The Ultimate Olympic National Park Adventure Travel Guide
Olympic National Park might just be one of our all-time favorite national parks. Yes, we know, controversial. But honestly, this stunning national park in the heart of the Pacific Northwest truly has so much to offer that it would honestly be criminal to only give it one day to explore (we think you need at least 3, if not a whole week). Snow-capped mountains, glaciated valleys, lush forests, rugged coasts, and hundreds of miles of trails. What more do you need?
But all of that can start to seem a bit overwhelming when you really sit down to plan your trip to the massive national park. At least that is how we felt the first time we planned to head out and explore it. Luckily, this comprehensive adventure travel guide outlines literally everything you need to know about exploring Olympic National Park. From how to get there, what to bring with you, to just seven amazing destinations that are 100% worth visiting.
So if you are looking to plan a trip out to the amazing Olympic National Park (which you obviously should), then this is definitely the planning guide for you.
\\ Fast Facts About Olympic National Park
| Year Established: Mount Olympus National Monument was established in 1909, then the area became a national park in 1938.
| Where is Olympic National Park: it is located in northwest Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula.
| Overall Size: 922,650 acres (95% of that is designated as “wilderness”)
| Number of Annual Visitors: 2.5 million people visited in 2020
| Cost to Enter Olympic National Park: $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, $15 per person (all valid for 7 days).
| Best For: hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching
\\ Important Things to Know About Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is a very large, very diverse national park. Because of this, it is important to figure out which area you want to explore. Below is a quick breakdown of some of the most important things to know about visiting and adventuring in Olympic National Park.
THE 3 DIFFERENT AREAS OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Olympic National Park is split into three different areas: the mountains, the rainforests and the coast. Each area is beautiful in its own right, and also full of amazing things to do. If you plan to visit the national park and only have one day to explore, we recommend focusing on only one of the three areas. Below is a brief breakdown of each one.
The Olympic Mountains are part of the much bigger Pacific Coastal Range, which extends both north into Canada and south down into Oregon and California. The tallest mountain in the Olympic Mountains is Mount Olympus, which sits at 7,965 feet or 2,428 meters tall. Likewise, Mount Olympus is almost fully covered in glaciers — giving it an epic appearance (in total, there are about 184 glaciers crowning the Olympic peaks). On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains from downtown Seattle and even as far away as Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier (though it is likely you will see Mount Constance and not Mount Olympus).
Common animals in the Olympic mountains include black bears, cougars/mountain lions, Roosevelt elk, mule deer, marmots, beaver and banana slugs. Also, mountain goats are quite common — though they are not native. Instead, they were introduced in the 1920s for the sole purpose of hunting. Today, the mountain goats are known to be quite aggressive (so much so that some trails close during peak goat season). Because of this, and the fact that they are causing the loss of native vegetation and soil erosion, there has been a major effort to remove the mountain goats from the national park and instead place them in the nearby Cascade mountains.
The best places to explore the beauty of the Olympic National Park mountains are Hurricane Ridge, the Sol Duc Valley (where you can spend some time backpacking and soaking in hot springs), the Elwha Valley and the Enchantment Valley. Likewise, many of the top backpacking trails in the national park head deep into the Olympic Mountains.
The lush forests found in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel valleys are some of the most spectacular examples of primeval temperate rain forests in the whole lower 48 states. While today very few of these forests exist (and what does is mostly under strict protection), in the past, these types of lush forests stretched all the way from Oregon up into southern Alaska.
How are these forests so lush? Well, in a word, rain. And lots of it. In fact, the western side of the national park is one of the wettest places in the whole contiguous United States. In one year, the Hoh Rainforest sees between 140 and 167 inches of precipitation. That insane amount of rain in turn leads to a dense growth of epiphytes (plants growing on other plants). The most common epiphytes in this area include thick green mosses, spike mosses, ferns and lichens. Altogether, these plants are what give the four rain forests such a lush feel.
Besides admiring the various plants that thrive in the Olympic National Park rain forests, you also have a good chance of spotting Roosevelt elk. In fact, the national park protects the largest herd of these large herbivores in the entire Pacific Northwest.
Some of the best places to admire the park’s rainforests are at the Hoh Rainforest (also the top spot to see Roosevelt elk) and the Quinault Rainforest (near the beautiful Lake Quinault).
💬 INSIDER TIP: the Roosevelt elk actually got their name because of President Theodore Roosevelt’s action of redesignating part of the Olympic Forest Reserve into Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 (with the hopes of protecting the elk’s quickly disappearing habitat).
The third area of the park is the large coastal region along the western half of the park. Stretching from the north near Shi Shi Beach to the south near Kalaloch, the 73-mile long wilderness coast is a rare treasure in a country where much of the Pacific coastline is seen more as just prime real estate than a natural resource to be preserved.
