Washington State’s Olympic National Park is a wonderland for lovers of the outdoors. Designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, it’s one of the most underrated places in the United States.
Located on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest corner of the state, the park spans 141,000 square miles and encompasses three distinct ecosystems. While driving through the park is a decent way to see the sights, getting out of the car and doing a little walking is a must to truly appreciate this unique area’s full beauty.
Below is Beyond The Tent’s Ultimate Visitor’s Guide to Olympic National Park. Use our comprehensive guidebook to make the most of your next visit.
- Park Highlights
- Hiking & Backpacking
- Other Activities
- Must-See Destinations
- Plan Your Visit
- Additional Resources
- Resources Used
Olympic National Park Highlights
Over 2,800,000 people visit Olympic National Park each year, making it the 7th most visited National Park in the country.
These visitors flock to the park for its sheer natural beauty, vast variety of plants and animals, and the near endless opportunities for outdoor activities.
The park stretches from the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean to the snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountains. In between are all kinds of natural wonders including, most prominently, old-growth temperate rainforests brimming with plants and animals as well as scenic lakes, waterfalls, and rivers.
Olympic National Park contains 60 glaciers, 13 rivers, and 73 miles of coastline in addition to over 600 miles of trails for hiking and backpacking. It’s the greatest wilderness left in the continental United States.
Moderate year-round temperatures make camping, backpacking, and hiking the most popular activities in Olympic National Park. A vast network of trails ensures you’ll never step on the same trail twice – no matter how much time you spend in the park.
In the winter months, the mountainous interior region of the park is home to world-class skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. At the same time, most of the park’s lower elevation hiking trails remain snow-free.
You can literally spend years upon years exploring Olympic National Park – and many locals do. Yet the must-see destinations for out-of-town visitors include highlights like Hoh Rainforest, Kalaloch Beach, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Quinault, and Sol Duc Falls.
Olympic National Park Ecosystems
There are three distinct ecosystems of Olympic National Park. These are sub-alpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperate forest, and Pacific coastline. Thanks to its long history as a national park, these areas have been well protected and are in near perfect condition.
Sub-Alpine Forest and Wildflower Meadow
The sub-alpine forests and wildflower meadows of Olympic National Park come to life in the spring and summer months. On the border between the dense forests below and the snowy glaciated peaks above, this region bursts with wildflowers of all colors. Deer, elk, and bear are often found grazing in the sub-alpine ecosystem during these months. In the winter, the area is buffeted by wind, snow, and rain creating a marked treeline.
It’s impossible to not be impressed with the towering giants of Olympic National Park’s old-growth temperate rainforest. Many of the area’s Douglas firs and western hemlocks are hundreds of years old and stand 30 stories high. Over 150 inches of rain drench these forests annually, giving rise to the astonishing abundance of wildlife. Heavy moss clings to almost every tree trunk and branch, giving the entire forest an earthy green hue.
Olympic National Park beaches are numerous with over 70 miles of rugged Pacific coastline. Though there are stretches of unbroken forest, most of the coastline is readily accessible. Many of the park’s beaches are sandy while large boulders and towering sea stacks define others. Tide pools teem with marine life, including starfish, crabs, sea anemone, and sea urchin.
Olympic National Park History
The history of Olympic National Park can be broken down into three subsections. These are its natural/geologic history, early human history, and national park history.
Until about 30 million years ago, the land that is now the Olympic Peninsula developed under the sea. It wasn’t until the Pacific Plate collided with the North American Plate that the land thrust upwards into forerunners of the present-day Olympic Mountains. Marine fossils, from the land’s time under the ocean, can still be found on the park’s mountain summits today.
Over the years, heavy snow and rainfall sculpted the mountains. Large glaciers moved across them, leaving behind rivers and valleys. These same glaciers made gigantic gouges in the surrounding land, creating Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the process. It was these glaciers that isolated the peninsula from the rest of Washington State.
The extreme isolation caused by this Ice Age allowed lifeforms to evolve that are found nowhere else. 15 animals and 8 plants are unique to this area. Among these are the Olympic marmot, Olympic mud minnow, and crescent trout.
Native American Indians were the earliest human residents of the Olympic Peninsula. Several groups called the peninsula home, subsisting primarily off fishing and hunting.
There are 8 Pacific Northwest tribes that still live on the peninsula. These tribes are the Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Quileute, and Quinault.
