Island in the sky: Hiking Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Photo ©Photo © Nastassja Noell

By Nastassja Noell

When the summer heat starts firing up in the cities, subalpine meadows offer a second chance to experience the joys of spring. Up on Hurricane Ridge, just south of Port Angeles, Washington, kids and grandparents can walk along a paved trail and see the colorful displays of subalpine wildflowers amid pockets of melting snow and striking views of the glaciers of Olympic National Park.

“Quite a few subalpine flowers in the Olympic Mountains are found nowhere else in the world,” explains nature guide Carolyn Wilcox, as we hike in the parkland along Hurricane Ridge. She bends down next to the trail and points out Olympic Indian paintbrush, one of many types of wildflowers that cover the meadows.

As an ecologist and owner of Experience Olympic, an ecotour company based out of Port Angeles, Carolyn offers visitors an inside view of the ecosystems that make up Olympic National Park.

During the Ice Ages, populations of plants, animals, and insects in the Olympic mountains were isolated and eventually became uniquely different from the mainland populations. Subalpine and alpine areas in the Olympics host a remarkable number of species found nowhere else in the world, from a variety of wildflowers and butterflies to marmots and chipmunks.

“Ecologically speaking, the Olympic Mountains are like an island in the sky,” remarks Carolyn as we round the base of the summit and observe a maze of tunnels created by a population of Olympic marmots. Often endemic species are rare or hard to find, but on this particular trail at Hurricane Ridge the endemic Olympic marmot is abundant.

Songbirds are particularly active in summer in the subalpine; many birds such as the American pipit migrate to the subalpine zones of the Olympic Peninsula to breed and raise their young.

“Hiking Hurricane Ridge at sunset is my favorite time of day, because just as most people are leaving the park, the animals are coming out to reclaim their precious subalpine habitat,” says Carolyn, as she points out a horned lark taking a dust bath in some disturbed soil along the trail.

Hurricane Ridge is a 45-minute drive from Port Angeles. Near the top of the ridge a visitor center has maps and information about the series of trails that extend farther into the park. For more information about tours with Experience Olympic, visit experienceolympic.com. To learn more about travel to Port Angeles, go to portangeles.org, or about the Olympic Peninsula, olympicpeninsula.org.