Article & Photos by Douglas Scott /
Across the Puget Sound, far from the malls and busy box stores, seemingly endless natural wonder awaits those willing to forego Black Friday and #OptOutside. Known best as the Wild Olympics, the Olympic Peninsula is home to a lifetime of outdoor exploration in stunning terrain. Highlighted by waterfalls, rivers, rainforests and mountains, the landscape of the Olympics welcomes all, inspiring a lifetime of appreciation and support for the great outdoors. Replacing things with experiences, the adventures found in the Wild Olympics of the Pacific Northwest will recharge your soul and reconnect you with the beautiful lands of our home. This holiday season, there is no more wild of a place to #OptOutside.
As the fall rains swell the rivers and the leaves decompose in the ferns and moss, the valleys of the Olympics are transformed into a damp dreamland of adventure, solitude and wonderment. Small creeks become raging forests, seasonal waterfalls cascade down from steep slopes and the region becomes alive with a bustle of activity and moisture. Teeming with wildlife, from elk, eagles, mountain goats, marmots, and salmon, the Wild Olympics in the fall are hard to beat. For many, the Olympics seems daunting and remote, wet and wild, which they somewhat are. Fall storms washout roads, while seasonal closures limit access to some regions. Despite the elements, the Wild Olympics are open for exploration and your #OptOutside experience, making it the perfect destination for a post holiday meal.
The Hamma Hamma
Close to the Puget Sound, but often over looked, the Hamma Hamma River offers some of the most diverse and iconic hiking destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Upriver from Hood Canal, the fjord of Washington State, the Hamma Hamma has five incredible hikes for year round adventures. While the entire region is full of majestic lakes, mountains and forests, two hikes are perfect #OptOutside destinations. For families and those looking for an easy, scenic and iconic Olympic trail, the 7.2 mile (round trip) Lena Lake trail is the perfect combination of forest, lake and stunning scenery. Highlighted by Lunch Rock, which overlooks the lake and the stunning wooden bridge along the trail, this hike is both family and dog-friendly. Those looking for something a bit harder and less crowded will enjoy the steep 8 mile (round trip) trail to Lake of the Angels. Climbing over headwalls and working its way up 3,500 feet, Lake of the Angels sits against what many consider to be the prettiest mountain backdrop in the Olympics. With smoothed-out boulders from glacial activity, rugged peaks, beautiful waterfalls and an abundant mountain goat and marmot populations, this destination is one of the best day hikes for advanced hikers.
Also along the Hood Canal side of the Olympic Peninsula, the Duckabush River holds a handful of hikes that reward you with incredible experiences in a largely overlooked region. Known for elk herds and eagles, waterfalls and remote forests, the Duckabush will give you the solitude and splendor that you are searching for. Three family friendly trails make for the perfect #OptOutside destinations, with the first being the hike to the Duckabush River and Ranger Hole. Starting at a rentable Forest Service cabin, the 2.1 mile roundtrip hike leads through moss-covered trees, towering ferns and giant trees scattered through the forest. Arriving at Ranger Hole, named for the great fishing found here, the Duckabush River roars in full glory as the trees and rocks contrast against the milky blue waters. After seeing the Duckabush, head further up the dirt Forest Service road until you reach Murhut Falls. Murhut Falls is a short, simple and stunning trek through second growth forests that lead to a breathtaking two-tiered waterfall. While the views from the trail are great, boot paths down to Murhut Creek near the falls lead to incredible cascades of all sizes, including the always gorgeous Triple Falls. If those hikes are too short, hit the Duckabush River Trail and head to Big Hump and the boundary of Olympic National Park. Along this trail, elk are commonly seen and heard, while Big Hump offers memorable views up and down the Duckabush River below.
