Olympic National Park is a place of incredibly diverse landscapes, plant life and animals, all conveniently located within a few hours of each other on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Here, you can stand on a glacially carved mountaintop, splash your toes in the Pacific Ocean, and wander under some of the largest trees on the planet – all in the same day.
The park’s living things are just as exciting as the terrain. Sitka spruce, hemlock and western red cedar trees stretch hundreds of feet high, while huge ferns, mosses and lichens transform the understory into an emerald paradise. Animals as varied as black bears, sea otters, marmots, bald eagles, harbor seals, gray whales and salamanders make their homes here. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails criss-cross the park, letting visitors experience this one-of-a-kind place up close.
People come to Olympic National Park from all over the world to walk in alpine meadows, climb glaciers, watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, paddle crystal-clear lakes, see burbling waterfalls, peer into tidepools, and stroll under the canopy of giant trees. It’s an unforgettable destination, whether you have a day or a lifetime to explore it.
Olympic National Park takes up most of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, an expansive piece of land in the northwest corner of the state bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. Most visitors fly into Seattle and rent a car to drive to the park. Drivers can also approach the park from the south or east (via Olympia). Driving to Olympic might also include a ferry, either from downtown Seattle or its suburbs to the east, or from Victoria, BC, in Canada to the north.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) is the closest major airport to the park. Driving to Port Angeles on the park’s northern border and Lake Quinault on the southern border both take about 2.5 hours, and it’ll be about 4 hours to the Hoh Rainforest on the park’s western side. SeaTac is a major airport with plentiful flight options from all over the world, as well as a suite of car rental agencies.
Victoria International Airport, just across the U.S. border into Canada, is another option. Travelers heading to Olympic National Park from here will need to take the Coho Ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles, a trip of about 2.5 hours total. This is a smaller airport, with a handful of direct flights to and from major Canadian cities, Mexican resort towns and Seattle.
U.S. Highway 101 loops around the entire park, granting access to all its destinations. You can connect to it via I-5 to the east, as well as a couple of different state highways (WA 8 on the southern end, and WA 3 and 104 on the northern end). You’ll need a car to fully explore the park.
Since water borders the Olympic Peninsula on three sides, some of the most direct driving routes include a ferry ride (where you drive your car right on board). The Washington State Ferry system sails to the peninsula from three places. If you’re coming from northwest of Seattle, the closest line is Coupeville on Whidbey Island to Port Townsend. If you’re approaching from north of Seattle, you’ll want the Edmonds-to-Kingston ferry. Take the Bainbridge Island line directly from downtown Seattle. There’s also a ferry from Seattle to Bremerton on the peninsula – but it’s not as convenient as the other options. The Coho Ferry also sails between Victoria, BC, and Port Angeles.
There is a bus system on the Olympic Peninsula, but you really need a car to make the most of a trip to the park. That will let you get to any destination or trailhead, on your own schedule.
All visitors are required to pay an entrance fee to visit Olympic National Park. Passes are valid for seven consecutive days and available for purchase at all entrance stations (credit or debit card only) and can also be purchased ahead of time on Recreation.gov. If you’re planning more than one visit to Olympic this year, get the Olympic Annual Pass.
Depending on the length of your stay and how many National Parks you plan to visit in a year, it may be more beneficial to purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass covers entrance fees into all U.S. National Parks as well as over 2,000 National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Historic Sites, and other federally managed lands.
Passes are free for current U.S. military members and reduced for Seniors aged 62 years or older. Senior passes also provide a 50 percent discount at select campgrounds.
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Lodging options inside Olympic National Park include four historic hotels (plus several options immediately outside park borders in the Lake Quinault area) and 15 campgrounds. All of them are in high demand during the summer season, so book as far ahead as possible. Eight of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served, so make a beeline for them early in the morning for the best chance of securing a site. You’ll find several more campgrounds scattered near the park on national forest or state land.
Port Angeles, a charming town between Olympic and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, abounds with lodging choices. It’s the best home base for exploring Hurricane Ridge, Deer Park, Elwha, Sol Duc and Lake Crescent. Located on the western side of the park, Forks is a small town with good hotel and restaurant options too; it’s well-situated for visiting the coast and the Hoh Rainforest. The Quileute Reservation, on the ocean near Mora, offers a few resorts. Neah Bay, on the Makah Reservation on the northwest corner of the peninsula, is another off-the-beaten-path base with a handful of resorts near Olympic’s Shi Shi Beach.
