Ridges, Water, and Rainforests: Nature and Culture in the Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14232A, Lodge


  • Hike in a different ecosystem each day with a naturalist guide
  • Enjoy the spectacular lakeside setting of an historic lodge
  • Examine the history and culture of Native American ancestry on the Olympic Peninsula


  • All meals and accommodations in rustic cabins
  • All park fees and transportation to trailheads
  • Evening presentations 


DatesJul 6–11, 2014
StaffLinda Rubin

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Trip Overview

Please note that the trip title has changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

Join us for an adventure in the incredibly diverse wilderness of the amazing Olympic National Park. Your experienced Sierra Club leaders and Olympic Park naturalist will plan your daily activities into the park. We will return each day to the Rosemary Inn on the shores of the beautiful and serene Lake Crescent, where you will be able to relax, walk on the nearby nature trails, and gather for evening programs.  You can enjoy some much needed quiet time, or spend it with folks who share your interest and love of nature. In addition to experiencing the hiking trails of the ONP, you will have a firsthand opportunity to explore and understand the Elwha River restoration project and take a close look at the Native American culture and influence on the Peninsula.

Olympic National Park, which is located in northwestern Washington State, has been designated as both an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage site. These designations acknowledge the valuable diversity of the park's natural wonders. This area is home to both freshwater and saltwater beaches, rivers and lakes, mountains and glaciers, valley streams and waterfalls, rare temperate rainforests, and hot springs. The park encompasses two parts of the Olympic Peninsula, the interior mountains and the coastal strip. Though rugged, the Olympic Mountains are all less than 8,000 feet in elevation, so we do not have to acclimate to high altitudes. The park has a great trail system for our access to the wilderness.

The Elwha River restoration project, which started in 2011, is the largest dam removal in the history of the United States. The dam removal will allow the Elwha River to flow freely from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the first time in 100 years. As the river finds its natural course, salmon will once again have access to 70 river miles of habitat that is within the Olympic National Park. The river's course has been changing monthly, but already chinook salmon, pink salmon, and native steelhead have moved above the Elwha Dam site. Spawning beds have been observed in the park for the first time in 100 years. This historic project is hoped to reach completion in September 2014. As we explore this region, you will gain a better understanding of how the Lower Elwha Indian tribe lived and the significance of the salmon in their daily life.


Here is our tentative schedule, but please keep in mind it may change based on weather, trail conditions, speaker availability, etc.

Following dinner on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we hope to have the following presentations:

  • Try your hand at Native Form Line Drawing under the guidance of an instructor, who will share the principles of this native art as well as the great history behind them.
  • A park ranger will provide us with a historical perspective and current progress with the Elwha River Restoration Project, as well as information about the Native American tribe that walked the riverbanks in the early 1900s.
  • A Native American storyteller and craftsman will share stories and artwork that reflect her local tribe.

Day 1: Plan to arrive at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday at NatureBridge and get settled in in time for 3:00 p.m. introductions. Shortly after, we'll take our first hike or longboat canoe ride on Lake Crescent. Dinner is at 6 p.m. and will be followed by time around the campfire as we get to know each other and review the week's plans. We'll also get oriented to Rosemary Inn and meet the NatureBridge educator and naturalist who will be our guide throughout the week.

Day 2: After a 7 a.m. breakfast, we will board the mini-bus to experience our first day of exploration. We'll travel to the Makah Indian Nation near Neah Bay, where we will start out with a shorter 1.5-mile hike along the Cape Flattery Trail. A well-maintained trail will lead us through a mist-drenched forest that will provide us with stunning vistas of rugged Cape Flattery.  This is where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Paciific Ocean. The scenery should provide us with a view of Tatoosh Island, sea stacks, and glorious seabirds riding the surf of the tumultuous waters. Once we reach our final viewing platform, we will be at the most northwestern point in the continental United States.

