The jaw-dropping, 360° views of the Strait of Juan De Fuca, Vancouver Island, and the Olympic Mountain range stop us in our tracks. The water sparkles like a diamond below us and mountain after mountain disappears in a blue haze in the distance. With a sign of relief, we sit on the edge of Klahhane Ridge and take in the spectacular view, feeling as if we’re on top of the world.
Located in Olympic National Park, Washington, Klahhane Ridge is a well-known crest trail that’s not for the faint of heart. The Ridge connects the east face of Mount Angeles with the spires of Rocky Peak. The trail winds its way along alpine mountain ridges, dips into forested ravines, and climbs steep, barren mountains for a once-in-a-lifetime hike. Starting from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Klahhane Ridge is a strenuous 7.2-mile round trip hike.
After packing up our campsite at Heart o’ the Hills Campground, we drive to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center where the hike begins. The 30-minute drive is spectacular and quickly brings us up the mountain, offering amazing views the entire way. We pass the second trailhead on our way up; the Switchback Trail, the most common and direct route to Klahhane Ridge, is a 3-mile return trip that rapidly ascends 1,421 feet in 1.5 miles.
We gaze in awe, faces practically plastered to the car’s windows, as we round the final corner and get our first glimpse of the top of Hurricane Ridge. The parking lot expands far into the distance and overlooks the beautiful range of mountains.
Klahhane Ridge via Hurricane Ridge
Before impulsively deciding to tackle Klahhane Ridge, we enjoy the easy, quick hikes that circumvent the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Centre. As we climb towards Sunrise Point, the Klahhane Ridge trail beckons us, trailing away into the distance like a glorious mystery. When we reach the Klahhane Ridge and Mt Angeles sign, pointing 3.8 miles to the east, we surprise ourselves by deciding to tackle it. Not thinking, we make the rookie mistake of thinking the trail is 3.8 kilometers, not 3.8 miles. At roughly 6 kilometers one-way, we don’t realize what we’re taking on.
The trail leads us across the exposed side of Sunrise Point before climbing to the top of new ridges, rewarding us with stunning views of the high alpine meadows in every direction. The sun beats down relentlessly on the exposed ridges and the wind tricks us into forgetting the heat; with little tree cover, we’re soon sweating profusely.
Plants and animals in a high alpine climate
It’s early August and abundant alpine wildflowers, like paintbrush, Jacob’s ladder, lupine, and bistort, adorn the slopes. Butterflies are in abundance and flutter around our feet; Jacob tries futility to take a macro photo of one. He soon becomes engrossed with taking photos of the bugs and plants we encounter.
While we don’t encounter any, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, mountain goat, marmots, and deer call the Olympic Mountain Range home. We pack bear spray, just in case.
Halfway along the trail, we come to a plunging set of steep switchbacks. The ravine is densely forested and comes as a welcome relief from the direct sun we’ve been exposed to so far. We take frequent breaks, exuberantly happy for the shade the trees provide. We relax at the bottom, winded from the descent, and drink some much-needed water. Suddenly, we realize that we haven’t brought nearly enough water and will have to start rationing.
After climbing out of the small ravine, we realize we’ve left behind the ridge top trail and are instead walking along the mountainside. We notice the dirt turn red and soon come to a fork in the trail: our trail, the second trailhead, and the Switchback Trail branch off.
The final, steep ascent to Klahhane Ridge
Before beginning the steep switchback hike up to Klahhane Ridge, we meet with an older gentleman who is on his way down. Having done no prior research on the hike, we have no idea how much longer we have. He laughs, assuring us that we’re almost done and that the view from the summit is entirely worth the pain. We thank him and continue on, wishing we were already at the top.
Tackling the switchbacks, we think back longingly on the ease of the ridgetops trail. We’re soon out of breath and take frequent breaks, resting in the sparse shade we find. We burn through our water, wishing desperately that we had brought more. We pass beside beautiful basalt spires and are soon covered in red dirt. Almost painfully, we finally reach the summit.
Gorgeous views from Klahhane Ridge
We pause, disbelief written across our faces. How in the hell did we make it this far?! The view from Klahhane Ridge is jaw-droppingly beautiful and, looking back from where we came, we barely make out Sunrise Point in the distance. 3.8 miles is a lot farther than we imagined when we set out.
The Olympic Mountain Range often receives more than 30 feet of snow in the winter and, because of the high altitudes, often doesn’t entirely melt. Sitting on the edge of an unnamed rock basin, we come close to snow patches. We drink all but one bottle of our remaining water and are thankful we had the foresight to pack apples and granola bars. The trail continues on to Lake Angeles and we spot various trails crisscrossing the mountain, but we know we don’t have the energy to continue on.
Having only met a handful of people before beginning the upward ascent, we’re surprised by the number of groups we meet. We’re impressed by the wide spectrum of ages at the summit; there are many adventurous seniors who continue along the trail, proving that your age doesn’t matter.
After taking in our fill, we steel ourselves and begin the return hike.
The return hike to Hurricane Ridge
The hike back… is a little rough. Our spur of the moment decision to take the hike and lack of preparation rears its ugly head. My feet swell and a rash appears above my sock line; my toes and heels develop blisters and I narrowly avoid them bleeding; later, back at camp, Jacob bandages my right foot.
I only have trainers on, which aren’t meant for long hikes and they punish me for it. Jacob, who has better shoes, is in much better shape than me. We also don’t have enough water to keep ourselves properly hydrated and have to ration our little water carefully on the return trek.
The hike back is technically faster since we don’t stop for many photos, but it feels much longer. I can’t enjoy the view and we take frequent breaks because of my aching feet. I even start walking on my shoe heels, which is a terrible idea. By the time we finally reach our car, I’m close to tears. I collapse into the car and tear my shoes off as if they’re on fire; I douse them in the plentiful water waiting in the car.
Information & Trailhead Location
Despite everything, we would definitely do this hike again; we would just make sure to properly prepare for it, though. Klahhane Ridge is a challenging hike that requires proper planning for an enjoyable experience. It offers stunning views the entire 7.2 miles and truly rewards you for your hard work.
To view more photos of Klahhane Ridge, visit our SmugMug gallery.
Distance: 11.5km (7.2 miles)
Difficulty: Moderately Difficult
Notes: Bring plenty of water, sturdy footwear, and first-aid equipment
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