Wilderness Winter Travel

Hurricane Ridge in Winter
Hurricane Ridge in Winter

NPS Bryan Bell

Mtn. Weather Forecast
Coast Forecast
Avalanche Danger
Stream Flow

If you're planning to visit the Olympic Wilderness during the fall, winter or spring, be prepared for inclement weather. You may encounter heavy rains, snow, high winds, mud, swollen creeks and rivers as well as deep puddles. Always check the latest forecasts before you head out. Also keep in mind that forecasts can be wrong. Be your own forecaster by watching the weather closely!

On the coast, storms can make beach hiking hazardous and even impossible due to large waves. Coastal streams that are normally easy to cross can be waist deep or deeper during storms.

Always carry the 10 Essentials: map, compass, flashlight, knife, matches, nylon cord, extra food and water, and raingear with warm clothes. Let someone know where and when you are taking your hike. Make emergency plans for them to follow if you do not return.

High Country Preparation
Snow prevails in the high country much of the year, making avalanche hazard a concern. Most trails are hidden by snow this time of year so map-and-compass navigation skills, general route finding and common sense are essential. Some high country trails may be covered by 10 to 30 feet of snow. Clothing and equipment should be investigated and tested before the trip. Prepare for rain and snow: snow regularly changes into rain and rain into snow. Snowshoes or skies may be necessary for mountain travel until June when snow firms up. Whiteouts are frequent and cold wet snow is typical. Snow travel in spring and early summer is best done before noon. Afternoon temperatures create "post-holing" conditions and higher avalanche danger to hikers.

Camping On Snow
Always camp on snow more than two foot deep. Look for deep snow drifts along sloping terrain; this will help prevent damage to plants or trees buried in the snow pack. Do not cut or damage plants or trees while digging a snow shelter. Beware of camping on avalanche slopes (areas likely to avalanche) and avalanche tracks (areas through which avalanches run). Boil, filter, or chemically treat all ice and water from streams. Food not stored in approved bear canisters must be hung 12 feet above the ground. Remember that park-installed bear wires may not keep your food 12 feet above ground with a blanket of snow. Bear canisters can be borrowed from some park stations.

Winter Camping at Hurricane Ridge
Overnight camping is allowed at Hurricane Ridge during the winter season.

  • A Wilderness Camping Permit is required and must be obtained at the park visitor center during business hours.
  • Camps should be at least 1 mile from the Hurricane Ridge parking lot.
  • Overnight parking is not allowed at the ridge due to frequent snow drifts that would bury cars and make it difficult for plows to see and clear snow from the parking lot. Parking is allowed 3 miles downhill from ridge parking lot near the snow plows. DO NOT block the plows!
  • Contact the WIC at (360)565-3100 for more information.

Human Waste
Always use toilets when available. Always dispose of human waste at least 200 feet away from water sources and likely camp areas and 6-8 inches deep in organic soil if possible so it is not "discovered" by future campers. If you cannot access the soil, consider using the "blue bag" method or use "Wag Bags". These are bag systems that allow you to easily pack out human waste when it cannot be disposed of properly in the backcountry. Check with the WIC for more information.

Avalanche debris near Hurricane Ridge
Avalanche at Hurricane Ridge

Avalanche Hazards
From late fall through early summer, many areas within Olympic National Park are prone to avalanches. Some areas are too dangerous for even the most experienced winter traveler.

If you plan to travel in the park during winter or spring, learn more about avalanches and avalanche rescue from the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Valley Precautions
The notoriously high precipitation of the Olympics can swell rivers and creeks to many times their normal size until even the smallest creek crossing can become difficult or dangerous to cross.

Footbridges often wash out. Standing water in trails can be ankle deep for long stretches. Temperatures commonly range between 30 to 40 degrees F. They can drop lower, but between 30 and 40 degrees, precipitation comes as cold rain, even more dangerous than snow.

During spring snowmelt, the safest time to cross mountain streams is from sunrise to noon. After noon, melting snow water will increase flows until nightfall.

Ski and Snowshoe Trails
Hurricane Ridge is the maintained winter use area in the park. There are two cross-country ski and snowshoe trails; a downhill area; a snow play area (tubing and sliding); and snowshoeing opportunities.

Other Off-Season Trails
The following lowland trails are usually suitable for winter use. Check with the WIC for conditions and suggestions. Snow-free hiking depends entirely on weather conditions. Some years, deep snow can occur even at lower elevations.

Lower elevation hikes include: Skokomish River Trail, Elwha River Trail, Humes Ranch - Rica Canyon Loop, Ozette Loop, Hoh River Trail.

See the Olympic Web Trail Guide for more information on trails.


Last updated: November 23, 2016

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Port Angeles, WA 98362


360 565-3130

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