It is no secret that the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State is a premier destination for outdoor recreation. Each year, millions hike the trails, take in the sights, fish the creeks, kayak the rivers and explore the wilderness wonderland found around the region. While most take their adventures to the Wild Olympics during the less cloudy summer months, the fall season around the area is one of the most beautiful, inspiring and fruitful times to visit. As the leaves on the maples turn colors in the rainforest, salmon start swimming upstream, passing bugling elk and sprouting mushrooms, temperatures drop, snow starts to dust the taller summits and all seems right with the world. Fall is the ultimate time to get out and explore the Wild Olympics, whether you are looking for a solo adventure or hoping for quality time with the family in pristine wilderness.
The Olympic Peninsula doesn’t have the reputation of having incredible fall colors, but that is only because of the small the amount of deciduous trees. Standing out sharply against the deep greens of the rainforests of Olympic, the area’s bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) provide a dazzling display of oranges and yellows. Those on the northern Olympic Peninsula need look no farther than Lake Crescent, where fall colors can be found and enjoyed right along the shore, contrasting perfectly against the blues of the lake and the greens of the forest. If you find yourself on the wet, western side of the Peninsula, you’ll have a handful of options that showcase jaw-dropping beauty. Whether you drive the Lake Quinault Loop, head into the Hoh Rainforest or explore the mostly overlooked Queets River Valley, you are sure to find groves of maples, with their rust colored leaves dangling and dropping to the forest floor. More tips for finding fall colors can be found in the Fall Guide to the Olympics.
Salmon Fishing and Watching
While salmon are common in nearly every river in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park gives a unique and breathtaking salmon experience not found anywhere else. Each river in the park has a unique salmon run, but the two best locations to witness the event are the Hoh and Sol Duc Rivers. In late October and early November, the Coho salmon return to their spawning grounds, swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean. Along the Sol Duc River, these determined fish are force to jump up a rocky waterfall called the Salmon Cascades. An extremely short trail and overlook have been built to help visitors witness this event, providing an up-close and personal look at the difficulties the salmon have to fulfill their lifelong purpose of spawning. On the Hoh River, things are a bit more calm. Lazily swimming and spawning in the small creeks around the Hoh Visitor Center, salmon can be seen by visitors as they walk along the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest. Salmon in the Pacific Northwest represent our hard-working determined spirit, and seeing these durable creatures fulfill their purpose is inspiring and beautiful, just like the fall months in the Wild Olympics.
For those interested in fishing for salmon, you can go at it alone, or hire a guide to catch huge beasts in the rivers and creeks. The rivers around the souther western edge of the Wild Olympics are home to some of the biggest salmon outside of Alaska. A full list of fishing guides who support the Wild Olympics can be found here.
Elk are the reason that the Olympic National Park was formed. Due to mass hunting of these unique Roosevelt Elk, Teddy Roosevelt set aside the land to protect the elk habitat. Now, the elk are thriving, and seeing the males in the rut, with their huge antlers covered in moss to impress the ladies, is a sight to see. The best places to see elk on the western Olympics is in the Quinault and Hoh River Valleys, but smaller herds can be found up many other rivers in the region. On the Hood Canal side, the Dosewallips and both forks of the Skokomish can lead to impressive elk watching, full of bugling and antlered boys running around. Early morning and evenings are the best time to view and hear them, but with cooler weather each day, they become more active later in the season.
Travel the Trails in Solitude and Silence
Fall in the Wild Olympics is a time for adventure, reflection and appreciation. It is when the comforts of summer have faded away and once again transform the region into the harsh and wild landscape we know and love. The summer visitors have gone back home and now, the region’s 1,000 miles of trails to explore are mostly empty. In the high alpine, the landscape changes colors for a few weeks, with reds and yellows replacing the last of the wildflowers. Snow starts to dust the highest of peaks, adding definition to the seemingly endless ridge lines that stretch out toward the horizon. The trails on the low lands will remain snow-free until the deepest dive into the winter months, showing off the explosion of mushrooms expanding through the forest. When the rains finally start to fall, lazy rivers and creeks once again become raging torrents, washing away the summer’s dust and dirt. Waterfalls once again roar back to life, and the wildness comes back to the Olympics. During the fall months, you’ll have silence and solitude on nearly every trail, making it the perfect time to relax, unwind and reconnect with the beauty of the Wild Olympics.
Search for Mushrooms
Whether you love eating mushrooms or enjoy seeing mass amounts of fungus spread across the rainforest floor, the trails during the fall months in the Wild Olympics are a mushroom lover’s dream. With numerous edible species and far more inedible types of fungi around the park, one can find some of the best in the world. With chanterelles in every forest, those looking for a unique delicacy are in for a treat. The best places to find mushrooms are near the Quinault, Hoh and Staircase regions of Olympic National Park, with the Staircase Region being most accessible for day trips from Seattle. Mushrooms can and will be found in every corner of the Olympics, so wander some trails and find them quick, before other mushroom hunters get to them! Before you head out, check with the National Park and National Forest service for updated rules and regulations about foraging. Also, make sure you know which are edible and which are not!
If you have never experienced a storm on the Washington Coast, seeing one near the sea-stacks and the Wild Olympic Coast needs to be added to your bucket list. Once October starts, storms become more frequent along the beaches, with huge swells, near hurricane force winds and torrential downpours blasting the rugged shores of the Pacific Northwest. The best places to see huge waves crashing against sea stacks are either the beaches near Kalaloch, LaPush or Shi Shi Beach, but nothing is quite as amazing as seeing a storm roll in from Cape Flattery, which is the northwestern-most point in the contiguous United States. From the bluffs on the Cape Flattery trail, watch the waves approach from miles away, pounding on the exposed rocks on which you are standing. There is no greater experience than standing here during a storm and no experience more true to the spirit of the Pacific Northwest.
The Wild Olympics 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 800 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. Sign the petition and help preserve these amazing lands.
This article was written by Douglas Scott. Through his numerous guidebooks, including the Ultimate Fall Guide to the Olympics, as well as the celebrated 52 Hikes Olympic Peninsula Guidebook, 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.