On the way home, we will stop and visit the Makah Indian Tribe Museum. In 1970, a significant mudslide in the village of Ozette uncovered 55,000 artifacts that were 300 to 500 years old. Showcases interpret the Makah culture and history using the unearthed artifacts, photographs, and text. There is also a ethnobotanical garden with native plants at the museum.

If time permits, we may stop off at Neah Bay to walk the beach before returning to Rosemary Inn.

Day 3: After a 7 a.m. breakfast, our destination will be the Sol Duc River Valley. This hike is 3.8 miles one way and leads to Sol Duc Falls after one mile. The hike will continue through dense forests and will end at Deer Lake after a total trek of 3.8 miles, with an elevation gain of approximately 1,700 feet.

If time permits, those interested in soaking and swimming in the Sol Duc Resort Hot Springs after our hike may do so. ($10 per person, not included in trip price).

Day 4: Today we will journey to the famous Hoh Rain Forest, which is one of the most spectacular examples of a rain forest in the entire world. The 12 feet of precipitation annually produces giant conifers, big leaf maples, mosses, ferns, and an abundance of epiphytes. The forest is also home to grazing elk herds that are sometimes seen along the Hoh River, which will border part of our hike on this day.

Day 5: After our breakfast, we will board the mini-bus to reach Hurricane Ridge. This hike will be a sharp contrast to the lush rain forest as we trek through mountain meadows and ridges. The vistas are beautiful and breathtaking, with mountain ranges and water as the backdrop. Those participants that would like to can hike an additional one mile, with a climb of 800 feet, to reach Klahhane Ridge. Once at the top, the views will amaze you! Those that prefer to find a comfortable spot on the mountain to sit, relax, and enjoy their view can do so before we start our trek down the switchback to our bus.

After dinner, we will celebrate our new friendships and adventure while sitting around the campfire.

Day 6: Today, we will culminate our trip with a firsthand look and exploration of the Elwha River Valley, specifically the locations of the dam removal and river restoration sites.  We will get a look at the upper dam sites, and then travel midway down the river and explore the location of the river as it has carved its new path. The river restoration project has afforded us the unique opportunity to see how extremely large the trees were around 1913 at the time the dam was built.  You'll be able to imagine the Klallam people and their way of life along the river before they lost access to the salmon that made their way up the river to spawn.

The final journey along the Elwha River will take us to the mouth of the river and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The water is beautiful here, with multiple seabirds gracing the waves.  You'll witness how the dam removal and resulting sediment have changed the river bed and surrounding straits area, where new sandbars have developed and shrubbery has started to root. 

Our trip will end at approximately 2 p.m., when we will say our goodbyes from the trailhead and depart for home. 



Getting There

Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula is the closest town and is about a 30-minute drive to NatureBridge, on Lake Crescent. The nearest large airport is Seattle-Tacoma, across Puget Sound from the Olympic Peninsula. Sea-Tac airport is approximately 3.5 hours by car from Lake Crescent. Those arriving by car may use ferries from the Seattle area or from Victoria, British Columbia. Commercial shuttle services may also be taken from Sea-Tac airport to Port Angeles. A small airport in Port Angeles has regular connections to Boeing Field near Sea-Tac airport.

From Port Angeles, a local taxi is available to NatureBridge. The bus does not run to Lake Crescent on Sunday. Carpooling and taxi sharing is encouraged. The trip leader will send all participants a list of others coming on the outing, along with their contact information so that they may form carpools or make other arrangements to travel together and thereby reduce cost.

Accommodations and Food

We will stay at Rosemary Inn, a part of NatureBridge. The inn is on the National Registry of Historic Sites. We will be staying in simple cabins with six rooms. Each room will accommodate two people. The cabins all have toilets and sinks in their buildings. There is an additional modern bathhouse/shower facilities in a separate, nearby building. Sheets, blankets, and pillows will be supplied. You must bring your own towels.

