It was a long drive from the Hoh Rainforest to Hurricane Ridge. The final seventeen miles to the Visitor Center were along Hurricane Ridge Road. The road wound through an evergreen forest at first, and then started a long 5,000 foot ascent up the side of a mountain. Hurricane Ridge Road twisted its way up long, steep, and curvy switchbacks. It took a long time to make our way up the parkway. We went through three tunnels before a glorious view opened up before us. I was behind the wheel so I couldn’t pay too much attention to it, because I didn’t want to drive off a cliff. One side of the road continuously hugged the side of the mountain while the other side was exposed to a steep drop-off. I was very stressed with sweaty palms. When we neared the top of the mountain a couple of deer were on the side of the road. As if the drive weren’t intense enough already, I now had to dodge large animals.
Shortly after we passed the deer we rounded a final turn and rose up to a huge parking lot. It was nearly full so we parked far from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center atop the ridge.
Grand sweeping meadows were adjacent to the parking lot. Small circles of subalpine fir were interspersed throughout the meadows, but they were overflowing with colorful wildflowers. The view from the parking lot was breathtaking. Far in the distance to the south was a collection of snowcapped peaks. Mount Olympus draped with glaciers was prominent across the horizon. We hadn’t seen mountains like these since the Tetons.
There were several deer grazing beside the parking lot. They appeared comfortable and familiar with tourists. That is, until a busload of children “stealthily” approached them. All deer in the area quickly disappeared from sight, so we continued on to the visitor center. It resembled a large wood-frame ski lodge. We stopped in briefly, before looking for the trailhead.
We eventually realized there was a spur road on the far end of the parking lot that led a mile and a half to the parking lot for Hurricane Hill. We took the short, narrow road to the trailhead and exited the car.
Despite reading that Hurricane Hill is the most popular of the park’s trails there were not too many cars in the lot. There were far more people in the previous parking lot beside the visitor center. Here, we had a slightly better view of the surrounding mountains and far less people to share it with. The alpine meadows looked even more magnificent, too, with more wildflowers that were bigger and brighter than those we saw earlier. The drive to the Hurricane Hill lot is worthwhile even for those not hiking.
The trailhead was at the north end of the parking lot. The path was smooth and paved at the beginning. It bisected the brilliant high altitude meadow. Wildflowers of varying colors painted the alpine meadows. Purple, pink, and white were the most prominent. There were some firs still scattered among the flowing fields, but the area was too exposed for much plant life. It was the second of August when we ascended Hurricane Hill, yet it was still cool and breezy. When the weather is less cooperative Hurricane Ridge can be ravaged by harsh wind and rain. Annual snowfall ranges between 30 and 35 feet.
Even the paved portion of the trail was steep. It is said that the first half mile of trail is wheelchair accessible because it is paved, but it would be very difficult to ascend that in a wheelchair. The few trees along the trail became increasingly sparse as we advanced farther uphill. By the time the path changed to a mix of gravel and dirt it grew much steeper. The trail then started to zigzag its way up the hill in long, wide switchbacks. At times there were sheer drop-offs beside the trail.
The Hurricane Hill trail is 3.2 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 700 feet. The trailhead is at an elevation of 5,200 feet. The fairly steep trail can be especially difficult for those not used to the higher elevation. The city of Port Angeles, which is at the start of Hurricane Ridge Road before it starts its steep climb, sits at an elevation of just 32 feet. That is a very sizable difference.
The best thing about the Hurricane Hill Trail is that unlike most mountain hikes there are spectacular views from start to finish. Normally, in my experience, phenomenal views open up at the summit or close to it. But on this hike you start in a high altitude area with sprawling views before even embarking on the trail.
In addition to the views, wildlife is often abundant on the trail. I saw several deer from the trailhead, but they are often seen on the trail as well. So is the occasional black bear. Olympic marmots are common along the trail, which are kind of like twenty pound groundhogs. They thrive in the alpine meadows of the Olympic Mountains. Other more common animals such as rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels also run rampant on the mountainside looking to scrounge up food from careless hikers.
Even more amazing views began to open up before us as we neared the summit of the short trail. We caught our first glimpse of the other side of the mountain. There was a nearby jagged peak shrouded in cloud cover. A small valley lay between us and the mountain. Low clouds hovered above the valley filled with a sprawling forest of firs.
We then eclipsed the flat summit of Hurricane Hill. Stunning panoramic views surrounded us. I felt like I was on top of the world, among the giant mountains of the Pacific Northwest. We were about 2,000 feet below the summit of Mount Olympus, but from where we were stood it looked to be at eye level. The Strait of Juan de Fuca was to our north and Vancouver Island was far to the Northwest. Port Angeles was directly below us.
The hike was a little harder on me than I expected, but it was well worth the views. It felt like it was more than a mile and a half to reach the summit, though it was all uphill. I would have guessed we gained more than 700 feet, too. It was steeper than I thought it would be, but it still wasn’t bad.
We descended the trail quickly. Although it was steep, the grade wasn’t great enough to hurt my knees much. We wanted to move fast, so we could start our long drive back to camp. When we got back to the picturesque meadows we found an Olympic marmot just off a curve of a switchback. It was apparently attention-starved and very friendly. It walked around a little bit and then stood tall on its back legs. It had no fear of humans. I took a couple of pictures of it and then we continued down to the trailhead.