The Olympic National Park coastline is a popular place for wildlife viewing — especially for numerous marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, whales, and sea otters. While you can see many of these animals year-round, for the best gray whale watching opportunities, head to the coast between March and May and look for their spouts or barnacled-splotched backs as they migrate to their northern feeding grounds.
Likewise, spending a day along the coast is also great if you are interested in tidepooling and birdwatching. Some of the best beaches for these two activities include Kalaloch’s Beach 4 and Mora’s Hole in the Wall (near Rialto Beach). Other popular beaches include Second and Third Beach near La Push and Ruby Beach. Likewise, if you want to combine hiking with beach exploring, consider heading out to Lake Ozette in the northern part of the park. This sizeable lake (the largest in the park and the largest unaltered lake in the entire state of Washington) is a fantastic spot to explore both the coast and the forest.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the intertidal areas are not only within the boundary of the national park, but also within the boundary of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Likewise, the offshore islands that house nesting seabirds and other marine mammals lie within the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTERS
There are three visitor centers within Olympic National Park: the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles, the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Besides the three main visitor centers, there are also numerous ranger stations dotted around the park. These ranger stations are often not open year-round and are not always manned by park officials. If you are looking to visit a ranger station, we suggest checking out the national park website ahead of time to see if it is open (most are open in the summer but not in the winter).
Below is more information about the three visitor centers in Olympic National Park.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTER (PORT ANGELES)
The main visitor center is located right outside of Port Angeles, Washington. It is at the base of the famous Hurricane Ridge Road and very close to numerous hiking trails. This is also where you will need to go to learn more about backpacking in Olympic National Park; including, what permits you need, what are some of the top backpacking trails in the park, and what are the necessary safety measures in place. You can learn all about backpacking in Olympic National Park at the Wilderness Information Center (which is right inside the visitor center).
HOURS: open year-round except major holidays
SERVICES: exhibits about the area’s natural and cultural history, a hands-on “Discovery Room” for kids, a passport stamping station, a bookstore, and two short nature trails.
HOH RAINFOREST VISITOR CENTER
This smaller visitor center is located near the very famous Hoh Rainforest, which is roughly 31 miles from the town of Forks (near the Pacific Coast). The visitor center is a great place to head to to learn more about the Hoh Rainforest — one of the wettest places in the world — and also to learn about the various animals that call that part of the national park home. Nearby, you can find the Hoh Campground, which contains 72 sites (learn more about camping in Olympic National Park below) and the famous Hoh River Trail, an 18.3-mile (one-way) hiking trail up into the mountains.
HOURS: open daily during the summer and then Friday — Sunday in the off-season, closed January and February.
SERVICES: various exhibits, a passport stamping station and a bookstore. There are also two self-guided nature trails nearby. During the summer, guided walks and talks are offered by the park rangers.
HURRICANE RIDGE VISITOR CENTER
Located up at the top of Hurricane Ridge (which is just under 20 miles from the main national park visitor center in Port Angeles), the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is an awesome place to head to to get a stunning view of the towering Olympic Mountains — including (on a clear day) Mount Olympus itself. From the visitor center, you can head out on a couple of hikes, learn about the wildlife that calls that part of the park home, and even see the small ski hill that runs during the winter.
HOURS: open daily in the summer, and hours vary the remainder of the year.
SERVICES: a couple of exhibits on Olympic’s mountain habitats, a passport stamping station, a couple of short, paved walking trails, and a gift shop and food hall. During the summer, guided walks and talks are offered by park rangers.
While you don’t have to pay an entrance fee everywhere you go in Olympic National Park, it is important to be prepared to pay the entrance fee at many of the more popular park destinations (including Hurricane Ridge). It costs $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per person. All are valid for 7 days from the date of purchase.
If you are planning to visit multiple national parks, either during your trip to Washington or on other adventures, then we HIGHLY recommend buying the America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass. It costs $80 and is good for a whole year (12 months from the date of purchase). This annual parks pass gets you into all 63 national parks, as well as 2,000+ other federally protected areas (including national monuments and national historic sites — see the full list).
You can purchase your national parks pass at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center or online here.
💬 INSIDER TIP: besides getting you into all of the national parks and monuments in Washington (there are 6 in total), the annual America the Beautiful Pass also gets you into all of the national forest lands for free. There are thousands of adventures to be had in these national forests, so if you are planning to spend a decent amount of time exploring Washington’s stunning scenery, there is even more reason to buy the annual pass.
\\ When to Visit Olympic National Park
The most popular months to visit are June through September. During this busy summer season, most roads and facilities are open and a full range of programs are available to enjoy. But this is also the busiest time to visit the park, so be prepared for full parking lots, packed hiking trails and few available campsites (reservations are highly recommended).