The ancestors of these Pacific Northwest tribes were living on their native lands when the first European explorers arrived. Throughout the mid-1850s, these tribes ceded their lands, one-by-one, to the United States Government.
The next stage in the human history of Olympic National Park was logging. A number of logging companies popped up throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It wasn’t until the 1920s that this harmful practice was reigned in.
It wasn’t until 1909 that parts of the Olympic Peninsula came under federal protection. It was in this year that President Theodore Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument. The monument and the surrounding area became a national park in 1976 thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt.
Olympic National Park Weather
The Olympic Peninsula boasts a moderate marine climate. Though summers are generally pleasant and winters wet and mild, the weather in Olympic National Park is largely unpredictable. It can be sunny one minute and rainy the next.
Because of its large size, Olympic National Park weather fluctuates largely from one end of the park to the other. As you move from the east end of the park to the west end, the climate gets wetter. Small sections of the east side of the park receive very little rain thanks to the Olympic Rain Shadow.
The summer months are when to visit Olympic National Park. The weather is warmest and driest from July to September. However, this is also the park’s busiest time.
The rest of the year is generally very wet. High precipitation levels occur from October to June with up to 10 feet of snowfall in the mountains during the winter. Despite the wet weather and colder temperatures, there are still plenty of outdoor activity opportunities for those planning to visit during late fall and winter.
Summer temperatures in sit between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit while winter temperatures hover between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of the unpredictable and varied weather, the National Park Service recommends checking the current weather forecast for the specific region you’re visiting.
You can also call 360-565-3131 to access the Olympic National Park weather hotline.
Camping in Olympic National Park
Camping in Olympic National Park is one of the park’s most popular activities. It’s currently home to 16 campgrounds. (Dozens of others are located just outside of the park).
The park’s campgrounds are spread around the region, making it easy to find a great site no matter the area you’re exploring. The uniqueness of each campground means that there is something for people of all needs and preferences.
Below is our brief guide to camping in Olympic National Park.
Nestled in the woods on the Elwha River, Altair Campground is the perfect jumping off point to explore popular destinations including Goblin’s Gate, Humes Ranch, and Olympic Hot Springs.
The campground is open from May to October. It contains 30 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Flush toilets and running water are available.
Learn more about Altair Campground.
Deer Park Campground
One of the best places to camp in the country, Deer Park Campground is a unique Olympic National Park campground as the only one located in high-alpine country. Camp here for 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, Puget Sound, and Strait of Juan de Fuca. The campground’s isolation provides breathtaking views of the night skies when the weather is clear.
The campground is open from July to September, depending on snow. It contains 14 non-reservable spots. Because of the rugged and winding 18-mile access road, RVs aren’t allowed. Running water isn’t available although Deer Pack has pit toilets.
Learn more about Deer Park Campground.
Dosewallips Campground (Walk-In Only)
The only walk-in only campground in Olympic National Park, Dosewallips Campground is very popular with hikers making their way into or out of the backcountry. Located alongside the swift Dosewallips River, it takes a 5.5-mile hike to get to this pretty campground from the end of the access road.
The campground is open year round. It contains 30 non-reservable tent spots. As it’s a walk-in campground, RVs aren’t allowed. Running water isn’t available although Dosewallips has pit toilets.
Learn more about Dosewallips Campground.
One of the most exciting campgrounds in Olympic National Park, Elwha Campground is located alongside the gorgeous Elwha River. Recently freed from two dams, the river is rapidly regaining life. Miles of spectacular hiking trails are close at hand, including several that lead up to old abandoned cabins.
The campground is open year round. It contains 40 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Flush toilets and running water are available from April to September only.
Learn more about Elwha Campground.
Located on the always popular Lake Crescent, Fairholme Campground fills up fast. Arrive early to secure one of the coveted lakeside camping spots. Fairholme is also among the cleanest and best-maintained campgrounds in Olympic National Park. In addition to exploring Lake Crescent, use Fairholme Campground as a jumping off point for Sol Duc Falls and Hurricane Ridge.
The campground is open from April to October. It contains 88 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 21 feet). Flush toilets, running water, and an RV dump station are available.
Learn more about Fairholme Campground.
