October 12, 2016
By Dorothy Rice Bennett
One of the joys of living in the small community of Sequim, Washington, is that our town is like a hub with spokes extending in all directions. Each of these spokes leads to something beautiful, fun, educational, interesting, artistic, natural, amazing—or all of the above. And most of these destinations are close, accessible in a few moments or at least within a few hours.
Among the first places I was taken to visit when I came to Sequim was the Visitors’ Center at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Consider this: you leave Sequim, which sits at the southern end of a prairie barely a hundred feet above sea level, and in slightly more than an hour you move gradually uphill to nearly a mile above sea level. Amazing in itself!
From Sequim, you take the 101 Highway to Port Angeles, which is seventeen miles to the west. At Race Street, you make a left turn, leaving the 101 behind, and gradually start your uphill climb. In a little more than a mile, you veer to the right on the park road leading to Hurricane Ridge. In five miles, you reach the visitors’ toll booth where you pay the fee, or show your senior card, which lets your entire carload in for free.
From the tollbooth you drive another twelve miles—winding among the mountains and valleys, amid stately evergreens and through tunnels, sometimes noticing mountain springs emerging from roadside rocks—until finally you break through to an open valley where the Hurricane Ridge Visitors’ Center is located. Just under a mile high.
Before you is laid out a big parking lot, and on nice days there are hundreds of parked cars all around. In the middle is a building that houses restrooms, viewing areas, a gift shop, a snack bar, and a movie viewing room. All of this on two levels. From the south side of the building, on both levels, you look at and take pictures of the majesty of the Olympic Mountains.
And majestic they are! Not the highest in the nation, with Mount Olympus topping out just under eight thousand feet, or the biggest—the Olympic range is compact, limited only to the Olympic Peninsula and totally inside the state of Washington—yet it is filled with numerous peaks, valleys, and glaciers. The total of the range is so intense, so wild, and so rugged that much of it unreachable to any except very experienced hikers and climbers. As a result, a national park is almost the only possible use of the land. So in 1938, the Olympic range was designated a national park and is now one of the most popular and most visited in the U.S.
The visitors’ center is open to the public throughout the summer months and also during the remainder of the year when weather permits. Winter snows can isolate Hurricane Ridge until the access road can be plowed, so the visitors’ center is kept open as much as possible on weekends and occasionally, when storm free, during some weekdays. It is wise in winter to check the status via the Internet before heading up the hill.
Spectacular all year round
The views from the center are spectacular. For active souls, during the winter it is possible to snowboard, cross country ski, and in a variety of ways enjoy the piled-high snow. During the summer months, there are numerous hiking and climbing trails available. The ridge offers virtually unlimited photo ops throughout the year. Deer are often present on the grasslands around the center. (Pets are allowed on leash in the parking area but not inside the visitors’ center building; there are restrictions on pets to be noted at various places inside the National Park.)
On the way up to Hurricane Ridge and back down to Port Angeles, there are several pull outs where you can visually survey the land, the cities, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and even Canada on clear days.
I have been to Hurricane Ridge numerous times and in every season. The ridge never fails to excite and satisfy. I take all my houseguests there, and everyone raves about the beauty. And because it’s so close, we can leave after lunch and still be home by dinnertime—unless we decide to enjoy an evening meal at a restaurant in Port Angeles while we cruise through that neighboring community.
Have fun at Hurricane Ridge! You won’t be sorry that you made the drive!