Outside of those months (the winter/off-season) some park roads, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities are either closed or have reduced hours. But if you are fine with having less services, this is a good time to visit for it will be much quieter. Plus, there are still plenty of adventures to do once the weather starts to cool down. In the winter, consider heading to Hurricane Ridge for some cross-country or downhill skiing and tubing or along the coast where there is very little snow.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK WEATHER
Due to the park’s coastal location, the weather stays relatively mild year-round. In the summer, expect mild to warm temperatures and sunnier skies (though rain is always possible). While in the fall and winter expect cooler temperatures and a lot more rain (winter is the wettest time of year). In fact, most of the park’s precipitation falls between November and April. This includes up to 140 inches of rain in the coastal rainforests (especially the Hoh Rainforest) and up to 35 feet of snow on the higher mountains (including Hurricane Ridge).
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED TO EXPLORE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
We would suggest putting aside at least 2 days to explore Olympic National Park fully. And if you can, three days would be even better. This is because the park is so spread out and super diverse. You can easily spend one full day in the rainforest and then another full day either in the mountains or along the coast.
\\ How to Get to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula, which is in turn located in the far northwest corner of Washington state in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. The national park, though somewhat remote, is easy to reach via your own private car. If you are planning to spend a decent amount of time in Olympic National Park, we highly suggest either bringing your own vehicle or renting one nearby (either in Seattle or Tacoma or in Port Angeles).
GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY CAR
Even though Olympic National Park is somewhat far away from any large city, it is still quite easy to reach — especially if you have your own vehicle. Below is a quick breakdown of how to get to Olympic National Park from Seattle and Portland.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK TO SEATTLE
It can take anywhere between 2.5 hours to 3 hours to reach the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center from Seattle, Washington. There are three possible route options you can take, two include a ferry and one does not. The two routes that include a ferry leave from either downtown Seattle or up north a bit in the town of Kingston. Both ferries cost $20.90 for a vehicle with a driver, $9.25 for an adult and $4.60 for a senior or child under 18.
If you choose to not take a ferry and instead drive around the Puget Sound (this is a very lovely drive), then likely be prepared for some traffic along I-5 in Tacoma — especially if you are doing the drive during rush hour or during busy hours on the weekend.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK TO PORTLAND
From Portland, Oregon, it takes approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes to reach the main visitor center in Olympic National Park (without traffic). The drive is mostly along I-5 from Portland up to the city of Olympia and then on Highway 101 from there all the way up to Port Angeles and the main park visitor center.
GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY BUS
Once you land in Washington, likely at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (see more below) then you do have the option to hop on the Dungeness Bus Line, which is operated by the Olympic Bus Lines. From the airport, the bus will take you to such towns as Kingston, Edmonds, Discovery Bay, Sequim and Port Angeles. It costs roughly $42 for a one-way ticket on the bus (from the airport to Port Angeles).
You can find routes, schedules and book your bus ticket here.
GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY PLANE
The closest major airport to Olympic National Park is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). This major airport is approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes away from the national park (if entering via the Port Angeles entrance). There are regular flights to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from other major cities such as Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; New York City, New York; Phoenix, Arizona and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There are also numerous international flights into Sea-Tac.
Another possible option is to fly into Victoria International Airport in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and then take a direct ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the town of Port Angeles. The ferry ride from Victoria to Port Angeles takes 90 minutes and costs $21 for each adult without a vehicle (or an extra $6.50 if you want to bring a bike) or $70 for a vehicle and driver (all one-way). You can take a public bus from the airport in Victoria to the ferry port (this takes a little over an hour).
You can book your ferry ticket and look at the schedules here.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is also a much smaller airport in the town of Port Angeles, though they do not run many regular flights. You can learn about flights into and out of this regional airport here.
\\ How To Get Around Olympic National Park
The easiest way to get around Olympic National Park is to have your own private vehicle. The park is quite spread out and it takes a decent amount of time to reach the various points of interest (plus there are no roads that cross the park completely). Plus, there is NO national park bus. If you do want to take public transportation, you will have to use the Clallam County public buses (you can find their routes here).
Below is a basic outline of some of the driving distances and times between major travel destinations:
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Elwha Ranger Station // 11 miles | 30 minutes
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Hurricane Ridge // 17 miles | 45 minutes
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Lake Crescent & Mount Storm King // 21 miles | 30 minutes
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Rialto Beach // 68 miles | 1.5 hours
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Ozette Lake and Ranger Station // 76 miles | 2 hours
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Hoh Rainforest // 91 miles | 2 hours & 15 minutes
Port Angeles Visitor Center → Quinault Rainforest // 128 miles | 2.5 hours
Because the park is not very compact (plus, it is massive), it is smart to either choose a specific area to explore in one day or to put aside a couple of days for your visit.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you do not have your own car but you still want to explore the national park, then you can easily rent one either near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport or in Port Angeles. In downtown Port Angeles, you can rent a vehicle from either Avis or Budget.
