Trail Name: Mount Storm King #49
Location: Olympic National Park
Date Hiked: Jan. 18, 2021
Start Time: 9:17 AM
End Time: 1:11 PM
Total Time: 3 hours & 2 minutes
Elevation Gain: 2,186 ft
Total distance: 5.07 miles
Weather: 35 degrees F – Blue skies & sunny
Every winter seems like a challenge trying to find a new-to-me, accessible hike that is within a 3-hour drive. This may not seem like that big of a challenge considering I live in the Pacific Northwest, smack dab in the middle of Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park, but the thing is, I am NOT into driving in the ice and snow if I don’t have to. Some mountain roads are sketch enough in the dry summer, and I have had a butt-puckering close call two winters ago trying to get to a trailhead on an icy mountain road.
So, after a lot of research and reading other hikers’ trip reports on Washington Trails Association, I landed on Mount Storm King. I have had Mount Storm King on my ‘wish list’ for a while now, but had yet to make it there. Based on trip and weather reports, the roads were clear of snow and ice, and so was the mountain!
I picked up my sis at 6:30 AM, and we set off on our 2 hour and 20 minute drive with triple shot caramel lattes in hand thanks to her beloved Breville Barista Express. We couldn’t have asked for a better January day in Washington. As daylight broke through the dark morning, the blue skies were already showing off. We made our obligatory bathroom/gas pit stop at the Longhouse Market and Deli before driving the last hour to the trailhead.
We arrived at the parking lot of the Storm King Ranger Station just after 9:00 AM. We were pleasantly surprised that there was a full restroom with flushing toilets, running water, and soap (we are used to no toilets, or a pit toilet). There were about 8 cars in the parking lot which is fairly large. We quickly geared up, locked the car, and set off.
The trail starts out on a wide path only feet away from the shore of Lake Crescent, passes in front of the ranger station, then takes you through a tunnel that passes under Highway 101. We found the tunnel quite enjoyable since it is narrow enough to stick your arms straight out and ripple your hands over the grooves as you walk. It’s the simple things.
After passing through the fun tunnel, the wide, flat, path continues for roughly another quarter of a mile which was the perfect little warm-up before the climb we knew lay ahead. Right before the Mount Storm King turn-off, there are two large fallen trees that we had to climb over.
The turn-off was easy to spot because of a massive boulder and sign pointing us in the right direction. The numerous switchbacks and steep trail had us shedding layers only minutes up the trail. We both ended up being perfectly comfortable in the 35-degree weather with our merino wool base layers on top, and leggings and prAna Halle hiking pants on bottom.
The trail is gorgeously littered with a variety of trees covered in bright green moss. A few old growths still stand while others have fallen showing off their monstrous stumps. After a while, there is a nice reprieve where the trail levels out a bit where we stopped to grab a snack of jerky, Honey Stinger Waffle cookies, and Clif Bloks Energy Chews.
After refueling, we continued up the trail. The climb had us huffing and puffing but in the best way. Even surrounded by trees, the trail feels very open and bright. There are so many different trees and natural features to look at making the elevation pass quickly. At about 1.5 miles in we could see little peek-a-boos of Lake Crescent and there are a handful of good spots to pull off and enjoy the view. There were a couple of groups of people that were enjoying a snack and taking a breather. This is a good spot to turn around if you don’t intend to continue to the unmaintained section of the trail. Shortly after, we noticed the “End of Maintained Trail” sign which led to the first rope section.
Honestly, the first rope section looked a little intimidating knowing that if we climbed up it, we would also have to climb down it. The section had a lot of loose rock and dirt and would be pretty difficult to get up/down without the handy ropes there to help. We took turns to make sure only one person was using the rope at a time. We both joked how we were more worried for each other than we were for ourselves and decided it was best to only worry about ourselves. This section is 100% a one-way, one-person-at-a-time section.
Once we had that rope section behind us, the next sections were a lot less intimidating and not as steep or slippery. The final little stretch at the top does not have any ropes but is easy to find footing on the jagged bits of rocks which act as steps leading to the most gorgeous lookout where we could see for miles. Five other hikers were at the top enjoying some food and views. It took us around 2 hours to make it to the top.
We enjoyed the view for about half an hour, pulling out our JetBoil to make a hot cup of coffee and eat a few more snacks. Our legs thanked us for a little rest and the winter sun was in full-force warming our skin making it feel like summer was right around the corner. We were joined with many, MANY Canada Jays (or Whisky Jacks) that were not shy clearly feeding off of hikers’ crumbs left behind. We took a few shots at the top before making our way down.
The rope sections ended up being super fun for us going down. There was a mix of booty-scooting down and walking backward using the ropes for support. The trail was getting busier at this point in the day, but everyone was respectful of each other’s space and giving ample time to complete the rope sections.
Once we were back on the maintained trail, we flew down the mountain. The decline of the trail propelled us forward making it hard to go slow. We passed a lot more groups of hikers which was the only thing slowing us down. In total, it took us about an hour and 10 minutes to make it back to our car.
By the time we made it to our car, the parking lot was completely full. After changing into non-sweaty clothes, we hopped in the car for our long drive home, completely exhausted in the best way.
I am so happy we did this hike and will definitely be back to do it again. This is the perfect hike to put on my winter list…and yours too!
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