Perched high in the Olympic Mountains is Hurricane Ridge. With panoramic views of the mountains extending clear to Canada, it’s easy to see why this is a hike cherished by many. The Ridge makes for a great adventure, all year long. Although it is easily accessible in the summer, it is well worth the challenge in the winter.
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, then look no further than Hurricane Ridge. It’s worth layering up your kids, packing up the car with every winter toy imaginable, and managing the three-hour road trip with movies, books and games for the kids.
Our drive up the mountain was an experience. Even in December, the base was green and lush. We saw people pulling off to enjoy the snow at lower elevations.
During the winter season, the road is scheduled to be open Friday through Sunday and holiday Mondays, weather and road conditions permitting. The road is closed all other days. You need to carry tire chains in your car during the winter season and you must be back out of the entrance by 5 p.m.
The nearest city to Hurricane Ridge is Port Angeles, 17-miles away from the top of the mountain. The long and windy road is slow-going, very steep and curvy. It can be a challenge for kids who are squeamish and sitting in the car (and nerve-wracking for adults driving too!). The steep drop-offs are lined with guardrails and the road has many wide turnabouts. The ride up becomes even more challenging as the last few miles are solid ice. Having a car with four-wheel drive is a must here.
Upon arriving, we found the ski lift was submerged under the snow and the parking lot was completely frozen over. That was enough to close the Hurricane Ridge Rental shop, so bring your own gear, just in case.
Hurricane Ridge: travel and weather
Before you pack your bags or purchase your National Park Pass, make sure to call Hurricane Ridge’s road and weather hotline: 360-565-3131. Also, follow @HRWinteraccess on Twitter.
Try to be flexible in your planning since the weather changes rapidly. The roads can close due to high winds, blizzards and heavy snow accumulation. In order to prepare for a potential closure and maximize our chance at admission, we camped overnight in our trailer. Camping at the KOA (Kampgrounds of America) in Port Angeles helped us when we missed our admission window on Saturday. The KOA offered us a chance to roast marshmallows over an open fire with views of the mountains. The camping trip only added to our excitement as we left our trailer onsite, headed back up the Ridge and celebrated getting into the park on Sunday. If camping isn’t something you do, the nearest lodge is in Port Angeles, called Olympic Lodge – 12 miles from Hurricane Ridge. Advanced reservations are recommended.
The line to get in to the park also tends to back up, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get in. Winter hours — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — begin in late November and extend until March 27. You must be down the mountain by 5 pm and no one is permitted to enter after 4 pm.
Dressing for the weather
Hurricane Ridge definitely has a lot of snow in the winter and my almost 3-year-old was fascinated when he saw it all beneath our feet. The snowbanks were piled higher than him and he kept whispering, “Is this where Elsa lives, Mommy?”
I have never seen this much snow and my kid was layered up like the Willy Wonka blueberry version of Veruca Salt. For little ones, I appreciated the thumbless mittens and put them on before putting on his insulated coat. Thermal base layers for toddlers help keep them warm under their snow bibs as well. Top it off with some snow boots and an adorable hat, and you’ve got a warm winter ensemble. (Find more expert advice on winter-weather gear here.)
Hurricane Ridge: playing in the snow
We went to Hurricane Ridge searching for lots of snow to play in. The Ridge offers limited downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and a kid-friendly sledding area. The National Parks Service (NPS) recommends using areas near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center as safe spaces to participate in winter fun. If venturing further into the back country, NPS recommends adding your name to the registration box located in the foyer of the visitor’s center. Due to extreme changes in weather all are warned that there may be sudden blizzards, avalanches and white outs. Preparing from winter weather is key to staying safe and having fun.
We chose the sledding zone, located to the left of the visitor’s center, and loved it! The little space is on a slope, away from cars and other adventurists, which is perfect for kids to zoom down, without dreading the hike back up.
Hurricane Ridge in the summer
The summer is a stark contrast to the winter season. If you are fortunate enough to explore on a clear day you can see Mount Olympus and past the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island.
The drive is significantly less treacherous, and the paved road makes it easy for any vehicle to access. The parking lot fills up quickly in the summertime, so we went later in the day and found a spot near the entrance.
Accessibility and the path
Having access to the paved Cirque Rim and Big Meadow trails is such a great perk for those with strollers or mobility concerns. Although the pavement does not extend through Hurricane Hill, we were able to hike the rest of it.
Hurricane Hill begins where the dirt path begins and gets to be a bit more challenging. There are steep dropoffs, an 827-foot elevation gain, and narrow stretches that would not be ideal for little wanderers.
We ended up carrying our toddler for most of the 3.4-mile hike, out and back. When we returned to the lower paved section, we were welcomed by all the sub-alpine flowers, various birds, and even black-tailed deer. These deer are not timid and will cross your path. Respect the wildlife and their space, by not approaching them and steering clear of their path.
Visitor Center and picnic areas
Hurricane Ridge has quickly become our favorite area to recharge and explore when we are in the area or planning a trip. The visitor’s center can be accessed all year round, if the road is open. There are flush toilets, exhibits including a park film, a warming area in the winter, and a gift shop with a café in the summer.
From mid-May to October, there are picnic areas that can be accessed outside of the visitor’s center. There will come a day when your child will clean up after themselves, but that only happens if you set the example and pack out any of your own trash.
Hurricane Ridge is a wonderful place to get out, explore and move! In all seasons, it will awaken your senses and be an awesome adventure. Find a break in the clouds to enjoy a moment in the sun with your little ones.
Hurricane Ridge: Know before you go
- Call 360-565-3131 (or check Twitter) for weather and road closure information before heading out on your trip
- Bring chains for your car in the winter, best to have 4WD
- Visitor Center offers guided walks during the summer
- Parts of the trail are stroller-friendly, but as you go up there are steep drop offs
- National Park Pass needed to enter this park. (Fourth-graders can get them for free, FYI.)
Originally published March 2, 2022
More travel in Seattle’s Child:
Guide to Washington’s three national parks