We'll eat in the dining room of the main lodge. Vegetarian and special diets can be accommodated if you let us know in advance. The first meal at Rosemary Inn will be dinner on day one and the last meal will be a sack lunch on the final day of the trip.  After breakfast we will pack lunch for the day and be ready for departure to our day's hike. We will return to the inn each day for dinner at 6:00 p.m. Because Rosemary Inn provides accommodations to a variety of groups, others may be there during our stay.

Rosemary Inn is on the south shore of Lake Crescent, within Olympic National Park. We will go by minibus each day to our hike, taking our lunch with us and returning each evening in time for dinner. The environment around Rosemary Inn is truly magnificent, with a beautiful waterfront, an old-growth forest on the grounds, and a spectacular alpine view across the water. The sunsets on the lake are breathtaking. 

Trip Difficulty

Day hikes are moderately difficult and will range from two to nine miles in distance, with up to 1,700-foot elevation gains and losses. The hikes are generally on well-maintained trails or on sandy, rocky beaches. You should be in good physical condition and be able to hike all day while carrying a day pack. We might encounter mixed weather, from cool, rainy days to lovely, summer warmth. The principal criteria for acceptance on this trip are physical and cardiovascular fitness and an open attitude toward moderately challenging group hikes. A regular fitness program including hiking, with some degree of hill climbing, is beneficial. Minimum age is 18.

Equipment and Clothing

You will need a sturdy day pack, good wet-weather gear, two water bottles or a water carrying system, broken-in hiking boots, warm fleece tops or sweaters, clothing to layer for different weather needs, sunscreen, bug repellent, sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat to bring with you on the hikes. The leader will send a more detailed equipment list to registered participants.



  • National Geographic Map: Trails Illustrated Map #216, Olympic National Park
  • Olympic National Park-National Park Service


  • Warren, Henry C., Olympic: The Story Behind the Scenery.
  • Wood, Robert L., The Land that Slept Late.
  • Wood, Robert L., Olympic Mountains Trail Guide.
  • Molvar, Erik, Hiking Olympic National Park.
  • McNulty, Tim, Olympic National Park - A Natural History.
  • Romano, Craig, Day Hiking, Olympic Peninsula.



Sierra Club outings were started by John Muir in 1901. Muir wrote "If people could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish." Our wish is that on this outing you share our belief in the need to protect our wild areas. We will be practicing Leave No Trace wilderness etiquette throughout our trip in order to minimize our impact on the environment.

NatureBridge is a great example of environmental stewardship. They built their campus with sustainability as a priority, focusing on green practices such as: composting, using recycled materials wherever possible, salvaging wood for use in their buildings, and using low-flow toilets and showerheads as well as high-efficiency lighting and heating.

The harvesting of old-growth and surrounding forests has sparked controversy throughout the Pacific Northwest. We'll also discuss saving the salmon and dam removal on the rivers. All are complex issues, involving jobs and the clash between traditional ways of life and ecosystem protection for many species, including endangered mammals and birds. The Elwha is the Olympic Peninsula's largest watershed, and prior to the construction of two dams in the early 1900s, was known for its impressive salmon returns. Today, the Elwha River is the site of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history. Removal of two dams on the Elwha River will restore the river to its natural free-flowing state, allowing all five species of Pacific salmon and other anadromous fish to once again reach habitat and spawning grounds.

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Linda Rubin has spent much of her life enjoying the outdoors cycling, backpacking, snowshoeing, hiking, and paddling. Her passion for sharing the outdoors with others started as a young adult, leading inner city kids to the mountains for their first wilderness experience. As a Sierra Club leader, Linda hopes to inspire others to respect and value both the simplicity and complexity of what nature offers...all while having fun! She is certified in Wilderness First Aid, CPR, Kayak and Water Safety.


Ken Rubin has spent much of his life in the outdoors enjoying a variety of activities. In his professional career he has worked as a naturalist, resident camp director, and youth worker. He has led youth trips backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and hiking. Recently he became a Sierra Club leader as a way of sharing his love of nature with others. Ken is certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR.

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