Olympic National Park is open year-round, holidays included. High season is June through September, when the weather is likely to be dry and pleasant (yes, it rains a lot on the Olympic Peninsula, but generally not as much during the summer). July and August in particular draw the most visitors. In summer, all park services and roads will be open, and a full suite of ranger programs are available.
Spring and fall can also be wonderful times to visit but the weather will likely be iffy, with more rain and wind and cooler temperatures. Snow will be present in the higher elevations, but the coast and forest destinations remain accessible. Keep a close eye on current road conditions if you travel in these shoulder seasons, as some park roads may close down depending on the weather. Winter brings lots of snow to Hurricane Ridge and the rest of the peaks and with it, excellent skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing opportunities. Down lower, weather tends to be cool to cold and very rainy. Big winter storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean, attracting hardy travelers for the “stormwatching” along the coast.
Olympic National Park comprises almost a million acres, so there’s lots to see here. Ideally you’d have at least two days to explore – more if you want to hike some of the trails and linger among the tidepools. But you can still get a sense of Olympic’s flavor in just one day, if that’s all you have. Try these sample itineraries to help plan your time here. All these itineraries assume you’ll be starting from Port Angeles; adjust as necessary if you’re approaching from another direction.
Get an early start – this is a big day that brings you to stellar examples of all three of Olympic’s primary ecosystems. Begin with the drive up to Hurricane Ridge, the park’s premier alpine destination. Enjoy the views and perhaps hike one of the shorter meadow trails, then head back down the mountain and make for the coast. Rialto Beach is beautiful and easy to reach by car, with sea arches and great wildlife-watching. Finally, continue on to the Hoh Rainforest to wander among giant trees in a unique temperate rainforest.
Two days will give you more time to savor the sights and visit a few more park destinations. Begin with Hurricane Ridge, then return to sea level and drive into the Sol Duc Valley for an excellent waterfall hike, a chance to see spawning salmon, and even a dip in the hot springs. Finish your day paddling, fishing or hiking along Lake Crescent.
Start day two with a trip to the coast. Choose among Rialto Beach (if you want to drive right up to the water) or First Beach or Second Beach (if you’d like a short hike to the shoreline). Move on to the Hoh Rainforest. Then continue the loop around the peninsula to Lake Quinault where you can drive the scenic loop, hike the temperate rainforest and see enormous trees.
With three days on the agenda, you’ll have time to see the A-list sites as well as lesser-traveled gems. Day one, visit the alpine territory at Hurricane Ridge. Then make the short drive to the Elwha Valley, a recovering river ecosystem rich in history. And wrap up the day at Lake Crescent.
Begin your second day with a visit to the Sol Duc Valley. Next, choose a beach – Rialto, First or Second – and spend some time on the coast. Then, explore the Hoh Rainforest.
On day three, check out the tidepools and fascinating geology at Ruby Beach. You’ll have time to stop by Kalaloch Beach too, for a hike along the shoreline. And finish your trip at Lake Quinault.
This much time allows for an extended tour of the park, including its far-flung, less-crowded attractions. Consider a trip to Deer Park, another high-elevation area with stunning hiking trails. The Staircase area in the park’s southeastern corner features mountain lakes and rugged peaks. The wilderness coast at Shi Shi Beach and Lake Ozette showcases remote stretches of shoreline with wonderful tidepools and a unique bog ecosystem.
If you have the gear and skills for a backpacking trip, also think about spending a few nights in the park’s backcountry. Olympic’s wild trails lead to a wide variety of campsites, from the alpine zone to the rainforest to the Pacific Coast – and everywhere in between.
July and August are by far the busiest months in Olympic National Park. September visitation is half of what it is in August, so if you can travel in the early fall, you’ll dodge some of the crowds. The same goes for June, which sees about a third of August’s traffic. The rainier period from October through April will offer much more solitude, if you come prepared for wet weather.
If you’re planning a summer visit, you can also find peace and quiet by targeting Olympic’s less-traveled attractions, like Elwha on the eastern side of the park, and the Lake Ozette area. Get up early to visit the most popular stops, like Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge. And naturally, weekdays are less crowded than weekends.
