Article and photos by Douglas Scott /
Across Puget Sound far from shopping malls and busy box stores, seemingly endless natural wonder awaits those willing to give up Black Friday and #OptOutside. Best known as the Wild Olympics, the Olympic Peninsula is home to a lifetime of outdoor exploration in stunning terrain. Highlighted by waterfalls, rivers, rainforests and mountains, the Olympics welcome the countryside and inspire a lifetime of appreciation and support for the great outdoors. Replacing things with experiences will the adventures found in the Wild Olympics in the Pacific Northwest, recharge your soul and reconnect to the beautiful lands of our homes. This holiday season, there is no more game of a place to #OptOutside.
When the autumn rain swells in the rivers and the leaves decompose in the ferns and the bog, the valley in the Olympics is transformed into a moist dreamland with adventure, loneliness and wonder. Small streams become raging forests, seasonal waterfalls cascades down steep slopes, and the region comes alive with a bustling activity and humidity. Wild with wildlife, from elk, eagles, mountains, marmots and salmon, the wild Olympics in the fall are hard to beat. To many, the Olympics seem scary and remote, wet and wild, which they somewhat are. Autumn storms washed out roads, while seasonal closures restrict access to some regions. Despite the elements, the Wild Olympics are open to exploration and your #OptOutside experience, making it the perfect destination for a meal after the holidays.
Close to Puget Sound, but often overlooked, the Hamma Hamma River offers some of the most diverse and iconic hiking spots in the Pacific Northwest. Uprising from the Hood Canal, the fjord of Washington State, Hamma Hamma has five incredible hikes for adventure all year round. While the entire region is full of majestic lakes, mountains and forests, two hikes are perfect #OptOutside destinations. For families and those seeking an easy, scenic and iconic Olympic trail, the 7.2 mile (return) Lena Lake Trail is the perfect combination of forest, lake and stunning scenery. Featured by Lunch Rock, which overlooks the lake and the stunning wooden bridge along the trail, this hike is both family and dog friendly. Those looking for something harder and less crowded will enjoy the steep 8-mile (round trip) trail to the Lake of the Angels. Lake of the Angels climbs over main walls and works its way up 3,500 feet and sits against what many consider to be the most beautiful mountain backdrop in the Olympics. With smoothed boulders from ice activity, rugged peaks, beautiful waterfalls and an abundant mountain goat and marmot population, this destination is one of the best day trips for advanced hikers.
Also along the Hood Canal side of the Olympic Peninsula, the Duckabush River has a handful of hikes that reward you with incredible experiences in a largely overlooked region. Duckabush is known for moose herds and eagles, waterfalls and remote forests and gives you the solitude and splendor you are looking for. Three family-friendly trails provide the perfect #OptOutside destinations, the first being the hike to the Duckabush River and Ranger Hole. Starting at a rented forest service hut, the 2.1-mile hike leads through moss-covered trees, towering ferns and giant trees scattered through the forest. Arriving at Ranger Hole, named after the great fishing found here, the Duckabush River roars in full glory as the trees and cliffs contrast with the milky blue water. After seeing Duckabush, walk further up Forest Service Road until you reach Murhut Falls. Murhut Falls is a short, simple and stunning walk through second growth forests leading to a breathtaking two-step waterfall. While the views from the trail are stunning, boot trails down to Murhut Creek near the waterfalls lead to incredible cascades of all sizes, including the ever-beautiful Triple Falls. If these hikes are too short, hit the Duckabush River Trail and walk to Big Hump and the border of Olympic National Park. Along this trail, moose are often seen and heard, while Big Hump offers memorable views up and down the Duckabush River below.
Further north, near the end of the Hood Canal and the start of the Salish Sea, the Big Quilcene River holds even more breathtaking hikes. The highlight of the region, hands down, is the trek up to Marmot Pass. With stunning views of Puget Sound, the Olympic interior and the lush forests below, this 11.5-mile round-trip adventure is considered one of the crown jewels of hiking on the Olympic Peninsula. Starts in pristine forests and along the gurgling river, and the trail is steep in places but worth every 3500 feet achieved. What makes this even better is that on clear days hikers can also grab the top of Buckhorn Mountain, which somehow offers more majestic views. If the weather is less than stellar, consider hiking the 10-mile hiking trail in the Lower Big Quilcene. Well maintained and easy to follow, this is a solid backup for families and those hoping for solitude and serenity. Featured by stunning bridges and towering trees, Lower Big Quilcene is a lesser known and wonderful region.
