Looking for a challenging hike to tackle in the Olympic forest? Klahhane Ridge Loop Trail might be the fit for you! Explore Washington State Contributor Zac Blaylock recently conquered the Klahhane Ridge Loop Trail, closing out at 16 miles round-trip, with sweeping views of Mount Olympus, Port Angeles Harbor and Sequim Bay.
Back Into Hiking
On July 30th, Eagle Scout Joe and I set out to take on the Klahhane Ridge Loop Trail. I had read varying distances for the loop: from 11.7 to 12.3 miles. Joe had an excursion to the peak of Mount Angeles planned, so I knew I was in for some decent mileage.
I had gotten back into hiking/backpacking the Olympic Mountains this year after spending close to five years on the Gulf Coast, where I worked on yachts and helped my grandparents when they came for the winter. While there, I had ascended the highest peak in Alabama – Mount Cheaha – which was more like a large hill compared to the range I had grown up traipsing through as a child on the Olympic Peninsula.
I had gotten back to the area in December with a hurt shoulder awaiting surgery and a grandfather needing more care than either of us had bargained for. Most of my previous hobbies were out the window because of my shoulder, but with Joe’s encouragement I was able to reconnect and focus on one of my first hobbies – hiking.
Klahhane Ridge Trailhead
Joe and I drove up to the Klahhane Ridge Loop Trailhead just before the ranger check-in along Hurricane Ridge Road around 8 a.m. The parking lot was already starting to fill up. We had previously made trips earlier that year up both sides of the loop.
Up the Lake Angeles side just after winter we encountered a trail completely buried with virgin snow. Joe and I scrambled up from that point to a ridge with beautiful views of the sound to the north and Middle Peak standing proudly behind us in the sun.
More recently we had taken part of the loop from the opposite side. This trailhead is at the top of the same parking lot. For this trip we had gotten up past a picturesque meadow called Heather Park, the trail’s namesake. It was this side that we took for our completion of the loop.
Beginning the Trek
The trail starts out as a heavily wooded climb with plenty of interesting mushrooms and Gnome Plant clusters along the trail, which I especially enjoy. As the climb gains elevation, the trees open onto green wild-flowered splotches and glimpses of a rocky summit. A look down to the coast from here reveals descending ridge lines of fir disappearing into a thick snowpack of clouds that bleed out into the waters of the Puget Sound. At one point in this scene, a waterfall is visible below the peak and its rushing sound accompanies the trail a while more yet.
Shortly after we lose the sound of the fall the trail comes alongside a creek in a heavily vegetated meadow with bright rugs and drapes of moss around the flowing water: this marks the beginning of Heather Park. The path ascends on through campsites here, where a sign warns that only camp stoves are allowed, no open fires. From here it’s not far up to Victor Pass which provides a pretty decent view of Mount Olympus.
This view only improves as you wind down through a cut-out trail with some sticky spots in the shale and back up toward Klahhane Ridge. Almost immediately after this trail comes out on the other side of the basin Joe and I decide to continue climbing to a nearby peak and then back down the other side to reconnect with the Klahhane Ridge Trail. This was a mistake. Though the trek to the peak came off fine, we were unable to descend all the way to the trail on the other side and were forced to back track. A little farther along however, we were able to follow a path up to Middle Peak.
Path to Middle Peak
This path was strewn with stunted sub-alpine fir and quickly got rocky. The crevasse of a shale slide with chunky monolithic steps climbed gradually to a peak with amazing views of Mount Olympus and from another vantage point the road winding through evergreens toward an unbroken blue mountain range. After basking in the awe of our climb and the view, we descended back down to reconnect with the loop trail.
The trail rose a bit as we re-entered the loop path from our ascent just below the tree line. Here, the wooded incline dropped back down along the ridge and revealed several splendid meadow outlooks filled with bloomed Lupine stalks above Port Angeles Harbor, Sequim Bay and mountain peaks off to the west. To the south, trees parted on waves of green peaks and valleys undulating out into a blue abyss.
After a single large outcropped meadow bordered with rock slabs, the trail begins its descent along the Lake Angeles Basin. This decline is steep and cluttered with loose rock. My approach shoes were sliding more than not, and trekking poles are highly recommended through here. There are several great outlooks along the trail here upon one of the largest alpine lakes in the Olympics.
Lake Angeles is not directly on the path down but is only a short jaunt over from the trail continuing to the switchbacks and then parking lot. There are plenty of campground areas here close to the shore. Joe and I found a path down to the lake edge and refilled our bottles using his filter. The lake is backdropped with gnarled rock faces dotted with evergreens. On this lucky day the top of these were haloed in clouds, with sunlight pouring in above and onto the water and small island centered in it.
The trail angles downward at a pretty good clip from here over another two miles to a bridge crossing Ennis Creek. Keep an eye out along the way for a small memorial rock to the side of the trail in memory of a pilot who fatally crashed in the vicinity. After the bridge it’s just under another mile to the lot.
It was clear that Joe and I were both ready to get to the car at this point. I made the mistake of wearing ankle socks on this trip, which rode down into my freshly Nikwaxed approach shoes and had shredded my heels smartly. My toes were pounding from the impact of my downward descent around the lake before I finally was enlightened enough to put my trekking poles to use. According to my phone pedometer app, we clocked in at over 16 miles for the day. Next time I take on this hike in the summer, I will definitely opt for my good trail runners and longer wool socks. My feet will thank me. Guaranteed, I will be making another visit to this trail – hope I see you up there!
If you plan to take the ferry to Port Townsend to get to the Klahhane Ridge Loop Trailhead, check out a few of the great places we’ve visited in this adorable sea town!