\\ Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
You have a couple of options when it comes to deciding where you want to base yourself when exploring Olympic National Park. The closest major towns with lodging options to the national park are going to be Port Angeles (the largest town on the entire Olympic Peninsula), Sequim, Forks and Port Townsend.
If you are looking to explore the rainforests and the coast, then Forks is probably your best bet. While if you are looking to check out the mountains and Lake Crescent, then Port Angeles and Sequim are great options. Port Townsend is not as close to the national park, but it is one of the cutest and most tourist-centric towns on the Olympic Peninsula. So if you want to combine your trip to the national park with a bit of luxury and history, then this could be a great spot to stay.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK HOTELS AND LODGING
LODGING INSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
There are four options for lodging within the national park: the Kalaloch Lodge, the Lake Crescent Lodge, the Log Cabin Resort and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Of the four, only Kalaloch Lodge is open year-round (the other three are open all summer and part of spring and fall).
Each spot comes with its own perks, from having kayak rentals to easy access to hot springs, it totally depends on what kind of trip you want to have. No matter which one you choose, it is smart to plan ahead and make your reservation far in advance. You can do that for all four of them here.
LODGING OUTSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
If you want to instead book a spot outside of the national park, then your best option will be in either the town of Port Angles (which is the closest major town to a lot of the top adventure destinations) or in Forks.
Below are a couple of awesome options to consider when booking a spot near Olympic National Park.
| Sea Cliff Gardens Bed and Breakfast: this cozy and romantic BnB is located just outside of Port Angeles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It includes a hot tub, water views, free breakfast and immaculate gardens. BOOK YOUR STAY.
| Juan de Fuca Cottages: another unique lodging option near Olympic National Park is this quaint spot that offers amazing views of the Dungeness Spit, the New Dungeness Lighthouse, Hurricane Ridge, the Olympic Mountains, and even Victoria, British Columbia. Plus, this locally owned spot has also been recognized for its eco-conscious ways. BOOK YOUR STAY.
| All View Motel: if you just want a simple spot to spend the night in Port Angeles, then this motel should definitely do the trick. Located right off Highway 101 and only a mile from the main park visitor center, this is a really good option for basecamp — especially if you want to spend a couple of days exploring the mountains and other parts of Olympic National Park. BOOK YOUR STAY.
| Hoh Valley Cabins: located along the same road out to the Hoh Rainforest region of the national park, this quaint resort is super well located for both exploring the rain forest and the coast (it is only 50 minutes from Rialto Beach). There is free parking and a cute café nearby. The cabins are roughly 30 minutes from downtown Forks. BOOK YOUR STAY.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK CAMPING
If you want to instead live it up a bit more ruggedly, then definitely consider getting a campsite either in the national park (there are a lot of campgrounds to choose from) or in one of the nearby towns. Just remember, if you are planning to camp in Olympic National Park in the summer, definitely get a reservation ahead of time (if possible) or try to show up early to snag a first come, first served spot.
CAMPING INSIDE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
There are 13 campgrounds spread around Olympic National Park. Of the 13, four of them require reservations during the busy summer season (Fairholme, Hoh Rainforest, Mora and Kalaloch). A few other important things to note about camping in Olympic National Park is that there are no showers available at any of the campgrounds. Likewise, none of the campgrounds are equipped with electrical hook-ups. If you need either, your best bet is to reserve a spot at the Log Cabin Resort RV and Campground.
You can learn more about the 13 campgrounds — including how many sites there are, where they are located, their seasonal openings and what amenities they include, at the Olympic National Park Camping page. Likewise, below are some recommended campgrounds to get a spot in for specific adventures.
| Hiking up in the high mountains → Heart O’ the Hills Campground; $24 /night, open year-round and no reservations are required. Or consider Deer Park for a more off-the-beaten-path camping location.
| Exploring the rain forests → Hoh Rainforest Campground; $24 /night, open year-round and reservations are required.
| Awesome coastal access → Mora Campground (only 2 miles from Rialto Beach); $24 /night, open year-round and reservations are required. Or consider South Beach Campground farther south ($20 /night, open in the summer and no reservations are required).
| Quiet and off the beaten path → Queets Campground, which is located along the Queets River ($15 /night, open year-round and no reservations are required) OR the North Fork Campground, which is located above Lake Quinault and only has 9 sites ($20 /night, open year-round and no reservations are required).
