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There are only a few places in the world where you can hike from spectacular ocean beaches to glacier-capped mountains in a day. US hikers travel long distances to visit some: Norway’s fjords, New Zealand’s dense bush. For a shorter, but no less spectacular, trip, add Washington to your list. At Olympic National Park, where lush temperate rainforest bridges the gap between peaks and sea stacks, you don’t have to choose between a mountain vacation and a seaside one. See it all on these spectacular short hikes.
Best Dayhikes in Olympic National Park
Whether you’re just taking a day trip from Seattle or prefer to spend your vacation nights in one of the Olympic Peninsula’s many rental cabins (this is, after all, one of the rainiest places in the world), a dayhike can bring you to the ridgelines of the Olympic Mountains or wandering some of the most impressive beaches of the coast.
Best Coastal Hike: Cape Alava Loop
Head from old-growth forest to sea stacks and back again on this 8.7-mile loop. Starting from the Ozette trailhead, cross a wooden bridge to cedar forest, where enormous western red cedars hundreds of years old crowd the trail. These trees, the largest species in Washington, can live for up to 1,500 years. Continue through rainforest, meadows, and a dense understory of ferns until mile 3.1, when the trail leaves the forest for the coast. The edge of the land here alternates between sandy beaches and sheer cliffs, both scattered with giant driftwood logs tossed up by winter storms. Look closely at the rocks of the first headland to spot petroglyphs from the Makah people.
Best Mountain Hike: Mt. Townsend
There are four trails to this summit to pick from, but our favorite is the route from the “upper trailhead,” at only 8 miles round-trip. The path climbs through fir and hemlock to open meadows, providing better and better views the higher you climb; then in the last mile the trail emerges to the krummholz landscape of the subalpine. Once you get to the top, you might never want to leave, with views spreading from the San Juan Islands to the north to the Cascades across the Sound and, to the west and south, the wild heart of the Olympics.
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