The Olympic Peninsula is home to some of the wettest, wildest terrain in America. With more glaciers than Glacier National Park, more mountains over 6,000 feet than the entire east coast, forests that average 14 feet of rain, and stunning lakes and rivers, it is easy to see why the region is so protected.
Roughly the size of Maryland, the Olympic Peninsula has 6 wilderness areas, including one inside Olympic National Park. Nearly one million acres are protected as federally mandated wilderness, making the Olympic Peninsula an ideal destination for those looking to truly find solitude in the woods, all within a few hours drive of Seattle.
The wilderness areas of the Olympic Peninsula are especially wild—full of mountains, old mines, plane crash wreckage, high alpine lakes, old growth rainforests, stunning panoramic views, and impressive hiking trails. While many know the Olympic Peninsula for Hurricane Ridge, Ruby Beach, and the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park, the remaining wilderness areas are not only just as stunning, but impressive enough that most think they should be included in Olympic National Park itself.
1. Buckhorn Wilderness
While most think of the Olympic Peninsula as a saturated, green, forestland, the Buckhorn Wilderness has sections that show just the opposite. Yes, the region is lush by the standards of most of the country, but some of the wilderness is located in the rain shadow of the taller peaks of the Olympic Range. Treeless ridges, giant boulder fields, plane crashes, old mines, and stunning views all exist in the Buckhorn Wilderness, and they can be reached without much exertion for those in decent hiking shape.
In the late spring, the Buckhorn region explodes with wildflowers, all while offering stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, the City of Seattle, the Puget Sound, Salish Sea, and the Strait of Juan De Fuca. To get to the ridges and views, the trails of the Buckhorn Wilderness weave along some of the steepest rivers in America, including the second steepest river in the US, the Dungeness River. With ferns, old growth timber, and moss draped forest floors, hiking in the Buckhorn is perfect for an afternoon, a weekend, or a lifetime.
2. The Brothers
The Brothers Wilderness isn’t the biggest or most remote wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula, but it does offer some amazing mountaineering, hiking, and backpacking destinations. Mostly accessed from the south, above the ever popular Lena Lake Trail, the Brothers Wilderness has two entry points. Along the northern end, those hiking along the Duckabush River can enter the wilderness by visiting waterfalls, or starting a traverse across Olympic National Park.
On the Duckabush River, the Brothers Wilderness offers hikers a chance to explore an awesome waterfall, hike through old growth forests, and even gaze down on herds of elk from a rocky outcropping known as Big Hump. If that doesn’t interest you, the southern access gets you up to high alpine lakes, through the forests straight out of J.R.R. Tolkien, and up to craggy, snowcapped summits. The Brothers Wilderness is an out of this world destination that is rarely visited, always amazing, and easy to find.
BEST HIKES: Valley of the Silent Men, Big Hump, Murhut Falls, The Brothers.
3. Colonel Bob
The Colonel Bob Wilderness is a small section of land near the Quinault section of Olympic National Park. While the name may not be known, millions of people visit the park, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gazed upon the forests and mountains of this region and fell in love. It was at the base of Colonel Bob, at the Lake Quinault Lodge where FDR is rumored to have made up his mind about making Olympic a national park.
Today, the Colonel Bob wilderness offers one of the greatest views in America, allowing those who make the eight mile hike to the summit a chance to stand over the Quinault Rainforest, while gazing toward the ocean, Mount Olympus, and the Sasquatch-filled forests of the Wynoochee. The Colonel Bob Wilderness not only has Colonel Bob Peak, but also has a fantastic short hike into a moss-covered, old growth, fern-filled wonderland. Colonel Bob needs to be explored by all who visit the Quinault Region. You won’t regret it.
BEST HIKES: Colonel Bob, Fletcher Canyon.
4. Mount Skokomish
Located on the southeastern corner of the Olympic Mountain Range, the Mount Skokomish Wilderness is home to some of the steepest trails and most rewarding views of the entire Olympic Peninsula. The trails commonly gain over 1,000 feet of elevation in a mile, for multiple miles, but the hard work is rewarded with panoramic views, hidden high alpine lakes, and wildlife watching opportunities. Hikers who prefer the Mount Skokomish Wilderness tend to be a bit masochistic, willing to endure pain and fatigue for the stunning natural views.
Perfect for remote backcountry camping, as well as day hikes, a visit to the Mount Skokomish Wilderness requires strong legs and a desire for epic-ness. Ridgeline campsites where you can watch the sunrise and set all just a few miles of hiking from most trailheads in this wilderness, yet it is remote for the majority of the year, with just a few hearty souls making the steep trek on weekdays and non-summer months.
5. Wonder Mountain
There are very few wilderness areas in the world that don’t have a single trail leading into them, yet the Wonder Mountain Wilderness on the southern end of the Olympic Peninsula is one of them. Only entered through boot paths, with very few maps existing by non-locals, entering the Wonder Mountain Wilderness is something that few try, and even fewer succeed at. Those who make it to the wilderness will more than likely see deer, bear, and elk, with possible sightings of cougars, and mountain goats.
The Wonder Mountain Wilderness isn’t just all about the animals though; it is also a destination for those looking for incredible fishing in untouched alpine lakes. There are few places as remote as the Wonder Mountain Wilderness, so if you do find your way into this mysterious region, enjoy the solitude.
BEST HIKES: No Formal Trails
6. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is 95% wilderness, giving the park over 500 miles of hiking trails in areas designated as wilderness. Hikers of all levels in Olympic can experience wilderness along the rugged beaches, in the wet rainforests, along picturesque rivers, up steep slopes, near high alpine lakes, and atop glaciated peaks. Hiking in the wilderness of Olympic is an experience unlike any other, giving not just remote trails and quality photo ops, but also some of the best stargazing, and one of the quietest areas in America. The wilderness of Olympic is so remote, that there are waterfalls which have had less than five people stand at its base, peaks that have only been climbed by a handful of people and trails that see more bear traffic than humans. Olympic National Park’s trails offer great views of all types of terrain, making the entire Olympic Peninsula perfect for your next vacation.
BEST HIKES: Any of the trails.