Graves Creek Campground
Camping in the Quinault Rainforest is an experience unlike any other. Graves Creek Campground’s location alongside the serene Quinault River makes it the perfect place to do so. The campground provides easy access to popular destinations including Pony Bridge, Quinault Loop, and Enchanted Valley. The area is also popular with animal visitors. Deer and elk often wander by in the mornings and evenings on their way to a drink from the river.
The campground is open year round. It contains 30 non-reservable spots. It isn’t RV friendly. Running water isn’t available although Graves Creek has pit toilets.
Learn more about Graves Creek Campground.
Heart O’the Hills Campground
Located smackdab in the middle of an old growth forest, Heart O’the Hills is a popular Olympic National Park campground for families. Kids love the fun summer ranger programs. The campground is just a few miles from Port Angeles, making it one of the most easily accessible in the park. But the real draw of Heart O’the Hills is its close proximity to Hurricane Ridge. The breathtaking destination is located a short 14-mile drive uphill.
The campground is open year round. However, the area receives heavy snow in the winters, making it walk-in only while snow is on the ground. It contains 105 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Flush toilets, running water, and an RV dump station are available.
Learn more about Heart O’the Hills Campground.
Tucked away in the country’s most famous rainforest, Hoh Campground is a very central jumping off point for many Olympic National Park attractions. Camp here for easy access to popular hiking trails like Mount Olympus, Hoh River Trail, and Hall of Mosses. As one of the wettest locations in America, campers should make sure to adequately repair for rain, even in the middle of summer.
The campground is open year round. It contains 88 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 21 feet). Flush toilets, running water, and an RV dump station are available.
Learn more about Hoh Campground.
There’s a reason that Kalaloch Campground is the Olympic National Park’s most popular campground – and that reason is its beautiful. Situated alongside sandy Kalaloch Beach, select spots have amazing views of the ocean, especially at sunset. Kalaloch is the only campground in the park that allows reservations (from June to September). Make these well ahead of time to secure a spot during the summer.
The campground is open year round, though reservations are needed in the summer. It contains 170 reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Flush toilets, running water, an RV dump station, and a year-round general store are available.
Learn more about Kalaloch Campground.
Mora (La Push) Campground
Also referred to as La Push Campground, Mora Campground is situated near the Quillayute River, just a few miles from Rialto Beach. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from popular destinations including Hole in the Wall, Second Beach, and Strawberry Bay Falls. Wildlife loves this area of the national park. Eagle, seal, deer, whale, and even bear sightings are commonplace.
The campground is open year round. It contains 95 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Pit toilets, running water, and an RV dump station are available.
Learn more about Mora Campground.
North Fork Campground
For those looking for a more secluded Olympic National Park camping experience, North Fork Campground is one of the best choices. Hidden along the Quinault River, the tiny campground is located close to beautiful hikes including Skyline Primitive Trails. Deer, elk, and bears visit the area often.
The campground is open year round. It contains 9 non-reservable spots. It isn’t RV friendly. Running water isn’t available although North Fork has pit toilets.
Learn more about North Fork Campground.
With views of Lake Ozette from every campsite, the isolated Ozette Campground is an often overlooked Olympic National Park gem. Miles from the nearest store, the road to the lake is often rough and muddy. The campsites themselves are equally wet. Yet it’s all worth it when you consider the beauty of the lake and its proximity to some of the most remote coastline in the country.
The campground is open year round. It contains 15 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 21 feet). Running water isn’t available although Ozette has pit toilets.
Learn more about Ozette Campground.
Queets Campground is among the most remote campgrounds in Olympic National Park. This makes it perfect for those looking to experience the national park in solitude. On top of that, it’s located in the least visited section of the park, increasing the solitude even more.
The campground is open year round. It contains 20 non-reservable spots. It isn’t RV friendly. Running water isn’t available although Queets has pit toilets.
Learn more about Queets Campground.
Sol Duc Campground
Sol Duc Campground is one of the best campgrounds in Olympic National Park. Located next to the incredible Sol Duc Falls, it’s also in close proximity to hot springs, a sprinkling of lakes, and rivers filled with salmon. Thanks to its popularity, Sol Duc Campground is home to a number of summer ranger programs. The nearby Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort offers a lodge and restaurant during the summer months.
The campground is open year round. However, flush toilets and running water are only available from May to October. It contains 82 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots).
Learn more about Sol Duc Campground.
