If you are a curious cat like me, you’ll be especially impressed by Olympic National Park. With nearly 1 million acres of land, several distinct ecosystems run throughout this gorgeous park. Located in Washington state, on the mystical Olympic Peninsula, this area is known for its rugged coastline, temperate rain forests, and dramatic mountains. In short, there are plenty of plants to nibble, trees to climb, and places to hide – Olympic National Park truly is a cat’s dream! So, how do you plan the perfect trip? Read on for everything you need to know to build your Olympic National Park itinerary.
- Starting your Olympic National Park Itinerary: Getting there
- Where to stay
- What time of year to visit
- Olympic National Park’s 4 main regions
- Olympic National Park Itinerary: 2 Days, Park Overview
- Olympic National Park Itinerary: 4 Days, Getting Off the Beaten Path
- Conclusion on building your Olympic National Park Itinerary
Starting your Olympic National Park Itinerary: Getting there
The closest major airport to Olympic National Park is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). From the airport, there are two main routes into the park. One will take you onto the famous Seattle-Bainbridge Ferry, offering a short break where you can exit your car and enjoy the salty air. The other will keep you on dry land for the entire route. Either way, you can expect the drive to be around 2.5-3 hours in length.
An alternative to flying into Seattle is the Victoria International Airport (YYJ), located in British Columbia, Canada. While this airport is further away, you will enjoy a 90-minute ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While this route requires more planning due to crossing an international border, it is worth the effort for those who are looking for a little extra adventure.
If you are lucky enough to take a road trip near the Olympic Peninsula, then Olympic National Park is a must-see! If you come in through the south, you’ll pass through Portland, OR. If you come in from the west, you’ll pass through Seattle, WA. Either way, you are in for a big dose of Pacific Northwest charm. With the exception of downtown Seattle, this part of the country is very car-friendly and is a great place to take a road trip in the summer months.
Renting a car
The best way to experience Olympic National Park is by driving. Since the park is so large, scenic drives are great way to see a lot in one day. Additionally, travel from the major airports into the park is time-consuming and difficult without a car.
Using public transit
If you will be traveling without a car, there are some shuttle routes around the park that will take you to popular destinations like Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent Lodge, and the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. For transportation into the park, you can use the metro which will require at least a few transfers. You can also look into private transport companies if you would like to trade dollars for convenience.
Where to stay
Staying in a hotel inside the park
Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll have several options for lodging inside the park.
Kalaloch Lodge is a lovely little lodge with a big view. Located on the peninsula’s west side, this lodge is open year-round. While you can easily access the entire park from this location, some nearby attractions include La Push Beach and the Hoh rain forest.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is another popular place to stay. Featuring (you guessed it!) several hot spring pools, Sol Duc is located in the Sol Duc valley on the northern side of the peninsula. This area is best known for its stunning landscape, including subalpine lakes and the ice-blue Sol Duc River. Due to weather, this resort is open from April to October each year.
Lake Crescent Lodge is your final option for staying inside the park. Located in the northern region, on the shore of the beautiful Lake Crescent, this lodge offers a variety of waterfront activities during the summer season. Lake Crescent Lodge is open from May to December each year.
Staying in a hotel outside of the park
Staying in a hotel in one of the park’s surrounding communities offers increased amenities without losing very much proximity to the park itself. If you are willing to trade the remote feeling of staying inside the park for a lower price tag, staying outside of the park is your best option.
For staying outside of the park, you’ll find the most options for lodging in Port Angeles, WA which is generally considered the gateway to the park. If you are looking for a slightly slower pace, you can also check out the nearby town of Sequim, WA. Both towns are located on the stunning coastline and offer close proximity to Hurricane Ridge, one of the park’s most popular areas.
