The rugged wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula is only a few hours drive from downtown Seattle, yet only the heartiest of residents take the trip across the Sound to experience the lush forests around Olympic National Park. Usually viewed as too far away by the masses, a getaway to some of the most scenic and wild places on the Olympic Peninsula is, in fact, just a few short hours away.
For the uninitiated, the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula is made up of jaw-dropping vistas, dense old growth forests, remote alpine lakes, quickly shrinking glaciers, and ridiculously beautiful waterfalls. The region is known for outdoor recreation, offering 900 miles of wilderness hikes through amazing terrain. Day hikes leading to plane crash wreckage and abandoned mines, to glacial crevasses, and impressive mount goat filled peaks are all waiting for your trip to the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains.
From the dry rain shadow to the north, down to the heavily drenched forests and mossy valleys along the Skokomish River, the next big thing in hiking is the Hood Canal Region on the Olympic Peninsula. Hood Canal sits to the west of Puget Sound, and is a fjord worthy of Norse comparisons. Stunning mountains and dense forests are a few miles from the best oysters, salmon, and shrimp in the world. The region is known for seafood, incredible scuba diving, wild rivers and lakes to kayak, and enough hiking to fill a lifetime's bucket list. While there are hundreds of miles of trails awaiting those who take the couple hour drive from Seattle, these seven hikes are sure to make this year your best hiking year yet.
1. Mount Townsend
At eight miles round trip, and composed of over 25 switchbacks over the 3,000 ft elevation gain, the Mount Townsend trail is a fantastic hike. The views here in the northeast Olympics are staggering, with the Seattle skyline, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mount Olympus all visible from the barren ridge and summit. Standing at 6,260 ft, this trail is great year round. In the winter, it is a fantastic snowshoe hike. During the spring, wildflowers start to bloom in May and continue through summer, before all the color turns to copper in the fall. While the distance from Seattle to Mount Townsend is just 66 miles, the drive and ferry make the trip about two and a half hours, making it perfect for an early morning hike before returning to the city for drinks along the waterfront, looking back at the mountain you just climbed.
2. Lake Constance
Considered by many to be the hardest day hike in Olympic National Park, Lake Constance is incredibly steep, and incredibly beautiful. The trail to Lake Constance is broken up into two distinctly different parts. For the first 3 miles, the trail is mostly flat, following an abandoned forest service road along the Dosewallips River. For those who mountain bike, this is one of the few trails you can ride in Olympic National Park, and you should take advantage of it. After three miles of gentle incline, the trail gets tough, climbing 3,400 feet in two miles. Once you reach the lake, the tiredness fades away, as euphoria sets in due to the stunning views of rugged mountains all around this jewel of a lake. Take a dip, enjoy the solitude, and reward yourself for reaching this awesome place. The trailhead to Lake Constance is located 70 miles from Seattle, and takes about two and a half hours to get to via ferry.
3. Lake of the Angels
Lake of the Angels is one of the most iconic trips one can take on the Olympic Peninsula, but the steepness of the trail keeps most away. Gaining 3,400 feet over four miles, this hike includes a section that is steep with loose rock and dirt, followed by a scramble over a headwall. Past the headwall, the trail continues to climb before arriving at the Pond of the False Prophet, often mistaken for being Lake of the Angels. From the pond, a short hike through a series of natural canals leads to the entrance to Olympic National Park and the final climb of the day. Arriving at Lake of the Angels, life becomes heavenly. Situated at the base of Mount Skokomish and Mount Stone, the lake is perfect for camping, climbing, swimming, and fishing. Be aware that there are mountain goats in the area that are known to be aggressive. There are also marmots, but they aren’t aggressive. The beauty of Lake of the Angels is difficult to describe, and really, a visit (or 10) is essential for any hiking enthusiast. The trailhead is less than two and a half hours from downtown Seattle.
4. Mount Ellinor
Hiking to the summit of Mount Ellinor is an experience anyone interested in the Olympic Mountains needs to have. The trail is steep, has loose rocks, and occasionally is full of aggressive mountain goats, but offers the most impressive panoramic view in Washington State. After around two miles of hiking, gaining 2,444 feet from the upper parking lot, the summit of Mount Ellinor gives views of every major mountain in the state. With views of Seattle, the Puget Sound, Hood Canal, Lake Cushman, and the entire Olympic interior, you may log another mile of hiking just taking in the view from every angle. The trail is straightforward and easy to follow in most places, but remember this is a mountain hike and can be dangerous. Bring extra water and food, and wear proper shoes. Mount Ellinor might just be the best hike in the state, and at just two and a half hours from downtown Seattle, it is worth the manageable drive.
5. Staircase Loop
Staircase is a magical place for hikers and nature lovers of all ages. For two miles, this loop hike weaves its way along a picturesque river through old-growth forests. Along the gorgeous, wild Skokomish River, the Staircase entrance to the Olympic National Park has it all. With well-maintained trails, wide paths, beautiful views, animals and year round access, this area is perfect for those looking for an easy day hike. One highlight of this trail is the view of and from the new bridge spanning the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Built like a miniature Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the cable bridge is a fantastic place to gaze at the wilderness along this often overlooked section of Olympic National Park. The region has numerous alternative hikes, but the Staircase Loop is not just the easiest, it is also one of the prettiest. To get to Olympic National Park’s Staircase region, it takes approximately two and a half hours from downtown Seattle.
6. Tubal Cain and Tull Canyon
Yet another hidden gem for those who aren’t locals, the Tubal Cain Mine and Tull Canyon hike is one of the most unique hikes in America. Weaving around through forests and flowering rhododendrons, the path leads hikers of all levels to the remains of an old mine located in the Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. The mine never yielded anything of value, though today mining equipment of all sizes and shapes can be found near and far from the entrance to the mine. After exploring here, take the short trip to Tull Canyon, where the remains of a small community, as well as the wreckage of a B-17 Bomber, can be found on the valley floor. At eight miles round trip, and less than 2,000ft of elevation gain, this hike should be seen by all. Yes, this trailhead is over three hours from Seattle, but where else can you see wildflowers, old forests, an abandoned mine, and a plane crash?
7. Royal Basin
If you haven’t day hiked Royal Basin, you are missing out on a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience. Starting out along the Dungeness River (the second steepest river in the US), the trail soon darts up Royal Creek, giving glimpses of mountains and valleys before reaching the gorgeous Royal Lake and the stunning beauty of Royal Falls. As if these amazing views weren’t enough, those with the energy can hike up to Upper Royal Basin, where they can stand on a glacier at the base of the second tallest mountain in the Olympic Range—Mount Deception. Upper Royal Basin feels like another world, and with glacial tarns all around, it is an adventurer's dream destination. The trail might be 18 miles long and gain almost 4,000 ft of elevation, but hiking this in a day gives you the best of every terrain in the wilderness of the northeast Olympic Peninsula. The drive takes a little over three hours from downtown Seattle, and is 100% worth every second.