Are you planning a trip to Olympic National Park? This travel guide will help you organize and map out your time there!
Olympic National Park covers nearly one million acres on Washington State’s Peninsula. It is a diverse and beautiful area of snowy mountains, lush rainforest, and sprawling coastline. With so many unique ecosystems throughout, it’s no wonder that Olympic National Park is such a popular place to visit! The area officially became established as a National Park in 1938, but it’s important to recognize the history of the people that were living there for years before. Treaties were made with the local tribes in the 1850s. These tribes are the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. They occupy reservations along the shores of the peninsula. (Info from NPS.gov). It is currently closed, but when it opens you can check out the Makah Museum for more history!
If you are coming from the Seattle area or anywhere north of King County I recommend taking the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry. Especially if you’ve never ridden a ferry before, it’s something you must do if you’re visiting from out of town. It provides another look at what Washington has to offer! On my last trip to Olympic National Park, I saw a porpoise from the ferry! You can often see seals or jellyfish hanging out close to the surface too.
If you don’t want to deal with waiting for the ferry or the extra cost (starting at ~$20 for one vehicle + driver) there is always the option to take the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to reach the peninsula. This option makes sense if you are coming from anywhere south of King County. (There is a small toll if you are headed eastbound on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, more info here). Check traffic and ferry times, leave early in the morning!
- Vehicle (non-commercial): $30
- Motorcycle: $25
- Per Person/Bicyclists: $15
- (These are all valid for seven consecutive days)
- Olympic National Park Annual Pass: $55
- America The Beautiful Annual Pass: $80
We have the America the Beautiful Annual Pass which covers entrance fees to National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands! If you think you’ll go to more than two National Parks in a year I think this is the way to go!
What To Do
1. Hiking is definitely my #1 activity in any National Park and this is no exception! The next section will detail a variety of hikes you can do to surround yourself within the beauty of this park!
2. Lake Crescent. This beautiful pristine lake is a must-visit spot on your trip to Olympic National Park. This is a great place to have a picnic, relax near the shore, hike, canoe or kayak! Head to the Storm King Ranger Station and take some pictures by the lake. You can also go swimming at Fairholm beach (if it’s not too cold for you!).
3. Beaches. Notable Olympic Peninsula beaches (North to South): Sand Point/Cape Alava, Rialto, First Beach, Second Beach, Third Beach, Ruby Beach, and Kalaloch. Hole-in-the-wall at Rialto is a great photo opp! Be sure to check tides reports (available at visitor centers & ranger stations too).
4. Wildlife. You may see bears, elk, cougars, mountain goats, deer, marmots, chipmunks, and a variety of birds. (And of course, there are all kinds of sea life if you are venturing on the coast!) Dawn & dusk are more popular times to see large wildlife. I’ve seen elk, marmots, chipmunks, and lots of different birds in the park. Be respectful, this is their home. Keep your distance, do not stop your vehicle in the middle of the road and block traffic (unless the animal is in front of your car!). Never feed wildlife.
5. Take pictures of nature! Especially in the warmer month, you should see plenty of beautiful wildflowers! There is a reason Washington is called the Evergreen State, we have a beautiful green temperate rainforest all year long!
- Hurricane Hill Hike (3.4 miles, moderate)
- Paved trail with some elevation gain. Summer is the best time to go on this hike for clear views. We went in early June and there was still packed snow on the trail. It also rained pretty heavily so there wasn’t much of a view at the top!
- Spruce Nature Trail (1.4 miles, easy)
- Spruce Nature Trail & Hall of Mosses are easy hikes through the Hoh rainforest that can’t be missed! Perfect family hike.
- Hall of Mosses (.8 miles, easy)
- Marymere Falls hike (1.5 miles, easy)
- A fairly easy hike to a really nice waterfall! (There are steep stairs at the end)
- Mount Storm King (5.3 miles, hard)
- I wanted to do this hike but since it had been raining and there is a loose rock section (you have to use a rope!) we decided to pass not knowing the conditions of the trail.
- Ozette Loop (9.4 miles, easy)
- I say this is an easy hike because it is flat, but it is the longest hike on my list! I like it because it features forests and the beach. This hike can also be made shorter by just hiking to the beach, turning around, and coming back instead of continuing along the shoreline. See this link for exact directions.
- Sol Duc Falls Trail (1.6 miles, easy)
Where to Stay
I have gone tent camping at Kalaloch & Mora. Mora Campground in Forks is my favorite for its location, it’s very close to Rialto beach!
- Kalaloch, Sol Duc, Hoh Rainforest, or Mora are my top picks for camping. There are several other campsites that are first come first serve, but these places will take reservations! Plan months in advance to get a spot!
- Lake Crescent Lodge, Lake Quinault Lodge, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and Port Angeles are hotels I have heard recommended but have not personally stayed at
- Airbnb or VRBO rentals
My main advice whether you are camping or staying in a hotel is to book as soon as possible!
- Safety tips:
- Observe wildlife from a distance & never feed them.
- Be bear aware! There are black bears in Olympic National Park. You should make your presence known while hiking. If you see a bear, extend your arms making yourself look big, and make as much noise as you can. Do not approach them.
- Check tide reports if you’re going to the beach. Available at visitor centers and ranger stations.
- Read all safety tips on the Olympic National Park website.
- Leave no trace! Take all your trash with you. Do not leave out any food.
- Pack lunch and lots of snacks/protein to eat on the way.
- Be prepared for lots of driving! Download Google Maps for offline use or have an atlas handy
- Washington weather can be unpredictable so manage your expectations and be prepared to adjust your plans
- Download the AllTrails app! There is a free and paid version. Screenshot the maps of the hikes you want to do or upgrade to the paid version to download them for offline use!
- If you have extra time and love hard cider, I recommend checking out Finnriver Cidery. It’s not too far out of your way if you’re headed to or from the Kingston ferry
I hope you enjoy your time in the majestic Olympic National Park!
For more travel tips and pictures of my most recent trips follow me on Instagram @melissa_junker
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