BACKPACKING IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
If you are interested in backpacking in Olympic National Park, then you will first need to get your backpacking and wilderness permit. You MUST do this ahead of time and online (you can no longer get it in person). You can get your backpacking and wilderness permit here. If you are unsure of where you want to go backpacking in Olympic National Park, then we highly recommend first stopping by the Wilderness Information Center, which is located in the main park visitor center in Port Angeles. They have a ton of useful information and can help you narrow down where you want to go and help you figure out what safety measures to take. If you are just looking at possible wilderness routes within the park, then we suggest checking out this Wilderness Camping Map.
You can learn more about backpacking in Olympic National Park here.
CAMPING OUTSIDE OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
There is a KOA campground located on the outskirts of Port Angeles near Sequim. This KOA includes plenty of RV sites, tent sites and a couple of cabins. Similarly, it also includes hook-ups for RVs, a pool (open in the summer), social events, bike rentals, a dog park and wi-fi.
You can learn more about the campground and make your reservation here.
VAN LIFING NEAR OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
If you are hoping to van life near Olympic National Park, then your best bet for finding free boondocking sites is going to be up on one of the many forest roads. This includes dirt roads close to Lake Crescent (especially on the north and east side), Lake Quinault and down south near the town of Skykomish.
Remember to always follow Leave No Trace Principles when van lifing and to only camp in legal areas (like in National Forests). We always use the apps iOverlander and FreeRoam when searching for places to camp.
\\ What to Bring With You to Olympic National Park
Because it rains a lot in Olympic National Park — especially in the temperate rain forests (like Hoh and Quinault), you will want to come prepared with plenty of rainy weather clothing. We recommend at the very least a good wicking jacket that is light and breathable as well as some hiking boots that easily repel water.
Below is even more of our favorite outdoor gear.
You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from steep rocky scree fields to slick river crossings to just miles upon miles of trail pounding. These hiking boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the trail throws at you. Recommended hiking boots.
Another good option is these Columbia Newton Ridge Plus hiking boots. They have a nice durable sole, plenty of ankle support and are super water-repellent. Recommended waterproof hiking boot.
These socks can easily go from hitting the forest or coastal trails to hanging out at basecamp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials — meaning they are good for you and the planet. Recommended hiking socks from Smartwool.
MOISTURE-WICKING SUN SHIRT
No matter what month you are planning to hike in Olympic National Park (including even during the cloudy winter season), you will want to wear a nice lightweight long-sleeved shirt on the trail. This one by Backcountry works great as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for those hotter days but also insulated enough to be great under a warmer rain jacket during those (common) wetter days. Recommended long-sleeve shirt.
This lightweight fleece jacket works great as both a mid-layer for winter hiking adventures or as a solo jacket once the season starts to warm up. Plus, the raglan-style sleeves provide seam-free comfort when you are carrying a backpack — no matter the size or weight. Finally, the fleece jacket is made of recycled fabrics and is Bluesign approved (its sewing was also Fair Trade Certified). Recommended hiking jacket.
While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you nice and warm on those chilly mornings or late-season days, usually the best jacket to have with you while hiking — especially in Olympic National Park where rain is always possible — is an easy-to-pack rain jacket. This one by Patagonia checks all of the boxes: it is super lightweight and can pack down into its own little pouch, it has underarm zips that let you vent air even when hiking, it has an adjustable elastic drawcord hem that allows fine-tuning for the perfect fit, and finally, it is also Bluesign approved and its sewing is Fair Trade Certified. Recommended rain jacket.
When it’s a nice warm day, we usually reach for some easy, breathable, and comfortable shorts. This pair by Mountain Hardwear is simple but gets the job done. Plus, they are made of a nice breathable ripstop fabric that resists wear and tear (even when hiking through dense rainforests) and has nice hand and thigh pockets that allow you to stash small essentials like snacks, your phone and some Chapstick. Recommended hiking shorts.
Or you might instead gravitate towards wearing hiking pants while exploring Olympic National Park (definitely not a bad idea). We personally tend to veer more towards wearing light pants while hiking unless it is absolutely scorching out — just for the sun protection and less likelihood of getting scratches and cuts from plants. These pants by Black Diamond are durable enough for all kinds of trails, including trails in the high mountains, in the dense forests and along the rocky Pacific coast. Recommended hiking pants here.
Even if it isn’t exactly “sunny” out, you can still get burned — especially at higher elevations. Therefore it is still important to give your skin that extra bit of protection — especially your shoulders, feet and hands. These sunscreens not only protect you against the sun but are also environmentally safe.
A handy headlamp is a true adventure necessity. We tend to have about 5 headlamps scattered around our van and bags just in case we lose one or the batteries die (which somehow happens quite often…). This headlamp by Black Diamond is a personal favorite because it is relatively affordable, it has multiple light settings and it is rechargeable. Recommended headlamp.
