Photographing the Olympic Peninsula
|The Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park is right in my backyard and,
in my opinion, one of the best places to photograph. Here are just of few of my
favorite spots. This is a growing document so be sure to check back for more. I
plan on adding more information about the Sol Duc Valley, Lake Crescent,
Hurricane Ridge area, and Port Townsend, amongst others.
Hurricane Ridge is a must and you could easily spend two or three days or more exploring the area. Both sunrise and sunset shots are possible and in between there are great opportunities for wildflowers and photos of marmots and deer. The deer are very familiar with people and if you're lucky, or place yourself correctly, you can get great shots of deer with mountain peaks in the background.
Usually you'll be photographing the morning light on the distant peaks of Mt. Olympus and the Bailey Range and the great morning light can happen in a matter of seconds. This is where it really pays to know your equipment and to be confident in the basics of photography, like exposure and using filters.
Even better sunrise possibilities can be found along the Hurricane Ridge road, before you reach the top. Mt. Baker, in the Cascade Range, is visible from various places along the road. One of my favorite spots is the turnout right before you enter the tunnels on the way up to Hurricane Ridge.
Along the way to the top of the ridge there are numerous views of the valley
below. Often filling with fog or with low, misty clouds flowing over the nearby
hills and ridges, these scenes can make for painterly images with clouds colored
by the pinks and blues of the morning or catching the first rays of the sun. Try
longer exposures to record the flow of the clouds. If you have time, I'd suggest
spending at least two mornings at Hurricane Ridge--one at the top and the other
on the road below.
If you're into doing some hiking, there are plenty of trails in the Hurricane Ridge area. Some start from the Heart O' the Hills campground below, some at the top, and there are also a couple leading from Obstruction Point, which can be a challenge if you're carrying lots of gear.
If you have the time, a hike into the Grand Valley is worth the day you'll
spend. It does involve some healthy elevation gain/loss/gain though. Though
Hurricane Ridge is the most popular destination in the park, there's one other
road that will give you access to the high country. The Deer Park road is
located on the eastern edge of Port Angeles and leads to the high meadows of
Deer Park. You'll find the same sort of moody sunrise opportunities along this
road as along the Hurricane Ridge road, though you won't see the panorama of
mountains you'll see from Hurricane Ridge.
If you're camping, Heart O' the Hills campground is located about five miles inside the national park from the Port Angeles entrance and is a nice place to stay. For a large national park campground, it still has a wonderful feel of deep woods wilderness to it. There are also wonderful photo opportunities in the vicinity of the campground. You'll find forest flowers, lush green vegetation, and tall trees.
If you are into tide pool photography, you can check the tides at
Saltwatertides.com. If you miss the low tides, it's still worth a visit.
It's also a good place for both sunrise and sunset in the summer. The sun rises
and sets in the northeast and northwest, respectively. You'll see great American
Bald Eagles, sea otters, and Harlequin ducks. Be sure to explore the WWII gun
emplacements too. Nice showers are also available here for $.25 each. From Hwy
101 west of Port Angeles, take Hwy 112 towards Neah Bay and follow the signs to
Salt Creek Recreation area.
Lake Crescent has a lot of potential for moody early morning shots as well as good sunset photos. Use the pullouts along the highway or photograph from the trail that starts near the Lake Crescent Lodge. One of my favorites is Meldrim Point near the west end of the lake. It's not marked but you can identify it by the relatively large pull out and the tree covered point of land. This is a great spot to try your hand at panoramic images at sunrise.
At the far west end of Lake Crescent is the Fairholm Store. Here you can rent canoes and rowboats. Or, if you're a photographer, you can photograph them!
The town of Forks is near the Hoh entrance to the National Park and is a good
place to stay on the west side. There are also national park campgrounds nearby
at both the Hoh Rain Forest and at Mora, on the coast. The town of La Push is
also on the coast near Mora and Rialto Beach, and there are cabins and motels
that are reasonably priced.
Two trails to explore in the Staircase area are the Skokomish River trail and
the Staircase Rapids trail. The two trails parallel each other on opposite sides
of the river. In the past it was possible to make a nice two-mile loop by
crossing the Staircase Rapids Bridge, but the bridge was damaged a few years ago
and the Park Service has yet to replace it.
For more information about trails and backcountry destinations, consult
Olympic Mountain Trail Guide by Robert L. Wood, published by The
Mountaineers (ISBN 0-89886-087-3), and "Wild Olympic Coast" by David Hooper,
also published by The Mountaineers (ISBN 0-89886-354-6)