The road up Hurricane Ridge is one of the iconic cycling routes in Washington. It’s the only one where you can ride from sea level to nearly a mile high in just 20 miles.
During the summer season (May 1 through October 15) the road is open 24 hours every day of the week, meaning you can tackle the challenge whenever you want. And many of us cyclists who live on the north Olympic Peninsula take advantage of that opportunity precisely because it’s a great challenge and because the scenery is simply incredible. This is a ride that never gets old, never gets boring, never disappoints.
I love riding the Ridge and return to it often during the summer months as a regular part of my cycling.
My wife and I have lived here in Sequim for five years. Years before that, on our first visit to the OP, and our first trip (in a car) up to Hurricane Ridge, I remember seeing cyclists on the road. Cycling wasn’t my “go-to” form of exercise back then, and I recall thinking, “Those guys are crazy!” Back then it never even crossed my mind that I might one day be one of those “crazies.”
Shortly after moving out here in 2012, though, and about two years after cycling had become a principal form of exercise to replace running, I started riding my bike regularly—the days I rode and the miles I covered increasing steadily. As I’ve explained to friends, Sequim is where I fell in with the “wrong” crowd—a dedicated “biker gang” who did group rides three or four days a week and went off on “pick up” rides seemingly at the drop of a pedal. A year later, I was “hard core:” I’d worked my way up to my first century, was going on “biking binges”—multi-day trips—including my first fully supported event, Cycle Greater Yellowstone, covering 400+ miles and 18,000 feet of elevation gain in six days, and I’d completed my first ride up Hurricane Ridge. I was hooked on cycling…and I’d become one of those crazy guys.
Since then I’ve ridden the Ridge every chance I can get.
Most of those trips up and down are memorable because they were, well, just great rides: the weather was perfect; the views of snow-capped, glacier-wrapped mountains in the Olympic range south and west so easily taking your mind off the grind; the haunting calls of Sooty grouse deep in the forests and the scent of cedar, hemlock, and fir contributing to a wondrous kind of sensory overload; the greetings and the banter of fellow cyclists on the way up or flashing by on the way down creating a sense of connection even with total strangers; the courtesy of drivers(!); that great endorphin-fueled satisfaction when you’re done and headed home.
But like any mountain—and actually much more than many–Hurricane Ridge can be fickle any time when it comes to weather and road conditions.
Over this past Memorial Day weekend I rode the Ridge and to say there was lots of traffic would be an understatement. But the weather, for late May, was exceptional. It was sunny, with only a few high clouds in the deep blue sky, and temperatures were near perfect, with an average 69 degrees for the whole ride. I started around 8:30 that morning from the lower Visitor Center at 3002 Mount Angeles Road just south of Port Angeles proper. It was a nice cool 58 degrees when I headed up the steepest part of the road—the five miles to the entry gate, and it wasn’t long before I was really appreciating the shade and the cool air.
Past the entry gate, the grade eases and the scenic vistas begin to emerge. It had gotten a bit warmer and, especially after the three short tunnels near mile marker nine, the sun covered a lot more of the road. Still, pleasant temperatures, a slow, steady pace, and the scenery made for a great time on the road.
On this particular day it seemed like everyone within 500 miles had decided they wanted to visit Hurricane Ridge, and single vehicles or groups of two or three or more swinging wide to give room as they passed kept going by every five minutes or so. I’ve never counted them, but there are about 175-200 parking spaces at the upper Visitor Center, everyone one of them occupied by the time I got there. One of the great things about riding the Ridge is that, when it comes to drivers, you rarely encounter a jerk. Even for those in a car, the surroundings seem to have a calming, patience-inducing effect.
After a quick bite to eat and a short rest watching kids play on the snowbanks still filling most of the outdoor patio, it was time to head back down. Normally you can just bomb down the hill (staying within the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, of course!). But car traffic on the road this time had me tapping the brakes way too often as I drafted behind vehicles winding their way carefully off the mountain. It was still a chilly ride down and I was glad I’d brought my jacket for at least part of the descent.
Heavy car traffic aside, it was a great day to ride the Ridge, like many I’d done before.
A week later, I was riding it again—under very different weather conditions. I knew it would be overcast so I wasn’t terribly surprised when the ride up started out gray and chilly. Further on, though, it turned damp and those scenic vistas were gone—obscured by dense fog that blanketed the road nearly all the way, visibility increasing only around the last half-mile before the Visitor Center. This time the descent was cold, sopping wet, with both rain and fog keeping visibility—and speed—to a minimum. When I checked my Garmin later, the average temperature that day was 42 degrees; throw in the wind chill, even at just 25 miles per hour, and it wasn’t surprising I had to thaw out for a while at the bottom. This time the memory conjured up was of the 2016 “Ride the Hurricane” on August 7, when rain and cold temperatures had many riders close to being hypothermic.
Two different experiences riding the Ridge, just a week apart– yep, Hurricane Ridge can be just as fickle and unpredictable as any mountain.
Catch the mountain on a day when it’s in a good mood and feeling generous: you’ll never forget your ride.
Catch it on a day when it’s not: you’ll never forget your ride.