the entire Hood Canal and the Puget Sound are highlighted, as is Lake Cushman; but, for most, the beauty is Mount Washington and the numerous mountain goats who frequent the region. The trail to the summit is steep, and definitely not for first time hikers; but those with experience and a desire to hike straight up in places will be rewarded with a drool-inducing view of the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula.
Experiencing the Bliss of Dungeness River
Starting at its headwaters at 7,000 feet above sea level, the Dungeness loses 4,000 feet in elevation over the course of the first four miles, helping make it the second steepest river in America. Spanning just 28 miles in length, the Dungeness quickly drops from Mount Constance, eventually reaching just east of the beach hiking destination of Dungeness Spit, the largest sand spit in the world. For hikers, the Dungeness River is a wonderland of beauty, with trails leading to spectacular destinations like Mount Townsend, Royal Basin in Olympic National Park, Marmot Pass in the Buckhorn Wilderness, the tranquil forests along the Gray Wolf Trail and the panoramic wonderland of Blue Mountain. Mountain bikers also adore the region, falling in love with the Dungeness Loop Trail, which is heavily regarded as one of the prettiest routes around the Peninsula. Darting through gorgeous forests, passing wooden shelters and cruising next to the rushing river below, hikers and bikers in the Dungeness region often experience sore faces from smiling at the beauty.
Stunning Waterfalls and the Salmon-Filled Sol Duc River
The Sol Duc River is a cornerstone of Pacific Northwest beauty, highlighted by a stunning three- tiered waterfall that plummets down into a stunning box canyon along a breathtaking and family-friendly trail. Backpackers love the Sol Duc region for the access into the Seven Lakes Basin Region, while those looking for a more leisurely activity can enjoy the Hot Springs at the lodge. However, the true beauty of the Sol Duc is found along the river, where salmon jump over rocky cascades in the fall months, and trees dripping with moss create a dramatic scene. Once the rains arrive after an always gorgeous summer, the Sol Duc is transformed into one of the more popular intermediate whitewater runs on the Olympic Peninsula.Those looking for silence and solitude in the forest should take the North Fork of the Sol Duc River Trail. This 12.4 mile round trip trek will get you into large stands of ancient and towering timber.
The Mysteries of the Wynoochee
For many, the Wynoochee is the last bastion of undeveloped land around Olympic National Park. Far from paved roads, coffee stands or simple amenities, the mysterious Wynoochee has been captivating wilderness lover’s imaginations since the area was first hiked. If you are looking for remoteness and stunning natural beauty, the Wynoochee has a lot to offer. With a beautiful lake to hike or bike around, a fantastic waterfall that is fun for the whole family or miles of rarely hiked trails, exploring the Wynoochee area of Wild Olympics helps demonstrate the need to protect these incredible areas. The highlight for most who hike the wilds of the Wynoochee is the Wynoochee Pass Trail to Sundown Lakes. Rugged terrain awaits those hoping for this seasonal trek, as vehicle access to this region is restricted in the winter months. The Wynoochee is where solitude and wilderness meet, perfectly encapsulating the beauty of the Wild Olympics.
These trails help highlight the beauty and importance of the The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Reintroduced last year by U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer, the bill would permanently protect over 126,000 acres of new Wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest, and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their tributaries as Wild & Scenic Rivers – the first ever Wild & Scenic Rivers on the Peninsula. Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water, and enhance outdoor recreation, the Wild Olympics legislation has been endorsed by over 550 local businesses, sportsmen organizations, outdoor recreation groups, faith leaders, conservation groups and local elected officials, and more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support.
This article was written by Douglas Scott. Through his numerous guidebooks, including the Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula, the best trails and experiences in and around the Wild Olympics can be found. More information of Douglas and his work can be found at Outdoor-Society.com.