Camping in the park
If camping is more your style, you’ll find plenty of beautiful places to stay inside of Olympic National Park. As with any national park, you should try to reserve your campground as far in advance as possible. We recommend at least 6 months if you are looking to camp during the summer months. At Olympic National Park, you’ll find 5 campgrounds that take advanced reservations. Additionally, you can call Lake Crescent Lodge to book a campground in their resort area.
If your Olympic National Park itinerary is flexible in location and accommodations, you can also always go for one of the park’s 9 first-come, first-served sites. While unbooked sites at reservation-based campgrounds are also classified as first-come, first-served, you should expect no availability during the high season.
Your final option for camping within the park is wilderness camping. This style of camping entails hiking into your campsite and is the best way to explore the backcountry of the park. Due to its popularity, most areas of the park require a reservation for wilderness camping.
If you are new to wilderness camping, make sure to start slow, using established trails and recommended sites. Due to its remote nature, this kind of camping presents more risk than traditional drive-in sites. Take some time to understand the recommended gear and safety precautions specific to the area (like bear canisters, for example). Putting in the extra effort to experience wilderness camping can be extremely rewarding for active nature enthusiasts.
Camping outside of the park
You’ll find a plethora of private campgrounds located on all sides of the park. We recommend using a site like Hipcamp to view all of your options before making your decision. Hipcamp also offers glamping sites, which can provide a unique mix of amenities and rugged charm.
What time of year to visit
Depending on your preferences, Olympic National Park can be a great place to visit any time of year.
This is by far the most popular time of year to visit the park. With temperatures ranging from the 40s to mid-60s (Fahrenheit), you’ll be comfortable hiking and exploring throughout the entire day. Summertime also offers the least amount of rain, ranging from 6 to 2 days per month. July is the peak of summer with the highest temperatures and the least amount of rainfall.
While temperatures start to fall, hitting freezing close to the end of October, precipitation starts to increase. With that said, fall is still an amazing time to visit the park due to fewer crowds. During this short season, you’ll also experience the leaves changing color and the elk mating season. In the coastal areas, you can also enjoy whale watching.
During this time, you’ll often find closures across the park, however, this does not mean that Olympic Peninsula has nothing to offer! Hurricane Ridge is the most popular area in winter, offering downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as snowshoeing. The other popular area is the coastline. With its brisk wind, stinging rain, and crashing waves, seeing the Washington coastline in winter is a sight to remember.
As the winter snow melts away, spring provides plenty of opportunity to explore the park with fewer crowds. Springtime in Olympic National Park is best known for surging waterfalls, bird watching, and birthing season for the local elk. During this time,x you will likely experience freezing temperatures at night and up to 14 days of rain per month.
Olympic National Park’s 4 main regions
One of the greatest advantages of visiting Olympic National Park is the diversity of its ecosystems. All within the magnificent Olympic Peninsula, the park has a variety of nature to explore including rugged beaches, temperate rain forests, subalpine lakes & rivers and alpine areas for hiking and skiing. Within these distinct ecosystems, you’ll find a variety of entry points, provided by the park.
By and large Olympic National Park is best known for its rugged coastline on the Pacific Ocean. For travelers who enjoy dramatic views, wildlife viewing, and relatively flat hikes, this is a great area to explore. While Olympic National Park only officially covers most of the western coastline, the northern coastline also offers some unique areas to enjoy.
One of the most popular coastal activities in Olympic National Park is exploring the natural features like sea stacks, tide pools, and massive pieces of driftwood. Additionally, the Quileute and Hoh people have a rich history in this area. Taking time to visit their reservations is a great way to learn even more about the area. If you are visiting in the fall or spring, you can add whale watching to your agenda.
Beaches on the western shoreline:
Ruby & Kalaloch Beaches are about 4 miles apart and located near the southern end of the Olympic Peninsula. These areas are known for being wide and sandy and flanked by beautiful forests. These are great areas for easy hikes, wildlife watching, and tide-pooling during low tide.
La Push, Rialto Beach & Second Beach are within a 1 mile of each other and are the main points of attraction on the northern end of the coastline. These beaches are rocky with stunning sea stacks and massive pieces of driftwood.
