Photo guide to Olympic National Park – Hurricane Ridge
This is part of my Photo Location Guide series. To see them all, visit this page.
There are two main towns out of which you can base yourself for exploring Olympic National Park: Port Angeles and the Forks area. There are, of course, more options, but those are the main areas. There are several hotels in both towns.
If you plan on visiting in the middle of summer, then you might have a bit of trouble finding a room. I advise making hotel reservations in advance.
Camping is also an option. In Port Angeles, you can camp in the Heart O' the Hills campground in Olympic National Park.
This post will cover the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park (more areas to be covered in other posts). It's a quick guide to the major attractions and there's always more to explore.
From Port Angeles you can head up the Hurricane Ridge Road. Right before you start up you'll see the Visitors Center. Stop by and pick up the Olympic National Park map. There's a box full of them just outside the door in case it's closed when you go by. If you drive straight to the top of Hurricane Ridge, allow about 45 minutes.
There is a lot to see just along the Hurricane Ridge Road. Just inside the entrance station is the Heart O' The Hills campground. Explore this area for some lush forest shots.
Continue on up the Hurricane Ridge Road. Just before you get to the first of three tunnels is pullout with a small parking lot. From here you get a good view of Mt. Baker in the North Cascades. This can be a good sunrise spot, though down-slope trees are beginning to obstruct the view.
From the south end of the parking lot follow the short paved trail to a viewpoint. The view from here is completely different from the other view. You're now looking into the pristine, unspoiled Olympic National Park wilderness.
In July, as you start gaining altitude, you'll start noticing more and more wildflowers along the side of the road. There are a number of places you can pull over and photograph flowers to your heart's content. This can be especially good early on a cool, overcast morning after an overnight rain when the flowers are full of dew drops.
When driving up the road before sunrise, take it slow and keep your eye out for rocks in the road. They'll often tumble down overnight.
Also keep an eye out for wildlife any time of day. Deer are common but you'll occasionally see a black bear. Cougars are in the area too but count yourself lucky if you see one.
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot is about 17 miles from the start of the road. And it's a pretty good sized lot. But if you plan on going up there in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer, you might have trouble finding a parking spot. But we're photographers and we know to avoid the mid-day light.
If you go to Hurricane Ridge for a sunrise you'll likely find yourself alone or with just a few other photographers. Walk the sidewalk from the beginning of the parking lot to the visitor center, noticing how the foreground changes with respect to the background. One of my favorite areas to photograph is in the area at the beginning of the parking lot. I like how the trees in the foreground can be used with the mountains in the background.
You'll also find some nice shots right from the patio at the Visitor Center.
Sunrise can happen fast. Right at sunrise the distant mountains will turn pink. This lasts for only a very short time before a warmer yellow light takes over.
About a half hour after sunrise the trees just below the parking lot will start getting lit up. This can look great and really adds to the foreground.
Before you even get to the parking lot, the Obstruction Point Road, a dirt road suitable for passenger cars but not RVs, heads southeast along Hurricane Ridge. Be sure to explore the area right around the start of the road when you're there for sunrise. Keep your eye out for Columbia Blacktail Deer. In the summer there's a good chance of seeing doe and their fawns in the morning. Actually, you can see deer in this area just about any time of day.
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center area can also be a good sunset spot. Be sure to explore the paved trails on the north side of the parking lot. But that drive back to Port Angeles in the dark seems to take forever.
The Obstruction Point Road is usually open by early to mid-July. You can check on the status of all roads in the park here or by calling 360-565-3131. This 7-mile long dirt road leads to some great views and lots of summer wildflowers.
The views change as you go and you'll find a few places where you can pull over to photograph. At about 5 miles (I'm guessing here) the road climbs and near the top of this climb is a pretty wide area in the road, a great place to park. Here you'll find a great view of Mt. Olympus and other mountains. You'll also find a big field that is often full of lupine. This is a great place to wait for sunset.
Past this point the road curves and drops a bit and will finally end at Obstruction Point. Trails lead off into the Olympic wilderness. Here you stand a good chance of seeing marmots as there are usually a few dens around. (If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll likely to see several dens along road on your way to Obstruction Point.)
Not very many casual tourists travel this road so if you're looking to get away from the crowd, this might just be your spot.
This is remarkable sub-alpine country. It's worth driving out here just to get out of the car and listen to the quiet and breath the air.
I will give you a bit of warning here. Even though this road is perfectly fine for passenger cars, there are some spots with steep drop-offs. So if you have an issue with heights, you may want to skip this road or have someone else drive. The road is also narrow in places but there are plenty of turnouts so that you'll likely never need to back up to a turn out to let another car pass. I've driven this road more times than I can remember and have never had a problem. So don't be scared off.
Back at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, drive past the visitor center on the Hurricane Hill Road. This road is paved and not very long. But along the way you'll find more views and flowers. There are also a couple of nice picnic areas (and restrooms). You'll likely encounter a few overly-friendly deer at the picnic areas, a byproduct of tourist illegally feeding them. At the end of the road is a trail that's well worth exploring for wildflowers, deer, and views.
When you're driving up the Hurricane Ridge Road for a sunrise, be on the lookout for fog coming up the valley. Once you start getting near the top you stand a great chance of seeing fog flowing over the top of the ridge. There are a couple of turnouts that offer great views of this. In fact, one of the best spots is only a couple hundred yards before you get to the main parking lot. If you've got a couple of mornings to visit Hurricane Ridge, and you're lucky enough to get the morning fog, I suggest using one of those mornings to concentrate on the sunrise illuminating the fog. You won't regret it.
Deer Park gets far fewer visitors. The view north and east toward Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands, and Port Townsend is spectacular. If there is fog in the lowland, sunrises here can be magical.
You won't get the same spectacular mountain scenery that you get from Hurricane Ridge though.
The Deer Park Road is on the west side of Port Angeles and is well-marked on the park map. Allow about an hour to drive to the top. The road to the park boundary is paved but after that you're on a dirt road. Like the Obstruction Point Road, the Deer Park road is suitable for passenger cars, but I'd advise against RVs.
When you finally reach Deer Park follow the branch of the road that leads left and uphill. You'll find a parking area at the top. You can photograph from here but the view is even better if you wander out on the little spur on the north side of the parking lot.
If you're short on time, feel free to skip Deer Park. But if you're in the area for a few days, it offers views you won't get anywhere else in Olympic National Park.
For even more details on photographing Olympic National Park, see my book The Photographer's Guide to Puget Sound and Northwest Washington.
I also lead photo workshops to Olympic National Park. Visit my Photo Workshops site for more information.