Photographing the Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park is right in my backyard and, in my opinion, one of the best places to photograph. Here are just of few of my favorite spots. This is a growing document so be sure to check back for more. I plan on adding more information about the Sol Duc Valley, Lake Crescent, Hurricane Ridge area, and Port Townsend, amongst others.

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge is a must and you could easily spend two or three days or more exploring the area. Both sunrise and sunset shots are possible and in between there are great opportunities for wildflowers and photos of marmots and deer. The deer are very familiar with people and if you're lucky, or place yourself correctly, you can get great shots of deer with mountain peaks in the background.

Usually you'll be photographing the morning light on the distant peaks of Mt. Olympus and the Bailey Range and the great morning light can happen in a matter of seconds. This is where it really pays to know your equipment and to be confident in the basics of photography, like exposure and using filters.

Even better sunrise possibilities can be found along the Hurricane Ridge road, before you reach the top. Mt. Baker, in the Cascade Range, is visible from various places along the road. One of my favorite spots is the turnout right before you enter the tunnels on the way up to Hurricane Ridge.

Along the way to the top of the ridge there are numerous views of the valley below. Often filling with fog or with low, misty clouds flowing over the nearby hills and ridges, these scenes can make for painterly images with clouds colored by the pinks and blues of the morning or catching the first rays of the sun. Try longer exposures to record the flow of the clouds. If you have time, I'd suggest spending at least two mornings at Hurricane Ridge--one at the top and the other on the road below.
 

If you're into doing some hiking, there are plenty of trails in the Hurricane Ridge area. Some start from the Heart O' the Hills campground below, some at the top, and there are also a couple leading from Obstruction Point, which can be a challenge if you're carrying lots of gear.

If you have the time, a hike into the Grand Valley is worth the day you'll spend. It does involve some healthy elevation gain/loss/gain though. Though Hurricane Ridge is the most popular destination in the park, there's one other road that will give you access to the high country. The Deer Park road is located on the eastern edge of Port Angeles and leads to the high meadows of Deer Park. You'll find the same sort of moody sunrise opportunities along this road as along the Hurricane Ridge road, though you won't see the panorama of mountains you'll see from Hurricane Ridge.
 

If you're camping, Heart O' the Hills campground is located about five miles inside the national park from the Port Angeles entrance and is a nice place to stay. For a large national park campground, it still has a wonderful feel of deep woods wilderness to it. There are also wonderful photo opportunities in the vicinity of the campground. You'll find forest flowers, lush green vegetation, and tall trees.

Salt Creek

West of Port Angeles, technically outside of the national park, is the Salt Creek Recreation area/campground and Tongue Point. Tongue Point is arguably the premier location for tide pool photography on the peninsula.

If you are into tide pool photography, you can check the tides at  Saltwatertides.com. If you miss the low tides, it's still worth a visit. It's also a good place for both sunrise and sunset in the summer. The sun rises and sets in the northeast and northwest, respectively. You'll see great American Bald Eagles, sea otters, and Harlequin ducks. Be sure to explore the WWII gun emplacements too. Nice showers are also available here for $.25 each. From Hwy 101 west of Port Angeles, take Hwy 112 towards Neah Bay and follow the signs to Salt Creek Recreation area.

Lake Crescent

At Lake Crescent, you can park at the Storm King Ranger station and take the short hike to Marymere Falls. This is well worth it. Marymere Falls is tall and you can get close to it, so a wide-angle lens like a 24mm works well. There are two viewpoints from the trail--one below the falls and one from near the top. Be sure to take a look at both. The Barnes Creek trail leading to the falls is also a very pleasant walk. Keep your eye out for lush patches of Vanilla leaf and other forest flowers.

Lake Crescent has a lot of potential for moody early morning shots as well as good sunset photos. Use the pullouts along the highway or photograph from the trail that starts near the Lake Crescent Lodge. One of my favorites is Meldrim Point near the west end of the lake. It's not marked but you can identify it by the relatively large pull out and the tree covered point of land. This is a great spot to try your hand at panoramic images at sunrise.

At the far west end of Lake Crescent is the Fairholm Store. Here you can rent canoes and rowboats. Or, if you're a photographer, you can photograph them!

 

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery is the most northwest point in the continental U.S. You'll find a good view of Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse as well as Tufted Puffins on the cliffs. Traveling west of Port Angeles on Hwy 101, turn right onto Hwy 112 to Neah Bay (this is the same road that will lead you to Tongue Point). Follow 112 to Neah Bay and follow the signs to Cape Flattery. A short trail leads to viewpoints of the cliffs and lighthouse. Allow a couple of hours for the drive from Port Angeles. Once you get into Neah Bay, you'll need to stop at the tribal

The Coast

The town of Forks is near the Hoh entrance to the National Park and is a good place to stay on the west side. There are also national park campgrounds nearby at both the Hoh Rain Forest and at Mora, on the coast. The town of La Push is also on the coast near Mora and Rialto Beach, and there are cabins and motels that are reasonably priced.

Rialto Beach is a great place for sunset photos. There are sea stacks and stands of driftwood for framing your shots. You'll need to hike down the beach a bit. It's about a mile to Hole-in-the-Wall, which is a great place for tide pools and sunsets.

Farther down the coast to the south, you'll find Ruby Beach and a host of other accessible beaches, all potential sunset locations. There's also the possibility of moody early morning images with fog seeping into the coastal forest.

Wilderness

For more adventure, backpack the wilderness coastline of the national park. Be prepared with tide charts and wilderness camping gear. On the eastern side of the park there are several areas to explore, especially if you're into hiking. One such area is Staircase, which is reachable by turning west off of Hwy 101 at the town of Hoodsport on Hood Canal. The road will take you by Lake Cushman and into the national park. (in case you're confused, Hwy 101 encircles the peninsula.)

Two trails to explore in the Staircase area are the Skokomish River trail and the Staircase Rapids trail. The two trails parallel each other on opposite sides of the river. In the past it was possible to make a nice two-mile loop by crossing the Staircase Rapids Bridge, but the bridge was damaged a few years ago and the Park Service has yet to replace it.

In the spring, forest wildflowers abound including Trillium and Calypso Orchids. Harlequin ducks are often visible from the campground located about a mile from the trailhead on the Staircase Rapids trail. The rapids themselves can also make a good subject.


The areas I would put on my "must see" list include Hurricane Ridge (including the Obstruction Point Road), the Lake Crescent area, including Marymere Falls, The Sol-Duc valley, The Hoh Rainforest and the coast. There is just so much to explore and to photograph on the peninsula, and especially in the national park, that there is no way to mention them all. You'll just have to come out and discover them on your own.

For more information about trails and backcountry destinations, consult Olympic Mountain Trail Guide by Robert L. Wood, published by The Mountaineers (ISBN 0-89886-087-3), and "Wild Olympic Coast" by David Hooper, also published by The Mountaineers (ISBN 0-89886-354-6)