South Beach Campground
Though it’s right off of Highway 101 and just minutes from Kalaloch, South Beach Campground is surprisingly isolated. It’s scenic location on a bluff provides campers with great views of the Pacific Ocean, especially at sunset. South Beach is also the perfect jumping off point to explore the Quinault and Queets Rainforests.
The campground is open from May to September. It contains 50 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Running water isn’t available although South Beach has pit toilets and an RV dump station.
Learn more about South Beach Campground.
The best campground on the eastern side of Olympic National Park, Staircase Campground is immediately alongside the Skokomish River. Gladys Divide, Cub Beak, and Staircase Loop Trail are just a few of the amazing hiking trails within easy access of Staircase. Thanks to its location next to the park’s most remote mountains, the campground also acts as a home base for backpackers entering the Olympic National Park wilderness.
The campground is open year-round. It contains 56 non-reservable spots and is RV friendly (up to 35 feet for some spots). Flush toilets and running water are available from June to September.
Learn more about Staircase Campground.
Lodging in Olympic National Park
Not interested in pitching a tent or hauling an RV? There are plenty of other Olympic National Park lodging options to choose from.
Inside the park’s borders, five lodging options are available. These range from sophisticated lodges to simple cabins. Outside the park are dozens of other options, including motels, cabins, and lodges.
If you’re planning to visit Olympic National Park during the summer, be sure to book your lodging accommodations well in advance. Reservations fill up fast.
Located just feet from one of the best beaches in Olympic National Park, Kalaloch Lodge offers both motel-style lodge rooms and rustic cabins. A dining room and general store are also on site. Thanks to its location high on a bluff, many of the lodge rooms and cabins have breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Learn more about Kalaloch Lodge.
Lake Crescent Lodge
Lake Crescent Lodge is as picturesque as it gets. Built in 1915, the imposing wood structure sits tucked back among giant trees on the shore of Lake Crescent. In addition to lake and mountain view lodge rooms, Lake Crescent Lodge is home to a smattering of rustic cabins.
A dining room, lounge, coffee shop, and gift shop are also on site. Swimming in the lake is possible although the water is very cold, even in summer. A better way to see the lake up close is to rent a boat from the lodge.
Learn more about Lake Crescent Lodge.
Lake Quinault Lodge
Despite the elegance of Lake Quinault Lodge itself, the sheer isolation of its location makes for a relaxing getaway. Built in 1926, the historic lodge gives visitors a chance to disconnect from the world. Cabins aren’t available at this location.
The grounds of Lake Quinault Lodge consist of an expansive front lawn that extends down to the shores of Lake Quinault. Inside the lodge, the highlight is the spacious great room where guests can relax in the welcoming warmth of the fireplace. Another majestic fireplace is located outdoors, the perfect place to unwind in the summer months.
Learn more about Lake Quinault Lodge.
Log Cabin Resort
Located on the north shore of Lake Crescent, Log Cabin Resort is much smaller than Lake Crescent Lodge. Surrounded by quiet forests, the resort’s peaceful setting lends itself well to those that prefer solitude.
Lodge rooms, lakeside chalets, and rustic cabins are available for rental. An area for tent camping and RV camping is on site. A small deli, general store, and café are also available.
Learn more about Log Cabin Resort.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
If simple and straightforward Olympic National Park lodging is what you’re after, then Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is your best bet. The compound is made up of several small cabins as well as a dining room, restaurant, mineral-pool hot springs, and general store. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is one of the best places to stay for those looking to explore the nearby Sol Duc Valley and Sol Duc Falls.
Learn more about Sol Duc Hot Springs.
Outside the Park
Staying outside the park is a great option for those on a budget. You can sometimes even snag an empty room when all of the accommodations in Olympic National Park are booked.
Nearby towns like Forks, Port Angeles, Sequim, Aberdeen, Port Townsend, Clallam Bay, Amanda Park, Shelton, Belfair, and Hoodsport have a smattering of hotels, motels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and campgrounds available for Olympic National Park visitors.
The Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles is among the most popular. With 105 rooms, the large lodge combines the look and feel of a historic lodge with the modern conveniences of a stylish hotel. It’s located only a few miles away from the border of Olympic National Park.
Learn more about Olympic Lodge.
Hiking & Backpacking in Olympic National Park
Hiking in Olympic National Park is unlike hiking anywhere else on earth. From short walks to day hikes to overnight backpacking trips, the park provides a little something for everyone.
