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An Olympic Winter Wonderland

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

During my travels around the National Parks, I have had the privilege to visit Olympic National Park in Washington State on two separate occasions. One of the most popular trails within this park is the Hurricane Hill Trail found within the Thunder Ridge section of the park. This trail is accessed by driving up a series of switchbacks until you arrive at the Hurricane Ridge visitor centered located towards the top of the Olympic Mountain range. This visitor center provides an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, and this alone would make this drive worth it. Two distinct mountain ranges can be viewed from the comfort of the parking lot with no hiking necessary. Driving a little further down from the visitor center will bring you to the Hurricane Hill trailhead. Depending on the time of year you go, this trail will often be filled with an abundance of hikers enjoying this relatively short 3.2-mile round trip trail.

The first time I visited this trail was in later summer while my second trip was in early spring. These two trips proved to provide incredibly different experiences. When I visited in spring, I arrived with 2 other friends. The parking lot was nearly filled, but we were still able to find a spot. We began our hike on a well-maintained gravel trail. Although it was late summer, the high altitude still meant there were plenty of snow patches left dotting the landscape. However, the trail itself was completely cleared of all snow. With no obstacles to maneuver around, this trail can easily be completed in a couple of hours. The views along the entire trail provide panoramic views of the Olympic Mountain range to the left side of the trail. This includes great views of some of the park’s better-known glaciers such as the Blue Glacier that is found at the end of the Hoh Rainforest trail. During this time of year, the trail is filled with visitors, and you will rarely be on the trail on your own. Aside from the panoramic views, this scenery on this trail is intermittent between groves of pine trees and meadows filled with wildflowers, which are often in peak bloom in July. The end of the trail is coming to an overlook where the 3 ridges of the Olympic Mountains are scene. On a relatively clear day, you can also see both Seattle and Vancouver in the distance. There is a large boulder here that is often used as a place visitors pose for pictures at but there is frequently a long line during this busy time of year. Once you’ve had your fill of the views, it’s time to head back the way you came towards the trailhead.

My second trip to this trail was a very different experience and wound up being far more adventurous. This second trip took place in early spring. I had arrived at the visitor center by early afternoon and the first difference was immediately evident. The visitors center itself had not yet reopened for the year. Although there were a few visitors here, the parking lot was empty for the most part. While before there were meadows seen by the visitor’s center, there was now nothing but expansive fields of snow that reached several feet in height. Although the views were different from my first visit, in many ways they were even better. I felt like I was seeing a winter wonderland, come to life out of story. All the mountain ranges remained snow capped and there was a briskness to the air that I felt was invigorating. The differences from my first trip continued once I was ready to make my way on the short drive to the trailhead. I quickly realized this drive was no longer possible. Although the small road had just been ploughed of snow, the snow-ploughing equipment was still parked at the start of the read, blocking access. Not one to be deterred, I threw on my backpack and decided to hike to the trailhead. Luckily this shift would only add an extra two miles to my plans.

Once at the trailhead, the differences continued. While in summer, the beginning of the trailhead was clearly marked by a well-maintained trail and small housing that included a map of the trail; this time the trail was no where to be seen and only the very top of the white housing provided evidence for where the trail was at all. The trail itself lay underneath a 5-foot blanket of snow with the only indication of the direction the trail existed was from the occasional footprints of visitors who had decided to brave the trail since the previous snowfall. Not one to turn down an adventure, I climbed onto the trail and followed this light footprint trail and began my way down Hurricane Hill trail: Winter Wonderland Edition. For the most part, the snow was packed densely enough to allow for relatively smooth traversal over the top of it with my feet only sinking a few inches in on each step. But there were the occasional zones where I found myself waist deep in snow and needing climb my way out of precarious predicaments. This did not detract at all from the experience. Nor did it detract from the incredible views I was seeing in front of me. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but huge fields of snow with the top halves of pine trees poking out of the snow. In the distance, the Olympic Mountain range looked majestic with nearly half the mountains being completely covered in snow still.

Eventually I made it past the tree line with the final ½ mile of the trail taking place on a snowfield that climbs up to the overlook. On the downside, there were no longer any footprints to search for the trail by past this point. On the bright side, I could see the overlook on top of the hill ahead of me. All I had to do was figure out a way to climb up the snowfield and manage to arrive at the top by any means necessary. Although it took some experimentation, I was able to find a safe traversal path to the top of this final hill. Unlike last time, I know had this entire overlook to myself as there was not a single person to be seen. In fact, throughout the entire day on this trail, I had only saw one other visitor and they were only seen from a distance. I found a large pile of rocks to sit on and enjoy the views. It was a very clear day, so Seattle and Vancouver were very easily visible from my vantage point. Between those two cities, the winter wonderland around me, and the Olympic Mountains in the background; this provided among the most scenic locations I had ever been able to enjoy a lunch on. Following a meal made from some trail mix and other light snacks, I took a final glance at this incredible view and began back down the trail towards my car.

By the time I had arrived back at my car, I had managed 2 minor foot injuries that occurred from unexpectedly falling through snowpacks along the trail. Even with a minor limp, this temporary inconvenience did not detract at all from this day because I knew that the memories of the views I had enjoyed would last forever. There is something about feeling like you are walking at the top of the world, the leaves a last impression on me and this hike provided just that kind of experience. Once I arrived back in my car, it was time to head towards a different portion of the park. The sheer size of Olympic National Park means that there are so many varied ecosystems to enjoy, and I wanted to make sure I saw as many as I could on this trip. But those are stories for another day…

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