By Douglas Scott
Washington’s Hood Canal is known for natural beauty, stunning views and some of the best hikes in America. With glaciated mountains, gorgeous river valleys, incredible waterfalls and jaw-dropping panoramic images, it is little wonder why the Hood Canal region of the Olympic Peninsula is one of the fastest growing tourist areas in Washington.
Along Hood Canal, hundreds of miles await hikers and explorers of all levels, which can make finding the perfect hike a little overwhelming. However, there are six hikes that are each perfect representatives of the beauty of the wilderness along the Hood Canal. From views of Seattle and the volcanos of the Cascades Mountain Range, to glaciated mountains with goats, and gorgeous river side trails passing waterfalls, the trails of Hood Canal need to be your hiking destination. For more hikes on Olympic Peninsula, get your copy of the definitive guidebook to the region.
Murhut Falls: http://goo.gl/maps/SrtMJ
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 250ft
Murhut Falls is one of the more iconic waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula, and the trail to get here is family-friendly, dog-friendly and accessible year round. Located above the Duckabush River, Murhut Falls is a two-tiered beauty, plunging a total of 170 feet. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, leading to a small observation area where both sections of the waterfall are visible. Those more adventurous can access Murhut Creek and the falls at their own risk, descending a steep embankment.
Mount Walker: http://goo.gl/maps/TrB6t
Distance: Less than 1-5 miles round trip
Elevation: 0-2,000 feet
Level: Easy to moderate
Mount Walker is accessible by a long, steep hike, or a short drive up a winding dirt road, both offering incredible views of the entire Puget Sound, including great views of the city of Seattle. Most will take the driving option to the top, as it makes for a perfect side trip from the drive up Highway 101, often times getting above the marine layer of clouds. With vistas of the Olympic Mountains in one direction, and the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier in the other, Mount Walker is a local favorite. For those looking to hike to the top, the trail is dog-friendly, fun and well-maintained, making it a great hike year round.
Staircase Rapids Loop
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Elevation: 200 feet
Weaving along the Skokomish River, the Staircase Loop Trail is one of the best loop trails in Olympic National Park. Passing old growth forests, tumbling rapids, and herds of elk, the Staircase Rapids Loop trail gives families and day hikers a chance to see the beauty of the rarely visited northeastern corner of Olympic. Mostly flat, this will maintained trail is phenomenal year round, even giving hikers a place to dip in the Skokomish River on a hot summer day. The trail is capped off with a nice bridge that crosses just above the rapids section of the river, with places to have a picnic located on either side. The Staircase region has numerous hiker of all levels, but the loop trail is one everyone should hike.
Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 2,400 feet
Mount Ellinor is possibly the most popular hike on the Hood Canal, and for good reason. Offering one of the best panoramic views in America, hikers who make the steep trek up to this rocky summit are rewarded with views of the Cascade volcanos, the entire Olympic Mountain Range, Hood Canal, Lake Cushman, Puget Sound, and even views of the city of Seattle. Populated with mountain goats and occasional marmots, the Mount Ellinor trail is a hike that everyone needs to complete. The trail is steep, but if you start at the upper trailhead, you save miles and elevation gain, making it a long day hike for even the newest of hikers, as long as they are prepared. Be aware that mountain goat encounters are common, so remain 50 yards from them at all times.
Distance: 6.3 miles round trip
Elevation: 3,334 feet
Mount Rose is often overlooked, as it sits above Lake Cushman in-between the more popular hiking destinations of Mount Ellinor and Staircase, yet this short, family-friendly, steep trail offers amazing views and great memories. The trail starts out flat, but quickly starts to climb, eventually leading to a fork in the trail after a series of switchbacks. Both forks lead to the summit, but the option to the right is the best way to go. The route might be a little longer, but it is less steep and more manageable. At the summit, take in the views of Lake Cushman, the Skokomish River valley, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.
Distance: 11.5 miles round trip
Elevation: 3,500 feet
Level: Marmot Pass gives day hikers some of the best of everything on the Olympic Peninsula. Starting off, the dog-friendly trail gets hikers alongside the beautiful Big Quilcene River before climbing up through a valley, leading to a saddle of a ridge. Climbing to 6,000 feet, the trail slowly climbs through a small valley, leading straight up to Marmot Pass. With amazing views behind you, hold off on looking back until you reach the iconic signpost. With views above the Dungeness Valley and the Olympic interior to the east and the mouth of the Hood Canal and Mount Baker looking over the Salish Sea to the east, the view from 6,000 feet will leave you in awe. Buckhorn Mountain is near, seemingly easy to climb in this uniquely dry terrain on the famously wet Olympic Peninsula.