Before we delve into the best hiking and backpacking trails in the park, it’s important to address two key issues: pets and rain.
Olympic National Park doesn’t allow pets on its trails. If you like to hike with your dog, it’s best to stick to trails in Olympic National Forest or Washington State Parks.
As for rain, Olympic National Park gets a lot of it. Even in the summertime, it’s best to be prepared for occasional rains (rain gear!). The weather can change in the blink of an eye, going from warm and sunny one minute to cold and rainy the next.
Those planning to hike in Olympic National Park in the fall, winter, or spring should be even better prepared for rain.
Countless hiking trails are available in Olympic National Park. Visit the park’s trail guide for more information. This resource breaks down hiking trails by area (coastline, valleys, and mountains).
Washington Trails Association is another invaluable resource when hiking in Olympic National Park. Their list of Great Summer Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula will point you in the direction of the park’s most popular hiking trails.
When it comes to hiking trails that stick out to us, there are five that immediately come to mind. Our favorite Olympic National Park hiking trails include:
Sol Duc Falls
A classic Olympic National Park hike, the trail to Sol Duc Falls ranges from 1.6 to 5.3 miles roundtrip. It winds through misty old growth forests and mossy ravines until it arrives at Sol Duc Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state. The best part about this easy day hike is taking a relaxing dip in Sol Duc Hot Springs afterwards.
Learn more about Sol Duc Falls.
The view from Mount Elinor is hard to beat. Depending on which trailhead you start at (upper or lower), the trail is either 3.2 or 6.2 miles roundtrip. At the top, the view encompasses Olympic National Park’s interior, numerous volcanoes, and a large swath of the Puget Sound. On clear summer days, you might even be able to see Seattle.
Learn more about Mount Elinor.
Not quite as popular an Olympic National Park destination as First or Second Beach, the hike to Third Beach isn’t to be missed. Revel in the solitude that the less-traveled 3.6-mile roundtrip trail provides. Once you reach the beach, you’re sure to want a photo with the dramatic sea stacks of Strawberry Bay in the background. Because you can camp on the sandy beach, Third Beach is a popular backpacking route, especially for those with children.
Learn more about Third Beach.
North Fork Quinault River Trail
North Fork Quinault River Trail contains two trails perfect for overnight backpacking trips in Olympic National Park. The first is a 21-mile loop of moderate difficulty. It’s popular with those that are new to backpacking. The other is a 47-mile loop (known as North Fork/Skyline Loop) that is very strenuous. Most take 5 to 8 days to do the hike. Mountain goats, elk, and black bears are commonly spotted on both hikes.
Learn more about North Fork Quinault River Trail.
Olympic National Park backpacking doesn’t get much better than this. The Enchanted Valley trail is 26 roundtrip miles of awesome. It winds through old growth forests, over countless streams and rivers, into the wide valley of the Quinault River. A panorama of snowcapped peaks and thousands of cascading waterfalls greet you. Wildlife is abundant here with bear, deer, elk, coyote, and beaver calling the valley home. The now-closed Enchanted Valley chalet has been a popular destination since the 1930s.
Learn more about Enchanted Valley.
If you plan to backpack through Olympic National Park backcountry, you’re going to need a Wilderness Camping Permit.
In the most popular areas (called Quota Areas), only a select number of permits are issued per year. Reservations are needed from May to September. You can make these reservations as early as March 15.
Certain Quota Areas issues half their permits ahead of time and half on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit a Wilderness Information Center within 24 hours of your planned hike to pick up your permit.
Backcountry permits aren’t limited outside of Quota Areas. Pick these up before heading out on your hike from a Wilderness Information Center.
All backpackers are required to bring a bear canister with them. These are even suggested for some established campgrounds.
Put any scented items (including food, trash, toothpaste, and sunscreen) inside your bear canister before bed. Bear canisters can rented from a Wilderness Information Center for a small fee.
Learn more about wilderness food storage.
Other Activities in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park recreational opportunities don’t stop with camping, hiking, and backpacking. There are plenty of other great ways to explore the park and take in the sights no matter the season.
Mountaineers love climbing in Olympic National Park for the sheer variety of opportunities it offers. Take note that most of these are in remote regions on alpine rock.
The rock is much different than that in Washington’s Cascade Mountains – instead of solid granite, most of the rock is loose shale, sandstone, basalt, and pillow lava. A helmet is essential as showers of falling rock are inevitable.