With dramatic crashing waves and quickly changing weather patterns, this is also a great place for storm-watching enthusiasts. There are also some great hikes in the area, just make sure to watch the tide charts (available at any ranger station) to avoid getting stuck on a trail during high tide. While these areas are stunning, quickly changing weather patterns can present a risk to unprepared visitors.
Ozette Lake is the most northern coastal area to explore within the park boundaries. This area is rugged and requires a moderately difficult hike to access. With that said, hiking the Ozette triangle is a popular activity.
Spanning a little over 9 miles, this hike takes you through a beautiful coastal forest, down the rugged coastline, and back up the shore of Ozette Lake. For active travelers, this is one of the quintessential experiences of Olympic National Park.
Beaches on the northern shoreline:
While the northern coast is not technically part of Olympic National Park, it’s still worth exploring. Protected by Vancouver Island, the wind is calmer on this side of the peninsula. However, the rocky coastline is just as stunning.
Starting on the western corner of the Olympic Peninsula Cape Flattery and Neah Bay are popular places to explore. Hiking around Cape Flattery provides stunning vegetation as well as sweeping ocean views from the area’s famous cliffs and sea stacks.
Salt Creek Recreation Area is also a great place to visit, offering stunning ocean views steps away from the parking lot. This is a great place to relax and have a mid-day picnic.
And, finally, closer to the eastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness Spit provides an easy hike with great views. Starting out in the forest, eventually, you end up on a narrow sandy beach. From here, you can hike as far as you’d like. This area is known for fantastic bird watching and amazing views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Temperate rain forests
The temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park are another main destination for park visitors. With dense vegetation, heavy rain and cooler temperatures, this kind of ecosystem only exists in a few places around the world! Luckily the entire western border of the park is covered in these magical forests.
Hoh rain forest is by far the most popular destination for hiking in temperate rain forests. Here you’ll find a well-stocked visitor center and several trails into the dense yet vibrant forest. The Spruce Nature Trail and Hall of Mosses are popular treks, both are loops, around 1 mile in length.
If you are looking for something challenging, the Hoh River Trail follows the crystal-clear Hoh River for 18.5 miles until it hits Blue Glacier, where the river begins. Of course, you do not need to hike the entire trail to gain enjoyment from this unique ecosystem.
Heading south along the western border of the park, you’ll run into Queets Valley next. Less crowded than Hoh, Queets is equally as beautiful. After exiting the highway, you’ll travel approximately 11 miles on a windy road to reach upper Queets. Once you arrive, you’ll find peace and solitude, along with several easy trails to explore.
The Quinault rain forest is located on the southwestern side of the park. Due to its remote location (3 hours from Port Angeles), you’ll find one of the least traveled areas of the park. Featuring the same ecosystem as Hoh, this is great place to immerse yourself in a sea of bright green vegetation.
Pro Tip: If you are looking to truly absorb yourself in nature, consider staying at Lake Quinault Lodge and exploring this lesser-known area of the park.
Heading back to the northwest side of the park, you’ll find the last entry point to explore the temperate rain forest: Sol Duc Valley. This is a popular destination due to its stunning waterfalls and natural hot springs. If you take the time to visit Sol Duc, make sure to check out Sol Duc Falls and Ancient Groves.
Sub Alpine Lakes and Rivers
Located in slightly drier areas of the park, you’ll find Lake Crescent, Elwha River Valley and Staircase. These areas feature stunning glacier fed lakes and rivers with beautiful forests that are less dense than their western counterparts.
Lake Crescent, located near the northern side of the park is popular destination for summer visitors. Due to a lack of nitrogen, there is no algae in this lake, leaving it crystal clear and a true sight to behold. The Lake Crescent area not only offers a plethora of waterfront activities like kayaking and sailing, but it also has some of the most popular hikes in the park.
