Welcome to Olympic National Park! You may have already noticed, but this place is BIG. Nearly 1 million acres, to be exact. The park encompasses over 70 miles of rugged coastline, rain forests, mountains, hot springs, glaciers and so much more. At first, it feels impossible to explore, but do not fear, Cal and I have carefully curated our Olympic National Park Itinerary so that you will not miss out on the best parts of this amazing park!
Without further adieu, we present the top 5 things to see at Olympic National Park, in descending order.
1. The best of the Olympic National Park Itinerary: Hurricane Hill Trail
If you ever find yourself in the area and can only do one thing, it should definitely be Hurricane Hill. Located just 45 minutes south of Port Angeles, it’s an easy drive to the trailhead. On the way, you’ll pass by the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, which is a picture-worthy stop, to say the least.
The Hurricane Hill Trail is 3.2 miles round trip, with a 700 ft elevation change. It’s a decent climb for folks like me who spend their days in front of a computer and nights in front of a TV. But the terrain is easy, it’s actually more like a wide dirt road than a traditional hiking trail. You can also count on the cool Northwest breeze to keep your energy up.
The best part about this hike is the views. You’ll think the climb up is fantastic, but just wait until you get to the top. There is a panoramic view including the ocean and several mountain ranges. On a clear day, you can even see Canada.
On your way out, drop back into the Visitor Center to reward yourself with a hot chocolate. After all, you deserve it! Overall, I’d rate this stop as medium effort and high reward.
2. Rialto Beach
The next stop on the Olympic National Park itinerary is on the western side of the park. Here, you’ll find 2 gorgeous beaches. Rialto and La Push. Both are special in their own way, but if you only have time to see one, I’d recommend Rialto. You can stop in Forks (yes, that town from the movie, Twilight!) to grab some picnic food from Thriftway. I’d also highly recommend timing your trip with low tide. I use an app called Tide Charts, by 7th Gear, to easily view tide charts while traveling.
Rialto is the quintessential example of the Pacific Northwest coastline. It’s misty, chilly, rugged, and full of sun-bleached driftwood, some of which are the size of whole trees. The area would be downright spooky if it weren’t for the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing onto the gravel beach. Make sure to leave plenty of time to explore the beach and take photos of the piles of oversized driftwood.
3. Hall of Mosses
While in the area, the Hoh River Rainforest is also a great stop. The rainforest, formed by a glacier over 1000 years ago is dominated by plantlife in a way that I have never experienced. The forest is thick with trees and the air seems to smell of life itself. For the greatest bang for your buck, you can not miss the Hall of Mosses. Located right next to the visitor center, it’s an easy .8-mile walk through an old-growth forest, draped with moss. You can also enjoy Spruce Nature Trail, which is a 1.2-mile loop, with almost no elevation gain.
Leave time for a pass through the visitor center and to rest next to the Hoh River before you leave. As you sit next to the milky, blue river, you can ponder the origin of the water that runs through it. Odds are, it came from one of 3 glaciers: Blue Glacier, White Glacier, or Hoh Glacier. You can imagine how the water came from ice from a different era, how it sat dormant, holding onto bits of bacteria and organic material from its own world. As it finally melted into the Hoh River, those particles were awakened to an entirely different world. While no one really knows the age of these 3 glaciers, it’s likely in the neighborhood of 700-1000 years. But who knows, maybe it’s longer – you can let your imagination run wild.
4. Salt Creek Recreation Center
No exploration of the Pacific Northwest coastline is complete without a trip to Salt Creek. Here you’ll find the revered beach, facing the Strait of Juan De Fuca, which forms the border between the US and Canada.
Upon arrival to Salt Creek, you’ll see parking for its main hiking trail, Striped Peak, to your right. The trail is 5 miles, round trip, and has an elevation gain of 850 ft. If you have the energy, I’d recommend this hike as it provides a beautiful view of the coastline and will make you feel accomplished. My personal ranking is: “medium effort, medium reward”.
You do not need to hike up a mountain to fully enjoy Salt Creek, however. A little trail near the back of the park will take you down to the rocky coastline where you can gaze upon the crashing waves. I found the experience both empowering and soothing at the same time. If you meditate or journal like me, this is the perfect place for silent contemplation. If you time your visit to low tide, and you can also explore the rocky beach which is known for its abundance of sea life.
5. The Hoh River Trail
If you have a few days to camp, you can also check out the Hoh River Trail, which runs for 18.5 miles (one way). One of the most famous trails in the area, it ends at the glacier moraine for Blue Glacier. Yes, it’s a real glacier! The moraine is the sediment and ice that sits in front of the face of a glacier. It’s the part that has melted off and is working its way back into the earth.
As a matter of fact, the entire hike can be viewed as a trip back in time! The beginning of the trail features the most mature forest – land that was nurtured by the glacier nearly 1000 years ago. As you hike towards Blue Glacier you’ll start to notice the characteristics of the forest change into newer growth and become less dense. You are following the path of the receding glacier (how cool is that!). Once you arrive at Glacier Meadows, you’ll be standing on land that represents the first stage of a rainforest.
Putting Olympic National Park into Perspective
Now you’ve experienced mountain tops, river valleys, a rainforest, beaches, tide pools, and possibly a glacier. Could you have ever imagined that so much diversity existed in such a small place?
Olympic National Park is more than just its natural features, though. It’s the weather, the air, the people, the coffee and so much more. It’s a mood, a feeling and even though your human eyes may never fully ingest its 1M acres of wonders, your body will know what it felt like to be there.