Visiting in Winter Overview
Learn About Visiting Olympic in the Winter
Visiting Olympic National Park in the winter gives you an entirely unique perspective of it’s diverse landscape. There are many benefits to visiting in the winter, as well as some drawbacks. In this guide, we will go in to detail about what to expect when you visit in December, January or February, so you can plan the best trip possible.
BENEFITS OF VISITING IN WINTER
There are so many benefits to visiting in winter as this park is incredibly diverse. With three significant ecosystems—coast, rainforest, and alpine, you are able to spend time in the snow, and then drive down to the coast and walk along the beach. Now, you may be thinking of a drastic transition from being bundled up in snow coats, to walking in a bathing suit on a warm, sunny beach… but, the coast in Olympic NP will likely be gray, and you will probably wear layers. It’s still quite the transition, it can be 20 degrees warmer along the coast than in the mountains. One can also visit Hurricane Ridge for epic and dynamic views. There are many trails at Hurricane Ridge, as well as the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area. While you’re there, you can learn a new hobby, snowshoeing! Pick snowshoes up for rent at the Ski and Snowboard Area, and try them out on the 6-mile jaunt to Hurricane Hill. Hurricane Ridge Road is closed typically from November to March but is scheduled to be open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and on holidays that fall on Monday. Ensure the road is open by looking at the current road conditions. Lastly, the crowds disappear by the fall, and you are left with a National Park to yourself at times. Friday, Saturday, and Sundays bring the Weekend Warriors, but it is so easy to escape into a winter wonderland of your own. Choose a hike to go on and you will experience the tranquility and silence of the park.
DRAWBACKS OF VISITING IN WINTER
The biggest drawback to visiting Olympic National Park in the winter is the weather, as November to April marks the rainy season for the Olympic Peninsula. The park receives an average of 140 inches (12 feet!) of rain throughout the year, and the majority of that falls during the winter and spring. Don’t let this deter you! Surprisingly, the rainforest is a good place to be during the rain, as the dense canopy above creates a natural cover. Just make sure that you always have your rain jacket and rain pants nearby, they are crucial this time of year.
CLIMATE AND TEMPERATURE IN WINTER
The winter weather in Olympic National Park can be a doozy, but if you are prepared with layers, rain gear, extra socks, waterproof boots, and you know the forecast, it is easy to be optimistic in the rain. Check the weather for Hurricane Ridge, the Quinault Rainforest, and Rialto Beach before heading out for the day. Below are the average temperatures and days of precipitation in December, January, and February for the three locations:
|Month||Hurricane Ridge||Quinault Rainforest||Rialto Beach||Days of Precip|
|Avg Hi||Avg Lo||Avg Hi||Avg Lo||Avg Hi||Avg Lo|
|December||27°F (-2°C)||19°F (-7°C)||43°F (6°C)||34°F (1°C)||46°F (7°C)||35°F (2°C)||20 Days|
|January||30°F (-1°C)||21°F (-6°C)||45°F (7°C)||35°F (1°C)||46°F (7°C)||35°F (1°C)||19 Days|
|February||29°F (-2°C)||17°F (-8°C)||47°F (8°C)||35°F (1°C)||48°F (8°C)||36°F (2°C)||21 Days|
THINGS TO DO IN WINTER
There are so many winter activities in Olympic National Park. Below, we have listed a few of our favorites:
Hiking: The rainforests and coast provide extraordinary hiking in the winter. Hiking through the valleys and lowlands, you will experience rain, but all of the trails are accessible, as long as you don’t mind getting a little soggy in the process. You can have the path to yourself for most of the day if you are lucky. One of the best things about hiking during the rainy season is watching the cascading waterfalls pour over a cliff with reckless abandon. There are over 10,000 waterfalls in Olympic National Park, some of which are among the best in the state. Sol Duc Falls, Marymere Falls, and Enchanted Valley are just a few—you can check these out and more, on our list of 10 Best Hikes.
Backpacking: Winter is a great time of the year for backpacking, especially in the lowlands of the rainforest and coast. Because there are so many fewer people in the park than in any other season, obtaining backcountry permits should be easy and stress-free. We will go into detail below about our favorite routes in the winter.
Skiing and snowboarding: Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is open from mid-December to March, on Saturdays and Sundays, and occasionally Mondays. The area provides opportunities for downhill skiing/ snowboarding, cross-country skiing, tubing, and snowshoe rental. Check the road conditions and read the park newspaper to see when the ski hill is open.
Snowshoeing: You can rent snowshoes at Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area, from here is it just a six-mile journey to Hurricane Hill, and you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the Olympic Range. You can also go on a ranger-led snowshoe walk, check with the Visitor Center for times and locations.
Storm-watching: Winter is the best time of year to watch a storm roll in off the coast. Mora, Rialto, and Kalaloch beaches are all fantastic places to storm-watch. The rugged coastline becomes dramatic and moody during a winter storm, providing incredible photography opportunities —there is nothing like an Olympic Peninsula storm. Look for tidepools that are home to hundreds of tiny marine creatures too!