If you are in the area, make sure to check out Marymere Falls, an easy, .9-mile trail to a beautiful waterfall. If you are feeling up for a challenge, Mount Storm King can also be accessed from this area. Here you’ll find a short yet extremely steep trail, which climbs 2100 feet in just 1.7 miles. The reward is a sweeping view of Lake Crescent and, of course, the bragging rights!
Also, on the northern side of the park, the Elwha River Valley is a beautiful place to visit. Here you’ll find the recently restored Elwha River which runs alongside some short hikes like Madison Falls and Elwha Dam.
Located away from nearly everything else, on the southeastern side of the park, you’ll find an area called Staircase. Surrounding the Skokomish River, this area is dense with Douglas firs and popular place for hiking for the locals. Make sure to check out the Staircase trail to get the best views of the fast-moving Skokomish river.
The center of the park is dominated by the Olympic Mountain Range. Flanked by water on 3 sides, this is a unique and beautiful mountain range to experience. The alpine areas refer to the highest elevations in the park, occurring above the tree line. Alpine areas are stunning to explore in the warmer months, as the sparse vegetation provides views across the entire range. During the colder months, these areas are great for skiing and snow shoeing.
Hurricane Ridge is the main entry point for the alpine region of Olympic National Park. Make sure to stop at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Some popular hikes in the area include Hurricane Hill (1.6 miles, one way), Klahhane Ridge (3.8 miles, one way), and Cirque Rim (.5 miles, one way). While Hurricane Hill has a decent elevation gain of 700 ft, the trail is paved most of the way and ends with an amazing panoramic view of the entire park.
If you are visiting this park in the winter, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for cross country skiing and snow shoeing. There is also a small, designated area for downhill skiing, including 2 rope tows and a poma lift. The weather can be unpredictable however, and road closures in the winter are common. If you plan to visit during winter, it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan in case this area is closed.
Olympic National Park Itinerary: 2 Days, Park Overview
This itinerary provides on overview of the park’s main ecosystems, sprinkled with some short hikes to get your blood pumping. Looking to get away for a long weekend? This is the perfect plan!
- Arrive in Port Angeles by mid-morning.
- Grab food for a picnic in town before making the drive to Hurricane Ridge
- Explore Hurricane Ridge: After stopping at the Visitor Center enjoy your lunch at the nearby picnic area while enjoying a view of the Olympic Mountain Range.
- After lunch you can either explore the shorter trails by the visitor center or take on the Hurricane Ridge trail, which is 1.6 miles, one way with an elevation gain of 700 ft.
- Once you are done exploring Hurricane Ridge, make the hour-long drive back down to Port Angeles.
- See Dungeness Spit: Depending on how much daylight is left you can either explore the Port Angeles Pier or make the 30-minute drive over to Dungeness Spit. A leisurely stroll down the spit at sunset is a perfect way to end the day.
- Eat dinner and stay the night in Port Angeles
- Start the day with a quick breakfast in Port Angeles and then compete the 2-hour drive to the Hoh rain forest.
- Experience the famous Hoh rain forest: After exploring the visitor center you can either take a leisurely stroll through the Hall of Mosses trail (just under 1 mile in length) or take a longer hike next to the Hoh River. The Hoh River Trail is over 18 miles one way, making a great trek for active travelers.
- When you are done exploring this area, make the 45-minute drive over to Forks, WA for lunch.
- Visit La Push Beach and marvel at the famous sea stacks and massive driftwood in this picturesque setting.
- If you are looking for substantial hike, complete the Ozette Loop with a round trip distance of 9.2 miles. This popular hike will take you along the famous coastline while also traversing the coastal forest. If 9.2 miles feels a little too long, you can also hike a few miles in and then turnaround and come back. The entire area is truly gorgeous!
- See Lake Crescent: On your way back to Port Angeles, stop at Lake Crescent, the second deepest lake in the state of Washington. Here you can enjoy a handful of short hikes, or simply hang out on the coast and appreciate the view.
