Winter has given way to spring and what better way to break out of the stiffness of winter hibernation than a good hike. Whether it’s a short one-mile jaunt or a 10-mile day trip, the Olympic Mountains can provide it. While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules or gear needed to get out on the trails, having the right equipment and knowledge will make hiking much more enjoyable.
Start with the 10 essentials list created by the Mountaineers Club of Seattle in the 1930s. Bring fire starters, extra food, clothing and water, a mirror or signaling device, flashlight, first aid supplies, a map and compass, sun protection and a knife or other multi-tool.
When getting hiking clothes, the only rule is to avoid cotton, and while tennis shoes might work for walking, you’re going to need a good pair of boots if you want to hit longer trails for the best vistas.
If you’re going to splurge on anything, make it footwear. A good pair of boots and socks will make hiking and adventuring much more comfortable. Wool socks, found in just about any general merchandise store, are ideal when hiking in the rain forests. Nothing is worse than blisters from wet cotton socks.
Boots come in a variety of types and styles from hightop leather work boots to synthetic shoes. Finding a comfortable fit is important, but keep in mind that leather will stretch and shrink over its lifetime.
“It’ll become the perfect shoe after a while,” says Douglas Scott, a guide out of Olympia. Synthetics like Gortex, on the other hand, provide better water resistance and comfort, but aren’t as durable as hides.
As with anything that’s going to be with you for a long time, the most important aspect is whether or not the boots feel comfortable to walk in. Consider the shoe’s arch support, depending on whether you’re flat-footed or have a high arch. The those with flat feet will want a motion control shoe that reduces pronation (feet swinging out as they walk), while those with high arches supinate (inward swinging) and will want a cushioned shoe.
Consider two things when buying hiking clothes: the material used — cotton, wool, silk or synthetic — as well as how you plan to layer the clothing. Temperatures may vary dramatically during a hike, so it’s important to be able to add or remove clothing on the go to avoid overheating and other hiking injuries.
Layered clothing allows hikers to add or shed warmth depending on the temperature, keeping them from getting too hot or cold.
For the deepest layers next to the skin, get a “wicking” material, such as synthetic or silk. Because they spread moisture along their surfaces, they dry faster than cotton. The second layer is the protection from cold and should be made of thicker material like cotton or fleece.
The outer layer, or shell, provides rain protection and typically is made out of vented plastic or a breathable synthetic.
Beyond clothing, there are a few accessories which will help reduce stress on the body during hiking, ranging from flexible pant materials to poles which reduce stress on the back. When choosing a backpack, Scott recommends finding one with a chest clip and waist belt, which help distribute weight. Sunglasses help keep the sun out of your eyes on the summit and beanies keep the head warm in the more exposed temperatures.
When dressing for hiking in the Olympics, remember the temperature gradient; it might be a comfortable 65 degrees at the trailhead but it can drop below 40 on a ridge line.
“Between the wind and the rain,” Scott says, “if you’re not prepared, your body temperature is going to drop 10 degrees.”
Now that you’re geared up, here are three good trails to start with, varying in difficulty from easy to strenuous.
Marymere Falls at Lake Crescent, two miles
Distance from Sequim: 40 minutes
Take U.S. Highway 101 west to Lake Crescent. Park at the Storm King Ranger Station on the south side of the lake. The trail begins at the Storm King ranger station and is well developed.
Marymere Falls, while pretty, makes for an exceedingly brief hike if you don’t know where to go. It’s a good hike to take children on and older hikers may find it relaxing to walk on a well-developed and maintained trail. Those looking for an adventure should look elsewhere, specifically behind the waterfall.
A close search of the falls overlook reveals an almost hidden trail up the hillside, which splits off twice: once to the upper falls pool and a second time to the very top of Marymere. The trail is quite steep and has a number of deadfalls blocking it, so it’s not recommended for small children.
Lena Lake, six miles
Distance from Sequim: 60 minutes
Lena Lake is a hidden jewel, buried in the southeast corner of the mountains, down national Forest Service Road 25 from Mike’s Beach Resort. The trailhead is marked about seven miles in. But unlike so many other rain forest hikes of the Pacific Northwest, Lena Lake trail exhibits some of the best traits of the area, from enormous granite boulders to natural rest stops overlooking scenic pine vistas.
A moderate route, the trail begins with a gentle slope before hitting a series of switchbacks that run for roughly a mile. After the switchback series, the trail evens out to arrive next to a creek for the next mile and a half. The surge of the water adds a nice background noise to the atmosphere.
Following the creek crossing over an old wooden bridge, the trail continues for a mile before arriving at a gorgeous granite boulder overlooking the lake. It’s a perfect place to have lunch and take in the view. From here hikers can extend the hike another six miles by going into the Brothers Wilderness on the north end of the lake or return on the trail in.
Pyramid Peak, seven miles
Distance from Sequim: 50 minutes
Take Highway 101 to Fairholme on the western side of Lake Crescent and turn right onto North Shore Road. The trailhead is marked about two to three miles in.
Pyramid Peak, on the north side of Lake Crescent, is made for adventure and rewards the patience of dealing with 3.5 miles of switchbacks and rain forest with a magnificent view and awesome potential for exploration.
Starting in the rain forest, the trail winds its way over mountain streams and along the side of the mountain. Shortly before the transition into subalpine forest, the path ends in a washout where a major landslide destroyed roughly 200 yards of trail.
Navigating this area isn’t tricky, but use caution because it’s a long drop. After trekking through the subalpine fir groves about two miles past the washout, hikers find the summit, complete with an old and retired fire-watch cabin.
Take time to explore the summit’s geology and branching paths, which lead to gorgeous and less-conventional overlooks of the lake below.