The glacier-draped Olympic Mountains form the heart of the national park, reaching nearly 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level, just a handful of miles away. Hurricane Ridge, with its paved road up to 5,242 feet (1,598 meters), offers the easiest access to the high country. Head up there for meadows scattered with wildflowers, views of the nearby peaks and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a chance to spot alpine wildlife like Olympic marmots. You can also drive up to similar lofty heights at Deer Park, another mountain destination reachable via a winding gravel road.
Unique temperate rainforest ecosystems with enormous, old-growth trees smothered with ferns and mosses, flank the southern and western borders of the park. The Hoh Rainforest is a stellar example, with miles of trail tracing the Hoh River to explore. You’ll find a similar experience in the Quinault Rainforest, stretching north into the park from Lake Quinault.
More than 70 miles (113 kilometers) of wilderness coastline form the western border of Olympic National Park, so there’s no shortage of options for dipping a toe in the Pacific. These cold-water beaches feature dramatic sea stacks and arches, tidepools and habitats for bald eagles, gray whales and harbor seals. Some of the easiest ones to reach include Rialto Beach, First Beach, Second Beach, Kalaloch Beach and Ruby Beach. If you’re up for a long drive plus a hike, Shi Shi Beach is remote and gorgeous.
Thick old-growth forests line several large rivers flowing north out of the Olympic Mountains to the sea. The Sol Duc Valley hosts abundant wildlife (including spawning salmon), a beautiful waterfall and natural hot springs. The Elwha Valley is becoming wilder and wilder since a dam was removed from the Elwha River in 2012; a network of excellent trails radiate out from here.
This high-elevation trail at Hurricane Ridge offers fantastic bang for your buck: in just a 0.7-mile (1.1-kilometer) round-trip, you’ll traipse through blossom-filled meadows to an expansive view over the Olympic Range. Take the High Ridge Trail from the main parking lot, then hike the short spur out and back to Sunrise Point before looping back to the start.
Dip from the sweeping vistas of Obstruction Point down to lovely Grand Lake, then swing back up to the high country again via the Badger Valley Trail on this challenging, day-sized alpine hike. You can also extend the 8-mile (12.9-kilometer) loop by hiking south from Grand Lake to visit equally pretty Moose Lake and Gladys Lake.
The best waterfall hike in the park leads through the lush forest of the Sol Duc Valley to a 48-foot (14.6-meter) stunner of a cascade, a round-trip of 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers). A quirk of geology here makes the river flow over a steep cliff in up to four distinct channels.
This remote wilderness beach on the northern tip of the park’s coastal section feels like a world away, with fantastical sea stacks, excellent tidepools and amazing sunsets. The hike to Point of the Arches is 8 miles (12.9-kilometer) round-trip, and tracks through coastal forest and down a tricky bluff (use the rope!) before depositing you on the beach. Note: the hike starts on tribal land, so you’ll need a Makah Recreation Pass to do it.
Easy, breezy and gorgeous, this hike along Rialto Beach’s rocky shoreline is the perfect introduction to the Olympic coast. Head north for about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers), looking for bald eagles and seals as you hike, to the natural sea arch called Hole-in-the-Wall. If the tide is low, you can hike right under it (pick up a tide table before you go any further).
Olympic’s finest rainforest trail extends deep into the park’s interior, cruising under a lush, big-treed forest that feels straight out of a fairy tale. You can hike more than 17 miles (27 kilometers) to the shoulder of Mt. Olympus, but most visitors just follow the flat trail for a custom-distance out-and-back.
Reaching this mystical spot along the Quinault River requires a moderate, 13-mile (21-kilometer) one-way hike, but the payoff is worth it: a steep-sided valley with waterfall after waterfall pouring off the surrounding cliffs, and black bears roaming the meadows. This one is best as an overnight backpacking trip (permit required).
Olympic’s wild beaches hold countless tidepools full of crabs, anemones, sea snails and sea stars, and kids and adults alike can spend hours peering into these tiny habitats. You’ll find them up and down the coast, but popular spots include Beach 4, Rialto Beach and Shi Shi Beach. Look, but make sure little fingers don’t touch – it’s easy to hurt these small creatures, and some can hurt you!
The park’s hundreds of miles of trails let young explorers experience everything from mountaintops, to remote beaches, to fairy-tale forests. Take the youngest hikers to kid-friendly trails (read: easy and short) like the Meadow Trail at Hurricane Ridge, First Beach, Hoh River Trail and the Rain Forest Nature Trail at Lake Quinault. Fit tweens and teens will love a longer backpacking trip into the park’s pristine backcountry. Head for Seven Lakes Basin in the mountains, Cape Alava on the coast and Five Mile Island in the Hoh Rainforest.