- Eat an early dinner at the Lake Crescent Lodge.
- Begin travels back home.
Olympic National Park Itinerary: 4 Days, Getting Off the Beaten Path
This itinerary allows for more in depth exploration of the park’s amazing nature by getting away from some of the most crowded areas.
- Arrive in Port Angeles by mid-morning.
- Appreciate Lake Crescent: Make the 30-minute drive to Lake Crescent. Grab lunch at the Lake Crescent Lodge and spend the afternoon exploring the trails next to the lake. You also have. the option to rent a kayak or a rowboat to get out onto the water.
- Explore the Sol Duc Valley: Next, drive approximately 45-minute drive to the Sol Duc Valley. Here you can either enjoy a few short hikes or take a more strenuous hike like Deer Lake. This area is also well known for its hot springs at Sol Duc Resort.
- Return to Port Angeles for dinner and stay the night there.
- Start with a quick breakfast in Port Angeles and then grab food for a picnic. Next, make the 2-hour drive to Cape Flattery.
- Scenic drive to Cape Flattery: The most northwester tip of the continental United States, Cape Flattery provides stunning views of the open ocean. If you are visiting in the spring, you may also have the pleasure of viewing migrating whales. Once you arrive at Cape Flattery, take the 1.5-mile hiking loop to get a good look at the surrounding sea stacks.
- Hike Ozette Loop: Next, you’ll drive one hour from Cape Flattery to the Ozette Ranger station, where you’ll start the Ozette Loop. You can stop for a picnic before starting the 9.2 loop. This loop is great representation of the coastal forest and rugged coastline that so perfectly personifies the park.
- Once you are done with your hike, drive to Forks, WA for dinner.
- After dinner drive to Kalaloch Lodge to stay the night.
- Start with a quick breakfast at Kalaloch Lodge and then drive to the Hoh rain forest
- Hiking in a temperate rain forest: After exploring the visitor center take a hike next to the Hoh River. The Hoh River Trail is over 18 miles one way, ending at Blue Glacier. If you make it at least 3.2 miles in, keep an eye for one square inch of silence, which is possibly the quietest place in the US.
- Exploring the tide pools of the southern beaches: After hiking in the Hoh rain forest, head back to Kalaloch Lodge for a leisurely lunch. Start your afternoon at Ruby Beach where you find picturesque reddish sand and stunning sea stacks. Other areas to explore include the Tree of Life and short hikes around Beach 2 and Beach 1.
- End the evening watching the sunset on the Pacific coastline before heading back to Kalaloch for dinner and relaxation.
- Start the day with breakfast at the Kalaoch Lodge before making the 2.5-hour drive to Hurricane Ridge. Make sure to stop in Port Angeles to grab food for a picnic lunch.
- Exploring Hurricane Ridge: After stopping at the visitor center eat lunch at the nearby picnic area while enjoying a view of the Olympic Mountain Range.
- After lunch, take some time explore the shorter trails by the visitor center.
- Next, drive over to the parking lot for Hurricane Ridge trail and climb 1.6 miles to one of the most famous viewpoints in the park. With an elevation gain of 700 ft, the trail is strenuous, so make sure to account for some extra time to make it all the way to the top.
- Once you are done exploring Hurricane Ridge, make the hour-long drive back down to Port Angeles and grab an early dinner.
- Begin your travels back home.
Conclusion on building your Olympic National Park Itinerary
Now that you know the essentials about visiting Olympic National Park, you can build your own personal itinerary. Just start by picking your dates, then book your accommodations, and decide which areas of the park you’d like to visit. The rugged beaches and temperate rainforest are always crowd pleasers, but you may also want to take some time to get high up in the mountains or take a soak in the Sol Duc hot springs.
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 eyes may never fully ingest its 1M acres of wonders, your body will know what it felt like to be there.
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