Snowshoes, skis ticket to terrific Steeple Rock
Seabury Blair Jr. Mr. Outdoors
On a clear day, the snowshoe walk or cross-country ski to Steeple Rock from Hurricane Ridge is one of the most scenic winter outings you'll find in the Olympic Mountains.
For at least half the distance, you share the route with a stunning view of the snowclad interior Olympic Mountains. They tower above the Lillian and Elwha river valleys like gnarled, white-bearded trolls.
I rate this hike or ski for intermediates simply because the first quarter-mile or so can be daunting for a beginner, especially on snowshoes. The route follows what in the summer is the Obstruction Point Road, which drops down a steep hillside from Hurricane Ridge.
In the winter, the road is mostly covered by snow and drifts are as steep as the hill it cuts. Wearing snowshoes on this section can indeed be an adventure, especially if the snow is packed and your 'shoes' traction cleats are small.
You can avoid the steepest part of this beginning section by walking down the Hurricane Ridge Road about 0.5 miles from the parking lot to a sharp corner where you might see a few cars parked along the right side of the road.
By climbing the plowed bank on the right, you can drop directly onto the Obstruction Point Road. This section is steep, but you can take the snowshoes or skis off and walk down the hill. Others simply sit and slide down the hill.
Once on the road, follow it northeasterly to a flat wooded section that follows the crest of a ridge connecting Hurricane Ridge to Steeple Rock.
You'll find peekaboo views through the trees of the Lillian River Valley below and, to the northwest, of Mount Angeles and the Hurricane Ridge Road across the Cox Valley.
In about 1.5 miles, you'll drop around sharp turns to the left and right to hit the 1.7- mile mark, at the lowest point of the hike. It's a saddle below Steeple Rock that provides wide-open views of the mountains and of the east face of Mount Angeles and the Cox Valley.
The hill ahead climbs steeply along the southern flank of Steeple Rock. This section is exposed to the weather and may be too icy to navigate in snowshoes or on skis, and families with younger children might choose to make the saddle their turnaround point.
Just before emerging on a flat swale underneath Steeple Rock, the road turns twice into a more sheltered gully. The swale, about 2.0 miles from Hurricane Ridge, is a good spot to ogle the view and enjoy a snowy picnic.
Strong skiers and snowshoers or those planning an overnight adventure can continue past Steeple Rock for another 2 miles to Waterhole, where there's an A- frame cabin for emergency use, complete with woodstove. The road continues past Waterhole for another 3 miles to Obstruction Point.
0.0 Hurricane Ridge Parking Lot
0.5 Short-cut from Hurricane Ridge Road to Obstruction Point Road
0.7 Route enters forested ridge crest
1.7 Low saddle. Good alternate turnaround
2.0 Swale below Steeple Rock
From Hood Canal Bridge, follow Highways 104 and 101 to Port Angeles. Turn left on Race Street and follow it past the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to the Hurricane Ridge Road.
Follow the Hurricane Ridge Road 17 miles to the ridge parking lot. Expect to pay a $10 per carload entry fee at Heart O' the Hills.
The road is usually open Thursdays through Mondays, depending upon weather conditions. For recorded information on the road, call (360) 452-0329.
A bus runs to Hurricane Ridge on weekends from Port Angeles. Passengers are exempt from paying the park entry fee. For information and fares, call (360) 452-4501.
(For 13 other winter ski or snowshoe outings in the Olympic Mountains and 56 winter trails throughout Western Washington, see "Backcountry Ski! Washington," $15.95, Sasquatch Books, by Seabury Blair Jr.) Published in The Sun: 02/18/2001