map High Olympics

by Bob Norton

revised by Bob Boekelheide

The Olympic Mountains stand out as a peninsula of snow-capped peaks surrounded on three sides by saltwater. The heart of the peninsula is Olympic National Park, one of the jewels of the national park system. Several roads follow river valleys up to mid-elevation trailheads around the perimeter of Olympic National Park, but the interior of the park is a roadless wilderness area. One of the most picturesque and accessible of these valleys is the Elwha River, the first large watershed west of Port Angeles. Only two roads in the park offer easy, extensive access to subalpine elevations, climbing the ridges above Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge and Deer Park.

Olympic National Park is an excellent location to find Sooty Grouse. Sooty males are most evident in spring and early summer at mid-elevations when they are booming and displaying. Through the summer hens can be seen wandering with their chicks in subalpine meadows. Other montane species such as Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Northern Spotted Owl, Black Swift, Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Pine Grosbeak occur in the Olympics and are occasionally seen, but locating them may require extensive hiking.

During the ice ages, when the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Trough were filled with Cordilleran glaciers, sections of the Olympic Mountains provided a refugium for plants and animals. Several forms unique to the Olympics evolved as a consequence of this isolation. One of the most obvious to visitors is the Olympic Marmot, a close relative of the more widely-distributed Hoary Marmot. The Olympic Arctic (Oeneis chryxus valerata), one of the most restricted-range butterflies in North America, can be found only on Hurricane Ridge and a few other high ridges close by. Several plant species unique to the windswept alpine zones are found only in these mountains.

Weather and road reports are available on the Olympic National Park visitor information tape (360-565-3131) and at the national park web site ( In summer, overcast skies in Port Angeles are not a reliable indicator of weather in the mountains, because the high country is usually above the stratocumulus layer. Conditions may change quickly in spring and fall, bringing blizzard conditions and whiteouts with little warning. From July through September, however, weather in the high country is often very pleasant, although mornings may be cool. Winters bring heavy snowfall; snow accumulation often continues through March and April.



Hurricane Ridge is the main tourist attraction in Olympic National Park, heavily used during the summer months. In the snow season, the road may be open Fridays through Sundays to allow access to the ski area, but it may also be closed for weeks on end in years when snowfall is too heavy for the plows to handle. Winter birds at higher elevations are usually limited to ravens and Gray Jays, but occasional winter reports include mountain finches such as Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and Pine Grosbeak.

From US-101 in Port Angeles, turn south onto Race Street (seven blocks east of Lincoln Street) and follow the signs 1.0 mile to Olympic National Park Visitor Center, which provides information and a nice selection of books and maps for sale. Turn right as you leave the visitor center and in 0.1 mile bear right onto Heart O’ the Hills Parkway, also known as Hurricane Ridge Road. Heart O’ the Hills entrance station (fee or pass required) is another 5.2 miles ahead. The road is almost always open to this point even in winter. Just past the entrance station on the left is the Heart O’ the Hills campground, where you can camp amidst massive old-growth Western Red Cedars and Douglas-firs. Birding here is strong on Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Golden-crowned Kinglet, with numbers of Varied Thrush most of the year. Marbled Murrelet and Vaux’s Swift have been known to nest in the old-growth forest within the campground. Camp out in early summer and listen for calling murrelets as they fly overhead before dawn.

Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is 11.7 miles farther up, at 5,230 feet elevation. Stop here to look over Big Meadow, nesting area for Horned Larks and American Pipits when snow-free patches open up in spring. A short hike on paved trails to nearby stands of Subalpine Fir may turn up Sooty Grouse. The road continues west another 1.4 miles to the Hurricane Hill trail. Gray Jays and juncos always seem to be around the picnic area along this road. The 1.7-mile walk to the summit of Hurricane Hill is recommended for subalpine breeders such as Horned Lark, Townsend’s Solitaire, and American Pipit. Be vigilant for soaring Golden Eagles hunting these mountain meadows, and in late summer and fall watch for upslope migrant raptors like Northern Harriers and falcons.

Return to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. At the east end of the parking lot the narrow gravel Obstruction Point road drops off to the right (southeast), ending in 7.8 miles at Obstruction Point. This road provides good access to subalpine and alpine habitats in the north Olympics, but in most years the Park Service does not plow the snow until July. In late spring and early summer, before it is open to cars, walk this road for subalpine nesting species such as Pine Grosbeak; a staff or ice axe may be helpful to get over the remaining snow banks. When open, an array of trails leave from the parking lot at Obstruction Point (elevation 6,133 feet). The trail along the ridge going south toward Grand Lake is good for Horned Lark and American Pipit. Look for Golden Eagles soaring over these ridges from their nest sites in the high Olympics, hunting for unwary Olympic Marmots. A backpacking trip from here to the peaks and glaciers of the northeastern Olympics may turn up Clark’s Nutcracker and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.



Deer Park is smaller than Hurricane Ridge, but offers similar birds with fewer people, no entrance fee, and at least as good a chance of seeing Sooty Grouse. It also has the only drive-in campground in the Olympic subalpine, on the south slope of Blue Mountain. Most years the road is open all the way to the top from about early July until the first major snowfall in early October. The rest of the year it may be closed to cars but can be walked, first through dense fir forests, then opening up into Subalpine Fir. From downtown Port Angeles, travel east on US-101 about 5.5 miles and turn right (south) on Deer Park Road. At the National Park boundary, 8.8 miles from US-101, the road turns to gravel. The road, though steep, curvy, and a bit rough, is suitable for ordinary autos. The undisturbed forests along most of the ascent are largely home to juncos, robins, and Varied Thrushes, until the trees begin to thin out in the subalpine. Look for grouse along the road. In 7.6 miles you reach a short loop road to the Deer Park Ranger Station; stay on the upper road, toward the campground and Blue Mountain. Bypass the campground, bear to the left, and continue uphill to a small parking lot on the northwest shoulder of Blue Mountain, 8.9 miles from the park boundary. Park here and walk the half-mile Rainshadow Loop Trail to the summit (elevation 6,007 feet). Clumps of trees near the summit are good for Sooty Grouse and migrants in season. During nesting, Horned Larks and American Pipits can be found on the exposed southern slopes all the way down to the campground. Walk or drive slowly through the campground to an old burn at the south edge. Another exposure to this burn may be obtained by hiking the first quarter-mile of the Three Forks Trail from the trailhead on the east side of the campground. This area has produced a nice selection of high-country forest birds.