above the clouds

Hurricane Ridge is well named. In the winter, hurricane force winds sweep over the 5,000 ft / 1500-meter ridge, sitting only a few miles south of the sea level Strait of Juan de Fuca. While winter visits are exhilarating, in the summer the winds are more temperate, and this area is easily accessible from Port Angeles, WA.

The ridge is in one of the largest national parks in the United States. Olympic National Park has 1442 square miles within its boundary. Out of the 423 national parks, Olympic is 13th largest.

A trip to Hurricane Ridge is a good warm up for the hiking season, or to take the family. The alpine meadows have maximum views as well as paved paths for easy walking. There are wide meadows to casually wander right next to the visitor’s center and parking area. 

Two miles further on, past the picnic area, is the Hurricane Hill trail, just 1.6 miles (2.6 km) from the start to the highest point. This out and back trail took me about 2 hours because I stop frequently, and on a clear day, the views are worth taking my time. There are plenty of animals to see along the way, too.

Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center 

hurricane ridge visitor center

The road in from Port Angeles climbs from sea level to 5,000 ft. in just 18 miles. Once past the pay station at the park entrance, five miles from the start of the road, the elevation climbs steadily.

There are pull-outs along the winding road to let visitors take in the views along the way. At the top of the climb, there is parking next to the visitor’s center. The center has a small cafeteria and gift shop, along with exhibits for those who want to know more about the area. 

Paved paths crisscross the ridge, protecting alpine plants in the meadow while ushering visitors through the meadows and on to stunning viewpoints.  

The big parking lot does fill up early on clear summer days, so leaving Port Angeles early and driving straight through to the ridge ensures there will be space to leave a vehicle and enjoy the whole day. If hiking the Hurricane Hill Trail, where there is much less parking, I suggest driving to the trailhead first. 

hurricane ridge trails map

Picnic Area

picnic area

Some of the most striking picnic areas to nibble a sandwich are just past Hurricane Ridge. On sunny days, every table has breathtaking views to the south. While this is a stunning spot for a nosh, it is wise to be mindful of the wildlife.

Animals of all sorts are aware people bring food to these tables. Many visitors who have just driven the short 18 miles into this part of the park may not be aware that bears, cougars, racoons, and coyotes are watching these spaces for left overs. Each table has a yellow sign to alert visitors. 

picnic warning sign

While the sign is a bit faded, the scratches across the metal do help to make the point that staying alert is probably a good idea. Feeding the animals is a universally bad idea. 

raven

As soon as I pulled my lunch out of my backpack, I was greeted by a curious raven. Ravens are commonly seen throughout this part of Olympic National Park. They are nearly double the size of crows, and have a thicker bill, making them easy to recognize.

This one was not shy about hanging around, waiting for me to drop some morsel. I was, as always, careful to not leave any food or wrapping before I packed up and continued to my favorite trail on the ridge. 

Hurricane Hill Trail

start H Hill trail

Recently upgraded for accessibility, Hurricane Hill Trial is paved all the way to the top. That doesn’t make it any less steep, climbing 700 feet (213 meters) in 1.6 miles / 2.5 km, but it does make this a trail that a wide range of hikers may enjoy.

I am always delighted to see people of all ages, hiking experience, and mobility levels enjoying a day out. There are benches periodically, along with signage provided by the US Park Service to share information about the trail and the animals typically seen in the high meadow. 

view to west half way up

Leaving from a small parking lot just a mile and a half past Hurricane Ridge and the picnic areas, there are views right at the start of this trail. Starting up high means that even on days when there is cloud cover below, the trail area may be clear.

It is worth checking the Hurricane Ridge Webcam to see if the trails above 5,000 ft are clear. 

black tail deer yearling

Columbian black-tailed deer rest in the scattered copses of trees at this altitude. A subspecies of mule deer, they are a bit smaller than mule deer and prefer wooded habitat. The trees provide shade and protection from the winds and harsher weather.

Notoriously difficult to see in the wild, the blacktails on the ridge are quite comfortable with people who stay on the trails. Individual deer and family groups will hang out in full view. 

On this early July day, there were yearlings born in the previous summer, along with fawns and their mothers and small herds of males resting and getting ready for the fall rutting season. 

Alpine Meadows and Marmots

glacier lily

Glacier lilies grow in profusion as the snow retreats. They are often among the earliest flowers in the alpine meadows, their bright white faces opening to the warming sun. The short summer season, only about six weeks, necessitates an explosion of blossoms as all the flowering plants need to be pollinated and produce seeds for the next season before the snows return.

Here on Hurricane Ridge, the snow can come at any time, even July and August, and winter can return in force as early as mid-September.  

paved trail

But today is a quiet, warm summer day in the upper meadow. The clouds are lifting and the mountains to the south are slowly revealing their summits. 

olympic marmot

Even the marmots stop to take in the vista. The Olympic Marmot is endemic to the Olympic Peninsula, and is not found anywhere else in the world. Unlike their cousins the Hoary Marmots in the Cascade Range, Olympic Marmots are a solid color, ranging from light to dark brown.

Approximately the size of a 15-pound house cat, they are easily visible on the Hurricane Trail. A good technique is to listen for their whistling call. Following the sound will reveal the marmot on “guard duty”. Marmots let loose with an ear-piercing single tone to warn the colony when they spot predators – eagles from above or coyotes at ground level.

Non-native coyotes in this area are increasing the pressure on marmot populations. 

elwha trail

Just before the last turn to the top of the Hurricane Hill Trail, there is an intersection with the trail to the Elwha Valley. While following it to the end will result in hiking down into the Elwha Valley, six miles to the west, the first hundred yards heads off across the alpine meadow.

I like to walk out on this level section. There are often deer in the trees, marmots in the meadow, and an assortment of small birds singing. 

Top of the Trail

hill trail from the top

At the top of the hill, looking back south, I can see the entire trail below me, all the way back to the where I left my car. The Olympic Mountains stretch out past the horizon. 

view north top of trail

Turning around to face north, towards Port Angeles, beckon the hills of Vancouver Island, Canada. Perhaps my next hike will be on Vancouver Island. 

On this day the Strait of Juan de Fuca was filled with low clouds. Weather is constantly changing due to the altitude and the winds in the Strait. Sometimes the views are clear, but if not, there is always plenty to watch nearer the trial.  

I turn to go back down, knowing I will take my time, stopping often to enjoy the wander back to the car.

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4 Comments

  1. Sharon Mitchler says:

    Thank you, and welcome to Washington.

    1. Heather Adam-Cerri says:

      Hello from the ADKs in Upstate NY!!
      I was just in your area,(8/19/21) as I did a solo cross country car adventure! I hiked a trail from the parking area at Obstruction Point to Moose Lake (including Grand Lake)….WOW!! I have now decided to return next year to hike more trails in the Hurricane/Elwha areas…I guess you could call me a hikeaholic…I am addicted to hardy day hikes. Your article on Hurricane Ridge fed the fire under my feet.. I must get reading up on trail in the Olympic Pennisula and get my bags ready for my next years car “adventure”… I LOVE WASHINGTON STATE and all it has to see!!! (what first brought me there was my son being stationed at the Kitsap base, now Im addicted) Hope to read more of your adventures soon! (Heather A C )

      1. Sharon Mitchler says:

        Wonderful!! There are hundreds of hikes to choose from on the Olympic Peninsula when you come back next year.

  2. Ken Davis says:

    What a nice article. You kept it kind and very wholesome. I live in Port Ludlow. I moved here from Arizona last year. Believe me, Washington is nicer. Take care. Thanks.

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