HIKING IN OLYMPIC IN WINTER
With over 600 miles of trails in Olympic National Park, ranging in distance and difficulty, everyone is able to enjoy a hike in the park. You can check out the Destination Brochures for a list of the hiking trails in each area of the park. Below we have listed a few of our favorite hikes:
- Trailhead: Staircase Ranger Station
- Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Hike from the Staircase Ranger Station along the North Fork of the Skokomish River, through thick and luxuriant rainforest. With Sitka spruce and western hemlock, ferns, and mosses, you will experience the unique ecology of Olympic National Park’s old-growth forest. Your senses will come alive as you see the river rushing with rainwater; hear the dramatic rapids; smell wet dirt and moss; and feel the spongy earth beneath your boots. Two miles into the hike, you will reach an impressive suspension bridge crossing the river, which makes for a good turn-around point. Or, you can continue a bit further to “Shady Lane”, where the old-growth forest seems thick with wisdom and mystery.
You can choose to go on a guided day hike, with a local and professional guide leading the way. The guide will share their knowledge about the ecology and biology of this unique and diverse ecosystem, and provide all of the gear you need for the day.
2. MARYMERE FALLS
- Trailhead: Storm King Ranger Station
- Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 600 feet
This easy hike will take you through an old-growth forest, under towering spruces and hemlock, on a well-maintained trail. At ½ mile, you will reach a trail junction, continue toward Marymere Falls, crossing Barnes Creek and Falls Creek. Shortly after, you will come into view of the 90-foot waterfall, which should be flowing quickly and abundantly in the winter. This trail is a loop, so you are given two perspectives of the waterfall as you make your way down the trail. For a quick walk in the woods, with a great payoff in the middle, Marymere Falls is a perfect hike to do in the winter.
3. SECOND BEACH
- Trailhead: Second Beach Trail
- Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 310 feet
Start off the trail heading downhill from the parking area. Soon, you will cross a creek and begin a slight uphill through huge trees. At 1/3 mile, the trail begins to descend and then becomes a staircase, worn with time and salty air, loose gravel fills many of the steps. After winding down the hillside, you will finally reach the beach, where you are greeted with incredible views. Ancient sea stacks rise straight out the of ocean and are covered with trees and other life. Take some time to explore the beach; walking north will lead you to a natural arch and rock outcroppings, and south will take you toward Teahwhit Head. Remember to read the tide predictions before you head out, and ask a ranger for help interpreting it, if you need to. When you are ready to return to your car, look for the trail marker and head back the way you came.
BACKPACKING IN OLYMPIC IN WINTER
Surprisingly, backpacking in the winter can be quite nice in Olympic National Park. If you are at a low elevation, the temperature can be mild, although rain is something that you will have to plan for. Bring your rain jacket and rain pants, as well as a waterproof tent and a tarp that you can use as a shelter. There are many options for a multi-day trip in Olympic National Park, including guided basecamp trips and inn-based trips However, if you are interested in backpacking in the winter, we have listed our favorite winter backpacking trips below:
- Trailhead: Shi Shi Beach
- Distance: 19.4 miles
- Days to complete: 3-4
Begin your journey at Shi Shi Beach, on the Makah reservation, and hike 19 miles to Ozette Lake. Although the mileage is relatively low on this trip, the terrain is dramatic, with bowling ball-sized boulders that are slick with wet moss and algae, steep overland routes, and the pressure to make a crossing before the tide rolls in. But, this dramatic terrain is what makes the landscape so beautiful, and high risk means high rewards along the North Coast. You can expect stunning sunsets, endless stretches of pristine and uninhabited beaches, ancient rock spires, and tiny sea creatures in tidepools. It is best to do this over the course of 3-4 days; from Shi Shi Beach, you will head south along the coast, then turn inland on the boardwalks to Lake Ozette. Arrange a shuttle beforehand, do the return hike back to your car, or go on a guided backpacking trip and let the guiding company handle the logistics.
- Trailhead: Shi Shi Beach
- Distance: 8 miles
- Days to complete: 2
The trail to Point of Arches is nice and relaxing and is a great way to de-stress before or after the holidays. Follow the trail to Shi Shi Beach, and head south for as long as you like. Camping is permitted anywhere along the beach, just follow the Leave No Trace principles. Spend some time exploring Point of Arches, use the headlands trails—marked by red and black targets, to go as far as you want. This backpacking trip is perfect for relaxing on the beach and finding awesome driftwood shapes. Just make sure you bring your rain gear, and tide chart—and know how to read it!
3. SOL DUC RIVER TRAIL
- Trailhead: Sol Duc Trailhead
- Distance: 10 miles
- Days to complete: 2
Begin at the trailhead for Sol Duc Falls, and pass the impressive waterfall after 1.6 miles. You will have to backtrack a little to get to the trail for Appleton Pass, but going to Sol Duc Falls is worth the extra steps. Once on the trail to Appleton Pass, you will hike very gradually uphill, through deep and thick forest; keep your eyes peeled for remarkable nurse logs, towering fir and spruce trees, and slimy banana slugs. Backcountry campsites are abundant along this trail, so finding a perfect home for the night shouldn’t be too hard. The next day, head back to the trailhead the same way you came.
Join a Guided Hiking Adventure
Olympic National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Olympic NP: the coast, the mountains, wildlife, solitude, adventure, and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation. Guided Olympic National Park treks are all-inclusive which covers permits, local transportation (excluded on certain tours), meals, equipment, safety systems, and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allow visitors to maximize their time in Olympic and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.
OLYMPIC ADVENTURE TOURS
- GUIDED BACKPACKING ADVENTURES: these are for people interested in an authentic Olympic National Park adventure away from the roads and crowds.
- INN-BASED PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation, and more!
- CAMPING-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of the Olympic Coast on wonderful outdoor vacations.
- DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Olympic National Park on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park’s best trails.