Eating hot dogs, roasting marshmallows stargazing – camping is a classic childhood experience, and Olympic has 14 great campground options. Kalaloch offers beach access practically out your tent door. Hoh Campground has shady sites under enormous trees. Deer Park Campground lets you sleep even closer to the stars with its high-elevation location. And Sol Duc Campground sits next door to a hot springs resort with kid-friendly pools.
The National Park Service offers a fun Junior Ranger Program at many parks, including Olympic. Pick up a workbook at any visitor center and help your budding naturalist complete the activities. When they’re done, kids can get “sworn in” and receive a special badge from a real park ranger.
This long-distance, non-motorized trail stretches across the entire peninsula, but one of its nicest sections is the 10 miles (16 kilometers) that hugs the north shore of Lake Crescent. You can access it from either end: the Camp David Junior Road Trailhead on the west, or Boundary Creek Trailhead on the east. Log Cabin Resort offers bike rentals.
Unbelievable snowfall in the park’s high country – we’re talking up to 35 feet (10.7 meters) every winter – makes for excellent snowsports. The small Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area runs a lift and two rope tows, plus a terrain park and snow tubing area. Outside the resort, snowshoers can explore the high ridges on park trails and kids can sled in a designated snowplay area. Snowshoe and ski rentals are available at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
The impossibly clear water of this mountain-ringed lake looks even better from a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. Go early in the morning for the calmest water, as winds tend to pick up in the afternoon. Rent your pick of watercraft from Lake Crescent Lodge or Log Cabin Resort.
Layers: Even if you’re visiting during the sunny, warm summer months, you’ll still want to pack layers. Nights and early mornings can still be chilly, especially in the higher elevations, and ocean breezes can cool you quickly on the coast. Pack a mid-layer (choose wool or synthetic fabrics, not cotton, if possible; cotton takes a long time to dry if it gets wet) as well as a windbreaker jacket. In colder weather, add a down or synthetic puffy jacket, plus waterproof gloves, a hat, and waterproof or water-resistant shell pants for snow.
Raingear: This can be one of the rainiest places in the country, so come prepared with a waterproof jacket at the very least. If you’re visiting anytime from fall through late spring, you might want to add a wide-brimmed waterproof hat, rain pants and gaiters to protect your feet from wet trailside vegetation.
Footwear: Make them sturdy and supportive for a comfortable time out on the trail. Higher-cut boots provide extra ankle support while low-cut footwear are lighter and quicker to break in – let your personal preference be your guide, but make sure your choice has good, grippy traction. Waterproof footwear is a great idea unless you’re visiting in the summer, when you can probably get away with non-waterproof shoes (bonus: they’re more breathable). Some people like hiking on the beach in sandals, but make sure they’re the closed-toe, sturdy kind. Flip-flops or flimsy sandals won’t get you far on Olympic’s rocky beaches.
Daypack: Keep all your essentials in a comfortable daypack. Choose one with a hipbelt and a sternum strap for maximum stability. In rainy weather, add a waterproof pack cover to protect the contents from getting soaked.
Sun Protection: The sun shines even in the rainiest places, so make sure you’re protected. This is especially important in the high-elevation zones, even in the winter, and when you’re on the water. Pack a bottle of high-SPF sunblock, plus a sun hat and sunglasses. UPF-rated clothing adds extra protection from the intense alpine sun.
Water Bottles: Staying hydrated is essential for a comfortable trip, especially when you’re exerting yourself out on the trails. A sturdy, reusable water bottle or a soft water bladder are both great choices. Add a portable water treatment system (a filter or UV pen) if you’re planning a very long hike, so you can purify lake and river water on the go.
Hiking Poles: Poles help you balance on tricky terrain (great for rock-hopping along the coast or scrambling in the mountains), aid in steep climbs and descents (perfect on the alpine trails) and reduce pressure on your knees (who doesn’t like that?). Adjustable poles are nice because they let you lengthen or shorten them according to the terrain, but fixed-length poles are sturdier.
Headlamp: A must for camping and backpacking, headlamps are also smart to pack on day hikes in case your trip takes longer than planned.
Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.
Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag, so we can do our part and help keep the beaches and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the parking lot, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the area beautiful for everyone who visits.
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