|Interior Olympics from Hurricane Hill|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Olympic National Park entrance fee required
Hurricane Hill is one of the most popular hikes in Washington's Olympic National Park, for good reason: rarely do paved and relatively easy trails reach such stunning views and traverse subalpine environments. The summit of the "hill" provides a sweeping panorama of the interior Olympic peaks, including Mount Olympus itself, and of the Salish Sea and Vancouver Island. This is a good place to see wildlife: over the past two visits, I've spotted marmots, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, and ptarmigans in the trail's short mile-and-a-half length. While there's still a bit of elevation gain to reach the summit of Hurricane Hill, I've classified this hike as an easy rather than easy-moderate due to the smooth condition of the trail the entire way and the relative ease of reaching the top. The main drawback? The trail is packed midday, so this isn't the place to find solitude; to avoid sharing the summit with many others, arrive early. During my most recent visit, I started hiking at 8 AM and had the summit to myself for a while.
I've hiked this trail multiple times- first during a visit to the Northwest before I was even a teenager, more recently at the beginning and end of a summer while living in Seattle. I'll recount my two most recent visits- one with two friends visiting from the Bay Area, the second on a dawn visit to Hurricane Ridge for stargazing and a short hike.
No matter whether coming from Seattle or from the western Olympic Peninsula, the approach to the trailhead is to follow US 101 into Port Angeles and then to follow Race St. south to the Heart o' the Hills Visitor Center; just past the visitor center, a road branching off to the right leads uphill 18 miles to Hurricane Ridge. The trailhead lies another mile and a half of driving past the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center; trailhead parking is often entirely packed, necessitating parking at one of two overflow lots and either following the road or the overflow trail about a quarter to a half mile back to the trailhead. I had to park in the most distant overflow lot when I came midday over the July 4 weekend but was only the second car in the lot when I arrived early in the morning on a Labor Day weekend.
|Milky Way at Hurricane Ridge|
The trail was still relatively flat when it burst out onto a south-facing mountain meadow with grand views of the Elwha Valley and the Bailey Range. In early summer, this slope was green and littered with early-summer flowers; by late summer, the grass was green and only a handful of wildflowers were left. Surprisingly, Indian paintbrush bloomed for the entire summer; September weather was also still favorable for pretty blue harebell.
|Elwha Valley views|
Here, an interpretive sign noted the frequent presence of lingering snow into the summer. In July, we saw a snowpatch at the exact location indicated on the plaque; by September, Hurricane Hill's slopes were fully snow-free.
Past the sign, the trail cut along the south side of the slopes of Hurricane Hill and began a steady climb through a short set of switchbacks to the summit. The views of the interior Olympics grew progressively better as we ascended, with Mount Olympus poking its head above the Bailey Range as we approached the summit.
Just below the summit, the trail passed a junction with the trail down to the Elwha Valley and then came to a small spur trail on the left of the trail that led to a startlingly open view of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. During my September visit, I shared the views with a ptarmigan gazing out into the strait.
|Ptarmigan gazes at Vancouver Island|
|Meadows high on Hurricane Hill|
|Smoke from the Hayes and Godkin fires fills the Elwha Valley|
|Mountain goats on Hurricane Hill|
|Hurricane Hill summit|
|Bailey Range and Mount Olympus|
|Mount Angeles and pond, early summer|
|Mount Angeles and dried-up pond at summer's end|
In both cases, I returned to Seattle later in the day via the Kingston-Edmonds ferry, the only ferry in the WSDOT ferry system that allows one to photography downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier in the same frame.
|Seattle and Rainier from the Kingston Ferry|