HIKING DAY PACK
By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail — including sometimes up and down some steep and sketchy sections — you will want to make sure it is really comfortable. This bag by Osprey holds 24 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, it is made of a nice durable nylon construction that can withstand tons of trail abuse. It also has a specific place to attach your trekking poles or ice ax — which will help you free up your hands when out adventuring. Recommended day pack.
For longer trips on the trails — including adventures that last multiple days at a time — you will want a bag that not only carries all of your gear but is also comfortable to wear for hours and miles on end. This large 65-liter backpacking bag also by Osprey does just that. Its anti-gravity suspension is well-ventilated and has plenty of cushions, while its shoulder straps adjust up and down the back panel for a totally custom fit. The bag also comes with a built-in sleeve for a 3-liter hydration bladder and bottom straps for securing a sleeping pad. Recommended backpacking bag.
One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load is to bring along a water filter and just filter water as you hike. This is especially true in places as wet as Olympic National Park. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle — meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.
Or if you want to get an actual water filter system that allows you to filter lots of water at once, we recommend a top-notch Katadyn water filter. This filter has been our go-to for all hiking and backpacking adventures for years. Plus, it takes up very little space in your bag, is easy to clean and works pretty darn fast. Recommended Katadyn water filter.
HIKING FIRST AID KIT
This is one of those items that you don’t realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.
We personally have never been the type of hikers to use trekking poles but we have friends who absolutely swear by them. This set by Black Diamond can handle all kinds of terrain, are super lightweight and pack down small enough to be stored easily on the side of your backpack. Recommended trekking poles.
Once you make it back to your basecamp (your car, your tent, your house) make sure to take off those boots, stretch out your arches and let your feet breathe. Seriously, this might be one of the best feelings ever. After you do that, slip on a pair of these comfortable Teva sandals (we won’t judge if you add socks too). Recommended post-hike sandals.
POST-HIKE COZY SHIRT
Likewise, there are few things nicer than taking off your sweaty shirt and putting on a nice cozy (clean) one after a long hike. This one by the Parks Project is made of a nice soft cotton fabric and is cut in a fun vintage style. Recommend post-hike shirt.
THE LAY OF THE LAND | THE TOP 7 THINGS TO DO IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Below are seven of the top places to explore in Olympic National Park. This list includes a couple of the most popular destinations, as well as a few more off-the-beaten-path spots. The list is organized as if you are driving west along Highway 101 from Port Angeles.
1 | Explore Hurricane Ridge
Definitely one of the more popular places to explore in Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge, which is located high up in the Olympic Mountains. From the top of the ridge you can head out on a number of hikes, including out to Hurricane Hill, up Klahhane Ridge, and along a couple of short, mostly paved nature walks (including the famous Sunrise Point Trail). On a clear day, from the top you can see the entire Olympic Mountain Range (including Mount Olympus), as well as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada, and maybe even Mt. Baker in the distance.
Besides the numerous hiking trails, you can also spend time in the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center (where there is a food hall and gift shop) and check out the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area.
HOW TO GET TO HURRICANE RIDGE
Start by driving out on Hurricane Hill Road from the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. It is approximately 17 miles (~30 minutes) from the visitor center to the top. Along the way, you can stop at some viewpoints, hiking trails and the Heart O’ the Hills Campground. There is also an entrance station where you will need to pay $30 per vehicle to enter.
2 | Soak in the Olympic Hot Springs
One of the top hidden gems within Olympic National Park is the beautiful and relaxing Olympic Hot Springs. Located at an old hot springs resort (unfortunately no buildings remain), the small turquoise natural pools are a great spot to head to if you want to explore the beautiful mountains and soak in some toasty water.
To reach the hot springs, you will first have to park at the Madison Falls Trailhead (located at the end of Olympic Hot Springs Road). From there, you will need to walk or bike up the road until you get to the washout area (the road flooded years ago and has not/will not be repaired). The bypass trail, which is on the left side of the road, is a bit sketchy — especially if you are biking (so just take your time and walk if necessary).
From the parking lot, it is roughly 10 miles one way up to the start of the actual hike to the hot springs. The road is almost totally uphill and can be a bit tough — make sure to come prepared with plenty of water and food (and headlamps if you are planning to bike or hike back down in the dark). At the end of the road you will see a small parking lot and the start of the dirt trail. Follow the dirt trail (that is quite wide and easy to see) for around 3 miles until you get to a wooden bridge over Boulder Creek. The hot spring pools are dotted along the singletrack trail on the other side of the bridge.
► You can learn more about this amazing, off-the-beaten-path adventure (including our own experience doing it) in this article.
3 | Check Out (and Swim in) Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent is a fantastic spot to spend a couple of hours at — especially if it is a hot summer day. The water is supremely clear and surprisingly not that cold. While you can admire the water from the shore — via the numerous beaches and picnic areas — we instead suggest getting out on the water either on a boat or by swimming.