Learn more about climbing these peaks, including routes and safety guidelines, on Olympic National Park’s climbing page.
Fishing in Olympic National Park is another popular outdoor activity. With over 600 lakes and 4,000 miles of rivers and streams (plus 70 miles of coastline), fishing opportunities are nearly endless.
Salmon, trout, and char are the most common fish in the park. Though the park works hard to restore native populations of these fish, it also helps promote recreational fishing.
Relaxing in the soothing warmth of natural hot springs is a great way to unwind after a strenuous hike.
Whether you prefer canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, or motor boating, there are plenty of opportunities for boating in Olympic National Park.
*Want to see how canoes are made? Check out our tour of Wenonah Canoe here!
Hundreds of lakes as well as miles of coastline and rivers give boaters ample opportunities to spread out and experience the beauty of the park from the water.
Learn more about Olympic National Park boating including safety tips, conditions, required equipment, boat regulations, and more.
Olympic National Park’s ranger programs provide an up-close-and personal look at several of the park’s most interesting features. These programs include interpretive walks, campfire programs, and much more. Ranger-led programs are perfect for those of all ages, from children to the elderly. They’re only available in the summer months.
Night sky programs are one of the most popular types of Olympic National Park ranger programs. Thanks to the park’s remote location far away from city lights, clear nights offer amazing views of the heavens. Take in the wonder of the natural night sky on your own or with the guidance of a ranger-led night sky program. High-powered telescopes are provided to get a closer look at stars, constellations, galaxies, and planets.
Though most of Olympic National Park’s annual visitors visit the park during the summer, there are numerous winter activities available for offseason visitors. At the top of the list is snowshoeing.
Though you can snowshoe almost anywhere there is snow, Hurricane Ridge snowshoeing is perhaps the most popular route. Ranger-led snowshoeing walks are also available from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
Be sure to check local avalanche information before heading out on your own.
One of the best Olympic National Park winter activities for kids is sledding. The best place to go is the Children’s Snow Play Area at Hurricane Ridge. Sledding here is only open to children 8 years old and younger.
For older kids and adults looking to get their sled on, a tubing park is now open at the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Two other popular Olympic National Park winter activities are skiing and snowboarding. Miles and miles of trails are available, especially for cross-country skiing. Adventurous and highly skilled skiers and snowboarders can even venture into the backcountry in hunt of untouched fresh powder.
Yet the most popular area for skiing and snowboarding in Olympic National Park is the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area. The downhill ski area is one of only three available in national parks in the country. The other two are located at Yosemite National Park and Cuyahoga National Park. In addition to speedy runs, the ski area boasts amazing views.
Be sure to check local avalanche information before heading out on your own, especially into the backcountry.
Surfing in Olympic National Park’s is one of the park’s hidden gems. Though its home to some of the best surf in the country, few people ever surf here.
The main reason for this is the remoteness of the best surfing beaches in Olympic National Park. The majority of them require a hike to get to. This is why most of the surfing in the park is dubbed “backcountry surfing.”
Olympic National Park flora and fauna is seemingly limitless. Yet despite the abundance, it often takes a skilled eye, a whole lot of patience, and a dash of luck to view much of the park’s wildlife yourself.
The most watchable wildlife in Olympic National Park includes birds, deer, marmots, elk, salmon, whales, goats, and bears. Check out the park’s Wildlife Viewing page for more information on when and where to find these animals.
Tide pool viewing is another popular park activity. Common marine life includes starfish, crabs, sea anemone, sea urchin, and many more. Be sure to keep an eye out for “sneaker waves” as these are extremely dangerous.
Olympic National Park Must-See Destinations
Olympic National Park is filled to the brim with must-see destinations. Below are a few of the most commonly visited Olympic National Park destinations that every first time visitor should try to work into their travels plans.
Hoh Rain Forest
A must-see destination if there ever was one, the Hoh Rain Forest is the rainy gem of the Olympic National Park. Receiving over 134 inches of rain per year, the area is covered in greenery from hanging moss to towering trees to boundless ferns. Visit in July, August, or September to beat most of the rain.
Located at the southern end of Olympic National Park, Kalaloch Beach, and the surrounding area, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Be sure to make the short journey up to Ruby Beach to take in the towering sea stacks.
