Fall is upon us. The air has changed, the unbearable warmth of summer has been replaced with damp, oxygen-rich air. The rivers are once again running high thanks to the returning rain and the salmon who are returning to spawn. The tops of the mountains turn frosty white with each passing storm, and the colors of the trees illuminate, standing out in stark contrast, while every beverage in Seattle turns to pumpkin spice.
The Pacific Northwest during the autumn months becomes a scenic wonderland, and nowhere is this more evident than on the Olympic Peninsula.
With the arrival of fall, most people turn their backs on one of America’s most popular wilderness areas. But for those who don't turn their backs, true adventure awaits. Just a few hours away from the drab, wet, concrete jungle of Seattle, a real rainforest is waiting, amazing beaches are empty, and panoramic ridgelines are longing for visitors. Fall in Olympic National Park is when you need to explore it. It is when the park comes alive, and it is the time of year when those who are lucky enough to visit tumble head-over-heals in love with the scenery of the Pacific Northwest.
With 912 mile of trails to choose from in Olympic National Park and National Forest, finding the perfect trail can be tough. While each and every trail is breathtaking and amazing in its own right, there are five hikes that are far and away the must-have experiences during the autumn months.
1. Staircase Loop
The Staircase Region of Olympic National Park would be the most popular destination in any other National Park, yet in Olympic, it is mostly passed over. With forested mountains, high alpine lakes, ridgeline campsites, and a fantastic family-friendly loop hike across a stunning bridge, it is easy to fall in love with the Skokomish River Valley. In the fall, this area sees very few visitors, making it an ideal weekend getaway. While there are numerous trails, the best fall hike is the Staircase Loop Trail. At just two miles in length with minimal elevation gain, this trail will leave you in awe with each step. From dreamy views of the many small falls on the Skokomish River to the forest floor covered with mushrooms, excitement and fall colors are around every corner. For those looking to stay here for a night or two and explore the other trails, there is also a campground at Staircase open year-round.
2. Hoh Rainforest
Hiking the Hoh in the fall is quite simply unbeatable. In the height of fall, it's way better than a Seahawks game, yet few Seattle area residents ever take the trip to this majestic land outside of summer. In the fall, the maples turn colors, starkly contrasting against the wet, green moss dripping from their mighty branches. Below the trees, mushrooms of every size, shape, and color pop out through the fallen leaves, ferns, and mossy carpet. Salmon, bright after entering the fresh water and spawning, slowly swim through the small creeks of the rainforest, a welcome treat for the resident bobcat population who are often seen. While hiking the Spruce Nature Trail and the Hall of Mosses are must-dos, taking a trip down to Mineral Creek Falls along the Hoh River Trail is a perfect day trip into the beauty of the Hoh Rainforest. For those looking to stay here for a night or two, there is a campground at the Hoh open year-round.
3. Ozette Triangle
Not every aspect of fall requires stunning colors, and nowhere in Olympic National Park is this more evident than the Ozette Triangle. Considered one of the most remote spots in the State of Washington, the Ozette region of Olympic National Park is sensational. Once summer ends, the busy corner of Olympic transforms into an isolated oasis, your private beach filled with eagles, starfish, sunsets, and a wealth of history and culture unmatched in the National Parks System. Eagle-adorned sea stacks, which are accessible during low tide, are flanked with petroglyphs from the ancient Makah Tribe. As waves crash through the miles of tide pools, this section of the wild Olympic Coast is as timeless as anywhere. During the fall, the empty trail won’t lead you to amazing trees or miles of mushrooms. Instead, it takes you back in time to the coast, where fall storms slam against the rocks in a dance as old as the oceans themselves. If you can, hike here a few days before a storm and watch the mighty swell pound the beach. For those looking to stay here for a night or two, there is a campground at Ozette open year-round.
4. Deer Park
If you love ridgelines and high alpine hiking, Deer Park offers both of these features in abundance. Before the road here is closed after the first snow, head up to Deer Park to see sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and the Salish Sea, all while surrounded with the majestic colors of high alpine plants. A classic hike to see great views and colors is heading west from Deer Park to Maiden Peak. Approximately 10 miles round trip, the trail goes through forests and meadows before skirting a gorgeous ridge next to the numerous small peaks. Looking south into the mountains, visitors will see ridges turn orange and red, with the greens of the Gray Wolf River Valley standing out sharply. While there are very few deciduous trees in the area, the colors in every direction will leave you speechless, as few places are more beautiful than this. If the road is closed due to snow for the season, consider heading up to Hurricane Ridge.
5. Royal Basin
Perfect as a long day hike or an amazing backpacking trip, Royal Basin is hands down one of the classic trips in Olympic National Park. The trail starts off heading along the Dungeness River, which is the second steepest river in America, dropping 7,200 feet in 32 miles. Through a nice forest, the trail to Royal Basin branches off to the right after just a mile, slowly climbing next to Royal Creek. The trail along Royal Creek is exceptional, passing through sections of old growth forest and moss-covered forest floors that belong in a book of fairy tales. As the trail continues to rise, hikers are rewarded with fall colors through the creek beds and avalanche chutes that the trail traverses. Arriving at Royal Lake, the views and colors get even better, as reds and oranges reflect off the perfectly clear water. At the lake, take a few minutes to explore toward the seasonal ranger hut, where the trail leads to a magnificent waterfall tumbling down rock cliffs. If all of this wasn’t enough, the main trail continues to the Upper Royal Basin, which is an other-worldly landscape full of views of towering glaciated mountains and glacial tarns. This hike has it all, and during the fall months, there are few places in the world as beautiful.