Two of the best spots to head to around Lake Crescent are the Storm King Ranger Station, which is about halfway along the lake on the south side (right off of Highway 101) or East Beach, which is a short drive from the highway. The first spot has access to many popular hiking trails, including up to Mount Storm King, Marymere Falls and the Moments in Time Nature Trail. Likewise, this is also a great spot to launch your boat and talk to a park ranger about the area. You can also visit the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, which sits nearby. One important thing to know about this area of the national park is that during the weekends and in the summer especially it is very popular and the parking lot can fill up quickly. If you are hoping to spend some time here, definitely plan to arrive early in the day.
The other spot, East Beach, is usually a bit quieter. Though rather small, there is a great beach for swimming and also a couple of picnic tables. To reach East Beach, drive on Highway 101 until you reach a turn for Beach Road (there will be signs for the Log Cabin Resort). Turn right here and drive for a couple of minutes until you see the turn for the beach on the left.
💬 INSIDER TIP: Mount Storm King is a very popular (and busy!) hike in Olympic National Park. If you want awesome views of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains without all of the people, then instead consider hiking up Pyramid Peak, which is located just down the road from the Mount Storm King Ranger Station. You can find our full hiking guide on Pyramid Peak here.
4 | Explore Ozette Lake and Hike Along the Coast
Another more off-the-beaten-path thing to do in Olympic National Park is to head up to Ozette Lake, the largest lake in the park (and the largest unaltered lake in the whole state). This is an awesome spot to explore if you want to check out the forest and see the beautiful coast.
One of the best adventures here is to do the entire Ozette Triangle (also known as the Cape Alava Loop). This hike is 9.4 miles round-trip with almost no elevation gain (a third of it is literally at sea level along the beach). In truth, this hike is really 2-in-1: a nice forest stroll and a pleasant walk on the beach. To start, take the 3-mile Cape Alava Trail (which is mostly on a boardwalk) out to the beach. At the point where the trail meets the coast, you will see a sign for Cape Alava — aka, the westernmost point in the contiguous United States. Take a photo and then continue walking for around 3 miles south along the coast (where you may have to deter to higher land if the tides are coming in) and then finally connect up with the Sand Point Trail for another 3 miles or so back to the start.
Along the hike, you have a good chance of seeing various marine mammals (including otters and seals), birds and maybe a deer or bear. Likewise, because it is along the coast, you can do this hike year-round.
HOW TO GET TO OZETTE LAKE
From Port Angeles, it is just under 2 hours to Ozette Lake. The drive, though rather long (75 miles) is absolutely gorgeous! First start by heading out on Highway 101 until you see the turn off for Highway 112. Turn right here and continue driving along the Strait until you see the turn for Ozette Lake Road. Take this narrower road through the dense forest until you reach a large parking lot. There is also a ranger station and campground ($20 /night, no reservations are needed).
This trail is in the national park so you will need to show your National Park Pass.
5 | Wander Along Rialto Beach
Another great spot to explore if you want to adventure along the coast is the uber-scenic Rialto Beach. Here you can easily wander along sandy beaches, around large pieces of driftwood, and through colorful tidepools. Similarly, Rialto Beach is one of the best beaches to explore if you are looking to visit the coast and also the rainforest (the beach is a short-ish detour from Highway 101). Likewise, it is also centrally located to various other awesome Olympic National Park destinations; including, Second and Third Beaches, and the Bogachiel and Hoh Rainforests.
We recommend spending at least an hour wandering along Rialto Beach — though if the tides are right, you could likely spend hours just marveling at the tidepools near the famous Hole-in-the-Wall (a large outcropping north of the beach).
HOW TO GET TO RIALTO BEACH
To reach the beach from Port Angeles, first head west on Highway 101 until you see the turn off for Mora (there will be signs for the campground and ranger station). This should be around 53 miles away. Turn right onto Road 110/La Push Road and drive for about 7 miles until you see the turn for Mora Road. Turn right here and drive until you see the ranger station and campground. From there, it is another 2 miles or so to the Rialto Beach Parking Lot.
6 | Marvel at the Hoh Rainforest
While it might take some time to get to (it is 4+ hours from Seattle), there is just something truly magical and rewarding about exploring the stunning Hoh Rainforest. Today, the Hoh Rainforest one of the last remaining temperate rainforests in the entire Pacific Northwest (historically this biome spanned the Pacific coast from southeastern Alaska down to the central coast of California). But not only that, it is also one of the finest remaining examples of a temperate rainforest in the entire United States.
