Unicorn Peak is one of those summits that is rarely visited and probably only sees a handful of visitors per year. During the summer you can expect to cross some steep scree and dirt slopes. There are also a lot of downed trees to deal with when passing through the old Griff Burn. On the other hand, in the winter, with enough snow, the approach is easier but lengthy and includes frequent ups and downs. The real clincher of this peak is that the summit is roughly 100 feet lower than the summer parking area, BUT it takes about 2000 feet of gain to get there.
So you might wonder, "Why would would anybody choose to climb this peak while there are several higher summits nearby"? The answer is, for a number of reasons. 1) The vast majority of the route follows a number of ridge tops which boosts the fun factor considerably. 2) The summit block looks intimidating from afar but with closer inspection it turns out to be a very easy class 2-3 scramble. 3) The proximity of Unicorn Peak to the town of Port Angeles provides on of the best views of the port and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. On a clear day you will see the mountains on the other side in Canada. 4) If you do go all the way to Unicorn's summit, then you will likely have gone to the top of Hurricane Hill and Griff Peak, because the route passes within a few hundred feet of each summit. Three summits in one day is well worth the effort.
For those that are more technically inclined, Unicorn's Horn is just a quarter of a mile north of Unicorn Peak and requires rock climbing skills.
Following The Ridge
The main draw of this peak is that the route follows high alpine ridge-tops where wildflowers are abundant in the summer and snow capped peaks surround you in the winter. Starting from either parking area, the first objective is the summit of Hurricane Hill at 5757 feet. It's 3 miles to Hurricane's summit from the visitor center. Follow the winding ridge-top northwest as it passes through patches of forest. From Hurricane's summit you can see Unicorn Peak and Griff Peak down below. It's another a mile and a half to get to the Unicorn/Griff ridge-top.
From Hurricane Hill summit, go a quarter mile east to where the northeast ridge starts dropping down steeply. This is the only crucial point of the route where you don't want to make a mistake. It's also the only section where you want to leave the top of the ridge. Those who have tried to stay on top of the northeast ridge of Hurricane Hill have found that it becomes quite narrow and cliffy. To avoid this, drop down into a bowl just east of the ridge and skirt along the bottom of the cliffs in a descending traverse traveling north. There might be some avalanche danger on these slopes during the winter and in the summer finding footing on loose dirt and grass can be challenging. Regain the top of the ridge around 5200 feet and follow it down to the saddle between Griff Peak and Hurricane Hill.
Right before the saddle you will enter the remnants of the Griff Burn which was caused by a lightning strike in 2003. With enough snow most of the downed trees should be covered up, but in the summer there are many logs to step over. Continue following the ridge as it ascends above the saddle to 5000 feet where it intersects another ridge running between Griff Peak and Unicorn Peak. From here, many will want to take the short detour over to the summit of Griff Peak which is less than a quarter mile to the east.
Once on this final ridge-top it's another three quarters of a mile over to the base of Unicorn's summit block. The remainder of the route becomes more interesting as it is necessary to wind around steep rock formations and push your way through a few dense clumps of trees. The growing sight of that final scramble should be enough to keep you moving.
The scramble itself is very easy and not at all what it looks like from afar. The majority of it can be done without using any hands and when hands are necessary, if you choose your way carefully, there are a lot of stable holds to hang onto. On the summit you can get an appreciation for the precipitous cliff dropping down the northeast side.
From Seattle, take one of the ferry rides over the Sound to the Peninsula and catch Highway 16 up to Highway 3, to Highway 104 west to Highway 101. Wherever you are coming from, head towards Port Angles.
From Port Angeles, go south on Hurricane Ridge Road to the Park entrance. (There are signs in Port Angeles that direct you there). The visitor center is 17 miles from Port Angeles. This is where you will have to park in the winter. During the summer, take the Hurricane Hill Road beyond the visitor center for another 1.3 miles to a turnaround and parking lot.
Entrance Fees to Olympic National Park:
One Week - $15
One Year - $30
One Year to All National Parks and Recreation Areas - $80
NOTE: You didn't hear it from me, but often in the wee early morning hours and also sometimes in the winter, nobody is checking for permits at the park entrance.
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