Close to the small town of Sequim, the Dungeness River is often overlooked by the millions who visit the Olympic Peninsula each year. During the fall, there is a high probability that you will see more wildlife than humans on the trails, so you can connect to these majestic and magical forests on a deeper level. Along the Dungeness River, which is the second largest river in America, the Upper Dungeness River Trail operates its way next to the river and passes through giant trees hundreds of feet high and centuries old. At 5.2 miles in, day hikers can rest on Camp Handy before heading back along this picturesque and stunning trail. Those looking for something further should start along the Upper Dungeness Trail and hike up Royal Creek to Royal Lake. At Royal Lake you will be rewarded with mountain views, access to the lake and even a secret and beautiful waterfall.
No trip to the Northern Olympic Peninsula is complete without a hike along the Sol Duc River. The most famous of the trails is the hike to Sol Duc Falls, the iconic waterfall with three canals flowing down a narrow gorge. The short hike is a treasure trove of beauty with many streams, large trees and wooden bridges to cross before standing next to the incredible waterfalls. Family friendly and easy to follow, the trail is one of the most popular in the Olympic National Park and with good reason. While the short version of the trail is less than two miles round trip, consider hiking from the Sol Duc Resort parking lot along the Lover’s Lane Trail. This will give you an intimate look at the Sol Duc river as well as reward you with a certain solitude in this incredibly beautiful region. On the drive to the trailhead, be sure to stop at Salmon Cascades to watch the struggles of jumping up into rapids that encounter recurring salmon each fall.
Quinault Rainforest is said to be the middle child in the Olympic rainforest regions. The Quinault rainforest is often skipped, with hikers heading to the more famous Hoh or the wild and remote queues. Quinault is the perfect combination of accessibility and secluded location, giving each level of hikers the perfect rainforest trail. Families should explore the Quinault Nature Trails, a series of trails that can range from one to 13 miles depending on your adventure level. Highlighted by ancient, towering trees, pristine mountain streams and waterfalls, the beauty of the region can be easily seen on well-kept trails that are easy to follow. More serious hikers who want to see what the rainforest looks like from above can hike up to the top of Colonel Bob, where they will be rewarded with a cold-inducing view of Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rainforest. Even those new to hiking and looking for quick, scenic stops will find something in the Quinault rainforest thanks to the waterfalls, record trees and family-friendly hiking and picnic areas along the loop drive on North and South Shore Roads. Like the rest of the Wild Olympics, Quinault is the rainforest, where your soul is nourished in nature and a lifetime of memories and adventures awaits.
These hikes are in regions that are part of The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, reintroduced last year by U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer. The bill will permanently protect over 126,000 acres of new wilderness areas in the Olympic National Forest and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their tributaries as wild and scenic rivers – the first ever wild and scenic rivers on the peninsula. Wild Olympics legislation is designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests, clean water and improve outdoor life and has been approved by over 550 local businesses, athletes, outdoor groups, faith leaders, conservation groups and local elected officials; and more than 12,000 local residents have signed petitions in support.
Thanks to an incredible card created for outdoor enthusiasts by the Peninsula Economic Leaders, REI and Patagonia, the beauty of the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild & Scenic Rivers proposal is just a short drive away. Download and print your free card here.
Signs the petition for the Wild Olympics Campaign to help preserve these amazing lands here.
This article was written by Douglas Scott. Through his many guidebooks, including 52 Olympic Peninsula hikes and the ultimate guide to Olympic National Park, you can find the best trails and experiences in and around the Wild Olympics. More information about Douglas and his work, including his books, can be found at Outdoor-Society.com
Wallpaper of #OptOutside
Last year, REI did something different on Black Friday – they closed the co-open doors and urged the nation to join them outside. The nonprofits in the heart of the outdoor community, including the Wild Olympics Campaign, became involved in OptOutside and made it our own. Together, we mobilized more than a million people to shop shopping trails for trailheads. This year on November 25, REI closes again and we are glad that you have decided to choose outside with us!