Further north, near the end of Hood Canal and the start of the Salish Sea, the Big Quilcene River holds even more breathtaking hiking adventures. The highlight of the region, hands down, is the trek up to Marmot Pass. Offering sweeping views of the Puget Sound, the Olympic interior and the lush forests below, this 11.5 mile round trip adventure is considered one of the crown jewels of hiking on the Olympic Peninsula. Starting off in pristine forests and along the gurgling river, the trail is steep in places, but worth every one of the 3,500 feet gained. What makes this even better is that on clear days, hikers can also grab the peak at Buckhorn Mountain, which offers views somehow more majestic. If the weather is less than stellar, consider hiking the 10 mile round trip trail at the Lower Big Quilcene. Well-groomed and easy to follow, this is a solid backup for families and those hoping for solitude and serenity. Highlighted by fantastic bridges and towering trees, the Lower Big Quilcene is a lesser known and wonderful region.
Close to the small town of Sequim, the Dungeness River is often overlooked by the millions who visit the Olympic Peninsula each year. During the fall, there is a high likelihood you will see more wildlife than people on the trails, allowing you to connect with these majestic and magical forests on a deeper level. Along the Dungeness River, which is the second steepest river in America, the Upper Dungeness River trail works its way next to the river, passing through giant trees hundreds of feet high and centuries old. At 3.2 miles in, day hikers can rest at Camp Handy before heading back along this picturesque and stunning trail. Those looking for something longer should start along he Upper Dungeness Trail and hike up Royal Creek to Royal Lake. At Royal Lake, you’ll be rewarded with mountain views, lake access and even a secret and gorgeous waterfall.
No trip to the northern Olympic Peninsula is complete without a hike along the Sol Duc River. The most famous of trails is the hike to Sol Duc Falls, the iconic three channel waterfall that pours down into a narrow box canyon. The short hike is a treasure trove of beauty, with numerous creeks, huge trees and wooden bridges to cross before standing next to the incredible falls. Family-friendly and easy to follow, the trail is one of the most popular in Olympic National Park, and for good reason. While the short version of the trail is less than two miles round trip, consider hiking from the Sol Duc Resort parking area along the Lover’s Lane Trail. This will give you an intimate look at the Sol Duc River, as well as rewarding you with some solitude in this incredibly gorgeous region. On the drive to the trailhead, make sure to stop at the Salmon Cascades to see the struggles of jumping up rapids that face returning salmon each fall.
The Quinault Rainforest is said to be the middle child of the Olympic rainforest regions. The Quinault rainforest is often skipped, with hikers heading for the more famous Hoh or the wild and remote Queets. The Quinault is the perfect combination of accessibility and remoteness, giving every level of hiker the perfect rainforest trail. Families should explore the Quinault Nature Trails, a series of trails that can range in distance from one to 13 miles, depending on your level of adventure. Highlighted by ancient, towering trees, pristine mountain creeks and waterfalls, the beauty of the region can easily be seen on well-maintained, easy to follow trails. More serious hikers who want to see what the rainforest looks like from above can hike up to the summit of Colonel Bob, where they will be rewarded with drool-inducing views of Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rainforest. Even those new to hiking and are looking for quick, scenic stops will find something in the Quinault rainforest, thanks to the waterfalls, record trees and family-friendly hikes and picnic areas all along the loop drive on North and South Shore Roads. Like the rest of the Wild Olympics, the Quinault rainforest is where your soul becomes nourished in nature and a lifetime of memories and adventures await.
These hikes are in regions that are part of 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.
Thanks to an incredible map created for outdoor enthusiasts by Peninsula Economic Leaders, REI and Patagonia, the beauty of the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild & Scenic Rivers proposal is just a short drive away. Download and print your free map here.
Sign the Wild Olympics Campaign petition to help preserve these amazing lands here.
This article was written by Douglas Scott. Through his numerous guidebooks, including 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula and the Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park, the best trails and experiences in and around the Wild Olympics can be found. More information of Douglas and his work, including his books can be found at Outdoor-Society.com
Background on #OptOutside
Last year, REI did something different on Black Friday—they closed the co-op’s doors and invited the nation to join them outside. The nonprofits at the heart of the outdoor community, including the Wild Olympics Campaign, got involved in OptOutside and made it our own. Together we mobilized more than a million people to trade shopping aisles for trailheads. This year on November 25th, REI will close again, and we’re excited that you’ve decided to opt outside with us!