Snowshoeing at Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge

Whiteout conditions at Hurricane Ridge
Whiteout conditions at Hurricane Ridge Douglas Scott
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It didn’t hit me until I saw the cornices. We’d been hiking in clouds and snow, unable to see anything. We’d passed a few trees forced down by the weight of fine white powder, but otherwise had no visibility.

As we marched near giant blocks of snow, hanging twisted and crooked over the endless white abyss, the clouds started to break. Before my eyes, a wintery wonderland exploded. As my eyes darted around, looking at what seemed like millions of snowcapped mountains, I was once again reminded of the beauty of the Olympic Mountains.

High above the Salish Sea, Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge is one of the West Coast’s best kept winter wonderlands.

Snowshoeing at one of
Snowshoeing at one of Mark Schindler

On a clear winter day after a fresh snowfall, Hurricane Ridge is so pretty that it honestly isn’t fair to the rest of the country. Just 17 miles up from Port Angeles, one of America’s best small towns, “The Ridge” has captivated minds and imaginations of snow sports enthusiasts for nearly a century. Averaging 400 inches of snow each winter, Hurricane Ridge is one of only three ski and snowboard areas in the National Park Service. The Ridge is also one of only two remaining lift operations in the National Parks, giving skiers and snowboarders 10 trails and access to amazing bowls and endless powder glades. While this alone should get you stoked to head out to Olympic, what makes Hurricane Ridge great isn't just the awesome skiing and snowboarding.

Hurricane Ridge is also one of the best and most beautiful snowshoeing destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Weaving past snow-covered trees, which would be most at home in a Dr. Seuss story, the planet seems to expand in every direction. On bluebird days, the horizon is one huge panorama, giving views of the Olympic interior, heavily forested valleys, and of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Even from the visitor center, the views are mindlessly gorgeous. When open, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center can also help you get gear, info, and maybe even a guided walk. Snowshoes can be rented at the Hurricane Ridge Rental Shop, while maps and guided snowshoe tours are given out by Park Rangers.

The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center Douglas Scott

Once you have your map and gear in place, there are a few easy snowshoeing areas at Hurricane Ridge that are perfect for beginners.

Starting at the visitor center, take the mile long, roundtrip trail to Sunrise Point from the Visitor Center. Looking back at the visitor center, with glaciers in the distance, your soul will let out a happy sigh. Make sure to avoid skiers and snowboarders in the process, as this trail skirts the designated skiing area. If this area is busy, hit up the shorter meadow trails for a great view looking north toward Canada and the Salish Sea. There are a miles worth of trails in the meadow, letting you walk to either side of the ridge to take in the differing panoramic wonderlands.

Hurricane Hill is the classic snowshoeing trip at Hurricane Ridge. If you are able to do this snowshoe hike, you have to do it. There are no excuses, aside from bad weather. At six miles round trip, this can be a bit long for those not used to traipsing through the powdery goodness on the ridges of the Olympic Mountains. With 800 feet of elevation gain, this path puts you near a few cornices and avalanche areas, but nothing too gnarly. On sunny days, the trail to Hurricane Hill gives you jaw-dropping views of some of the most beautiful panoramas you will ever witness, with mountains visible in every direction, as well as Vancouver Island, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and even the coastal town of Port Angeles down below. This hike is second to none, and each time it is hiked it somehow gets even better. Even in less than ideal weather, the hike is exciting and enjoyable. With your head in the clouds, following the trails makes it feel like a wintery expedition. However, stay away from this area in storms. Even if the road is open, losing your way due to low visibility can be a serious issue.

Winter at the ridge
Winter at the ridge Polly Peterson

If Hurricane Hill seems too easy, or too busy, don’t worry; Hurricane Ridge has you covered. Snowshoeing out to Obstruction Point along the Obstruction Point Road can be up to a 16 mile round trip trek, all with stunning panoramas of the Olympic Mountains to your south. This hike is serious, and can be exposed in places, but is also pretty easy to navigate. This path is less traveled, and typically only done as a cross-country ski trail. Don’t let that stop you. Walking along this unplowed dirt road gives solitude and stunning beauty around every corner. This is where to go if you want pristine snow, a chance to walk a long distance, and an opportunity to feel like you have an entire mountain to yourself.

The only downside of Hurricane Ridge is that it is not open seven days a week. There is a community group hoping to change that, but for now, a limited National Park budget has reduced winter access to just three days a week. Every Friday through Sunday, if the weather is good and the plows can plow, the Heart O’ the Hills is opened for access.

The Olympic National Park website has detailed information about hours and dates of operations, and there is a twitter account for daily road access information, or you can also tweet to an Olympic National Park expert. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you get your information, just make sure you get to Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge this winter. You won't regret it.

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