Sol Duc Falls
Three streams of churning white water tumble down into the narrow ravine below at Sol Duc Falls. Old growth trees tower high above casting the waterfall in a misty green haze. Several hikes offer a route to the falls, ranging from 0.8 to 5.3 miles roundtrip in length.
Quinault Rain Forest
Located between Lake Quinault and the Quinault River, the Quinault Rain Forest is also known as the “Valley of the Rainforest Giants.” The name comes from the sheer size of the trees. In fact, Quinault Rain Forest is home to the largest Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Alaskan Cedar, and Mountain Hemlock on record.
Lake Crescent is one of the most scenic destinations in Olympic National Park. Close to the park’s north entrance, the area provides stunning natural scenery in addition to plenty of entertaining outdoor activities. The nearby 90-foot Marymere Falls is another must-visit destination.
Hurricane Ridge draws its name from the strong winds that frequently rip through the area. Despite the frequent gusts, Hurricane Ridge is one of the most beautiful places in Olympic National Park. Visit during the summer for stunning views of the Olympic Peninsula interior and shoreline. Winter is also a popular time to visit Hurricane Ridge for snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, and snowboarding.
Extremely accessible yet very rugged, Rialto Beach is the perfect place to get a taste for the wildness of Olympic National Park. Unlike the sandy beaches further to the south, Rialto is made up mostly of rocks. Toss in the giant driftwood logs, crashing waves, and soaring sea stacks and it’s easy to see why so many people flock to Rialto Beach each year. Hole-in-the-Wall is an especially beautiful sea stack formation.
Plan Your Visit to Olympic National Park
Use the resources below to help plan your next Olympic National Park vacation whether you visit for a few hours or for over a week.
How to Get There
You need a car to visit Olympic National Park. However, a car will only get you so far. The Olympic Peninsula is one of the largest roadless regions in the United States. To truly experience all it has to offer, you’ll need to get out of the car and do a little hiking.
Those visiting the park from further south, such as Olympia or Portland, should take US 101 North to Hood Canal or to Aberdeen. Those visiting from British Columbia, especially Victoria and Vancouver, should take the Coho Ferry (Victoria to Port Angeles).
Hours and Seasons
Olympic National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Due to the high amount of rainfall, the dryer summer months (June to September) are the most popular times to visit. Some roads, campgrounds, and attractions are closed during the off season (October to May).
Fees and Passes
Entering Olympic National Park costs $20 for a private vehicle, $10 for a motorcycle, and $7 for a bicycle. Each pass is valid for 7 days.
Wilderness camping fees, camping fees, and RV dump station fees vary by location. An Olympic National Park Annual Pass is available for $40 (unlimited annual access to ONP). The American the Beautiful Pass is available for $80 or $70 for seniors. It provides unlimited annual access to every National Park in the United States.
Maps & Guidebooks
Numerous Olympic National Park maps and guidebooks are available for travelers. Check out a few of the best privately produced Olympic trail guides as well as the Forest Service’s listing of ONP guidebooks.
Visit with Pets
Leashed pets are only permitted in certain areas of Olympic National Park. These include all campgrounds, picnic areas, and parking lots as well as Spruce Railroad Trail, Peabody Creek Trail, Madison Falls Trail, Kalaloch Beaches (from Ruby Beach to South Beach), and Rialto Beach. Pets aren’t allowed in any other areas of the park.
The weather in Olympic National Park is often wet. It’s recommended you bring plenty of rain equipment. If you’re camping, investing in a high-quality tent is a must to ensure that it is completely waterproof.
Nearby Points of Interest
The area surrounding Olympic National Park is filled with countless points of interest. Chief among these are the towns of Forks, Port Angeles, Aberdeen, and Victoria. Seattle is a short drive away as well as North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier National Park.
At Beyond The Tent, we’re here to help you make the most out of your next trip to Olympic National Park.
In addition to our Camping for Beginners Guide, a few of our best resources for those planning a camping trip to this beautiful area of the United States include:
- Complete Camping Checklist
- 20 Easy Camping Recipes Anyone Can Make for Their Next Camping Trip
- Cool New Camping Gear for 2016
- Luxury Camping Gear: 35 Items to Turn Camping into Glamping
- Best Family Camping Tents of 2015
Of course, anyone venturing into this often rainy area of Washington State should also read up on 7 Rainy Day Camping Activities just in case you get stuck in a downpour.