We suggest spending pretty much a full day in the Hoh Rainforest — especially if you are someone who likes to hike. From the main parking lot, you can check out the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center (open daily in the summer), walk along the two nature trails nearby: The Hall of Mosses Trail (incredible) and The Spruce Nature Trail (beautiful), or head out for a full-day of adventure along the Hoh River Trail, which is an out-and-back trail that extends as far as 18.5 miles (one-way).
If you want to spend more time in the Hoh Rainforest, consider reserving a night at the national park campground next to the visitor center. This campground has 72 sites (which are reservable in the summer), flush toilets and potable water. It costs $24 /night.
GETTING TO THE HOH RAINFOREST
Though it takes some serious time to reach, the Hoh Rainforest is easily driven to via car. From Seattle, head towards Olympia on Interstate 5. Then hop over to Highway 8 and 12 until you reach the small town of Aberdeen. From there, start driving north on Highway 101 until you get to the turn off for the Upper Hoh Road. From Highway 101, it is around 19 miles to the visitor center and parking lot.
💬 INSIDER TIP: there are many free camping sites along Upper Hoh Road if you are looking to vanlife nearby. Just be conscious of the thick mud and large tree roots — especially if you have a low clearance vehicle. Likewise, you very likely will get zero phone service out there so plan ahead (always download maps and information ahead of time).
7 | Visit the Rugged Staircase Area
The final top thing to do in Olympic National Park is to head to the farthest southeastern corner and explore the rugged Staircase region. This is somewhat of a lesser-known region of the park — especially compared to places like Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rainforest. Therefore come prepared to be self-sufficient and mostly alone (especially if you are planning to backpack in the mountains nearby).
Some of the top things to do in this part of Olympic National Park are to head out and explore the marvelous forests of Douglas-fir trees and the North Fork of the Skykomish River. Some of top hikes in the Staircase area are Shady Lane Trail (less than a mile out to Lake Cushman), the Staircase Rapids Loop (2.1 mile loop, easy), Wagonwheel Lake (2.9 miles, moderate), and Flapjack Lakes (7.8 miles one-way, tough). There is also the option to hike out along the North Fork Skykomish River Trail, which is a popular backpacking route in the national park.
Besides hiking, you can also camp in Staircase. The campground has 49 non-reservable sites, bathrooms, potable water and secure food lockers (for bears and other critters). There is also a ranger station that is usually staffed during the summer (though not always).
If you want to explore the national park’s mythical forests and raging rivers and also avoid the crowds, then this area could be a great option.
\\ Must-See Spots Near Olympic National Park
Located just under two hours from Port Angeles, Cape Flattery is a scenic coastal destination that also happens to be the northwesternmost point of the entire contiguous United States. To reach the Cape, which is also where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Pacific Ocean, you need to drive out along Highway 112 until you reach the town of Neah Bay. From Neah Bay, it is another 8 mile/15 minute drive to the very end of the Olympic Peninsula.
There is a sizeable parking lot at Cape Flattery as well as a nicely maintained, mostly boardwalk hiking trail out to the exact most northwesterly point (where you can see the historic Cape Flattery Lighthouse). The name Cape Flattery actually came from the explorer James Cook who, in 1778, wrote “… there appeared to be a small opening which flattered us with the hopes of finding an harbour… On this account I called the point of land to the north of it Cape Flattery.”
💬 INSIDER TIP: the westernmost point in the contiguous United States is at Cape Alava, south of Cape Flattery in Olympic National Park. This is accessible via the Lake Ozette Loop Trail (see above for details).
WHIDBEY ISLAND & THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS
Just next door to Olympic National Park are numerous forested islands, including two of the more popular ones: Whidbey Island and the San Juan Islands (this is actually an archipelago of islands). If you are looking for more coastal adventures, including tidepooling, whale watching and hiking, then these two destinations are definitely worth seeing.
Plus, it is super easy to reach Whidbey Island from the nearby town of Port Townsend (there is a direct ferry) and also the San Juan Islands (from Whidbey Island you just have to take one more ferry).
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Around 3.5 hours away to the south is another amazing national park that is definitely worth exploring (Washington is home to three national parks — the other one is North Cascades up in the far north of the state). Mount Rainier National Park is home to the namesake Mount Rainier, a 14,000+ foot mountain that towers proudly over the greater Seattle-area.
If you are looking to do more alpine hikes or longer backpacking trips, then Mount Rainier National Park is a great destination to head to.
Olympic National Park truly has something for everyone: snow-capped and glaciated peaks, dense and lush forests, rugged coasts and an absolute plethora of outdoor adventures. While it might be a bit overwhelming to plan a trip to this massive national park, hopefully this in-depth and super comprehensive Olympic National Park Travel Guide helps you plan the perfect adventure.
If you have any questions about Olympic National Park — or just adventuring in Washington in general — then please feel free to leave a comment or question below, or reach out to us at www.backroadpackers.com.