Olympic National Park's Can't-Miss Hike

When I hoist myself up the ropes and onto the craggy rock surface, I stop short.

Below Matt and me, the crystal blue waters of Lake Crescent melt into the sky. Swallows flit in and out of sight while bundles of wind gently tousle my hair. The white buildings of Victoria, Canada are just barely visible in the distance through the haze.

Standing atop the ragged, 4,500-foot Storm King Mountain, it’s easy to see why Olympic National Park, centered around its crowned jewel Mount Olympus, was deemed worthy enough for the Gods. Here, lush rainforests abut stormy seas. Roosevelt Elk roam freely. Hundreds of organisms - sea stars, rock crabs, pricklebacks - are unveiled beneath a glassy microscope as the tide retreats.

However, what’s perhaps most unique about this National Park is both a source of frustration and of elation: There are no roads that run through it. Unlike Zion or Yellowstone, the bulk of Olympic is impossible to access by anything other than by foot, making each view or hike one that you earn rather than stumble upon.

As in our case.

Looking at the mileage, Storm King Trail seems like a hike you could blow through in an afternoon, no problem. But don’t be fooled. With its near-vertical switchbacks and more than 2,100 feet of elevation gain, this hike is only for the intrepid. And I didn’t even mention the ropes.

After a short, flat walk through rainforest, there’s a sign marking the Storm King trailhead off to the left. Almost immediately the terrain starts building in elevation, steadily getting steeper as you progress up the path. After about an hour-and-a-half (this may be shorter or longer depending on your pace uphill), there will be a series of ropes that will help you navigate up some of the steepest sections. Be forewarned: If you’re at all nervous about ascending via the ropes, just call it a day. Ascending is only half as bad at descending - don’t force yourself.

Once at the top, there’s a brief scramble over pockets of craggy rock and then it’s as if the sky splits open and reveals Lake Crescent below.