Hurricane Hill Hike

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 6.2 miles (in winter) Time: 4 hours

Elevation gain: 515 feet

Bret’s Difficulty Rating: Class 1

November 1st 2011.

If you are looking for an easy hike into the high-country of the Olympics where you can impress friends or relatives with spectacular mountain scenery, this short and mostly paved trail to the summit of Hurricane Hill is a good choice; especially since almost all your elevation gain is accomplished by your automobile engine driving you up the road to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot. Hurricane Hill trail is above tree line and sits directly above the Strait of Juan de Fuca so you’re usually subject to high winds and inclement weather, except for the day I hiked there – where I experienced blue sky and absolute silence.

Hurricane Hill Hike 2011

The road from sea level at Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center climbs up over a mile. Drive with caution; in the summer the two-lane highway is very busy and almost any other time of the year it can be icy. When you arrive at the visitor’s center continue past to the Hurricane Hill trailhead. In the off season that last section of road may be closed which will add 3 miles to your roundtrip.

The path from the actual trailhead quickly leaves the stunted trees of the ridge behind. You walk through open grassland which slopes downward to the forests of the Elwha River Valley below. Beyond is a spectacular line-up of icy peaks in the interior of Olympic National Park. The path is paved but in places it climbs steeply and the asphalt has many rough sections. This is not an ADA compliant trail, but rather the remnants of an old auto road to a long-gone lookout tower atop Hurricane Hill.

Olympic panorama

Olympic panorama

Frightening weather must often howl across the ridge, but I hiked on a calm and crisp autumn day, each footstep loudly crunching on the gravel. As I gained altitude the grassland became frost-coated and the shoulder of the trail icy. I stopped to admire the view. I was the only hiker on the trail. There was no wind, no birds or animals, no insects, just perfect silence. Standing there in the quiet I heard a faint clicking and popping sound. I couldn’t place it until I knelt down and realized it was the sound of the ice crystals in the ground, melting in the noon sunshine.

The silence seemed like a gift to me, especially since on the drive to the park I’d just listened to a radio program that was discussing the auditory disease, “tinnitus.” The radio show simulated the debilitating tone that a sufferer constantly heard inside his head; a maddening sound that seemingly would lead to insanity. You can hear the program for yourself at http://transom.org/?p=4647.

Sound of Ice Crystals Melting on Hurricane HIll

I hiked to the top of Hurricane Hill and sat on a pile of stones while eating my lunch. The view was spectacular. I could see all of Port Angeles far below with freighters leaving the harbor bound for far away ports. Mount Baker was covered in snow in the distance. Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca was Canada.

I heard a scratching sound behind me. A pretty brown bird interrupted my lunch. That was how quiet it was – the biggest noise on the mountain top was from a bird the size of a canary walking along the trail. It had a tiny seed in the corner of its beak. I was glad to see the bird already had food and didn’t beg for some of my lunch. Later I sent the bird’s photo to my in-laws and friend Mark. Both are avid birders. Both said the photo looked like a bunting. Mark said it was transitioning into its winter plumage. Mark is developing a cool birding website that will launch soon. It’s at http://www.birdfolio.com

Bunting with lunch

Bunting with lunch

I walked back to the car. It took me about 90 minutes in the late afternoon sunshine. It was colder now. Soon snow will cover Hurricane Ridge. But good news was just announced; Olympic National Park will keep the Hurricane Ridge Road open seven days a week this winter and the ski lift and rope tow will open again. Time to get my skis and snowshoes down from the attic; soon I’ll be driving back up the road to Hurricane Ridge.

The trailhead from the Holiday Inn Express and Conference Center in Sequim where we stayed to the Obstruction Point Trailhead is a 90 minute drive. To find the trailhead:

  • Take 101 West toward Port Angeles
  • Turn left on Race Street and drive up the hill to the Olympic National Park Visitors Center
  • Continue up the road to Hurricane Ridge
  • At the Hurricane Ridge parking lot make an immediate left
  • Drive six miles (carefully) on the narrow dirt road to the Obstruction Point parking lot. Don’t forget to bring your National Park Pass or buy a day pass at the gate for about ten bucks.

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