January 8, 2019
By: Tommy Farris | Owner & Founder, Olympic Hiking Co.
Winter. I’ve been patiently waiting for this season on the Olympic Peninsula, as it is arguably my favorite to get out and explore. Stormy winter waves crash along the coastline, the hiking trails provide peace and solitude, the air is crisp, and the forests are replenished and showcase a vibrant green with the return of much needed precipitation. With the majority of our three million Olympic National Park visitors arriving during the summer, winter is an ideal time to visit the Olympic Peninsula for a more authentic and tranquil outdoor experience. Here are five great winter hikes that are always at the top of my Olympic Peninsula winter bucket list:
This iconic one-mile trail leads you to the most northwest point of the contiguous United States in breathtaking fashion. The Cape Flattery Trail leads you through evergreen forests, along a boardwalk trail, and features scenic lookouts of coastal caves, sea stacks, and the crashing surf below. Upon reaching the final lookout, you’ll be standing in awe at that most northwest point with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean blending into the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Winter is a spectacular time to visit the Cape as the winter high tides and more volatile weather systems can create some dramatic coastal scenery with powerful winter waves crashing into the headland.
Marymere Falls is one the top picturesque waterfalls in Olympic National Park. Better yet, it is accessed on a primarily flat, family-friendly hiking trail just under two miles roundtrip. Located at Lake Crescent, the hike leads you through towering old growth forestry and alongside Barnes Creek, until reaching the 90-foot falls. Because Lake Crescent is just below 1,000-feet elevation, the trail usually remains open year round as it rarely snows. Just make sure to use extra caution while using the nature stairs to access the final waterfall viewpoints as they can become icy during our more frigid winter season. You can start the hike at the Storm King Ranger Station or the Lake Crescent Lodge, which are both conveniently accessed directly off of Highway 101, just 35 minutes West of Port Angeles.
Instagram has made Second Beach one of the most photographed beaches in the Pacific Northwest and for good reason. Second Beach showcases jaw-dropping displays of rugged coastal beauty with towering sea stacks, piles of massive driftwood logs, and is one of the top sunset venues in Olympic National Park. The trailhead is located just outside of La Push and a 0.7-mile, one-way trail amongst Cedars and Sitka Spruce lead you to the beach. During the winter, Second Beach is a wonderful place for solitude with an expansive sandy landscape for a beach walk, a picnic, or sunset hike.
4) Spruce Railroad Trail
On the opposite side of the lake from Marymere Falls, the Spruce Railroad Trail is the premier lakefront trail on Lake Crescent. By starting at the eastern trailhead near the Log Cabin Resort, the picturesque bridge that spans across the Devil’s Punchbowl is only about one-mile hike away. During the warmer summer months, the Devil’s Punch Bowl is a busy swimming hole with kayakers and day hikers jumping into the cold, glacier-fed waters. However, the winter brings a much more peaceful tone to the lake with birds chirping, water lapping, and the snow-line drifting up and down on the mountains that surround the lake. Please note that the Devil’s Punchbowl is now accessed on a side path by the McFee Tunnel as the newly constructed ADA trail bypasses it.
Salt Creek Recreational Area is a scenic 196-acre park with campgrounds, RV sites, hiking trails, and more. This county park is the former site of Camp Hayden, a World War II military camp, allowing today’s park visitors to explore the old bunker sites. During low tide, visitors can take a number of oceanfront trails to reach lively tidepools. During high tide, these coastal staircases become incredible viewing areas for crashing waves and storm watching. Salt Creek also has nearby beach access and a five-mile roundtrip hiking trail to Striped Peak. During the winter, it is amazing to have a pristine coastal venue like Salt Creek all to yourself, especially since it is only a 30-minute drive from Port Angeles.
These five hiking destinations and trails are low mileage and family friendly. There are more advanced and longer hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, however, the winter brings on a different set of prerequisites to do these hikes safely with necessary gear (microspikes, snowshoes, etc.) and safety considerations (avalanche dangers, deep snow, etc.). Please prepare for every trip on the Olympic Peninsula specific to the region you’re visiting and always carry your Ten Essentials on a hike. If you are uncomfortable hiking on your own or simply want to learn more about the park, please feel free to contact us at Olympic Hiking Co. for a sightseeing or hiking tour.