Nearly encompassing the whole of the Olympic Peninsula, the Olympic National Forest is 628,115 acres of diverse, dynamic landscape teeming with boundless wildlife.
The sheer number of ecosystems and landscapes coexisting within the confines of the forest makes it a popular camping spot. But planning a camping trip in such a unique and varied place can be a lot to think about! If you want to visit but don’t know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place.
For our guide to Olympic National Forest camping, keep reading!
History of the Olympic National Forest
Long before American explorers and naturalists fought for a national forest designation on the Olympic Peninsula, eight Indigenous tribes called the area home.
The Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Skokomish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, and Lower Elwha Klallam people have inhabited the lands that are now contained within Olympic National Forest for longer than recorded history.
As such, the human geography and history of the area are rich. Over 650 archaeological sites document more than twelve decades of history within the forest.
Thousands of years later, in the late 1800s, explorers like John Muir made Olympic National Forest and the surrounding area their project. By 1907, it was officially designated as a national forest.
Inside the forest are four distinct regions: alpine, forest, Pacific coastline, and temperate rainforest, each with its own wilderness and ecosystems.
The coastline of Olympic National Forest is sixty miles long and marked at each end with Indigenous land.
At the center of the forest, the glacial Olympic Mountains tower over the surrounding regions.
Olympic National Forest Camping
Best Olympic National Forest Camping Spots
Each year, almost 50,000 campers come to stay at Olympic National Forest’s camping sites.
Some of the most popular spots include Kalaloch, Mora, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Log Cabin Resort, South Beach, North Fork, Ozette, Queets, Dosewallips, Hoh, Staircase, and Fairholme campsites.
Types of Olympic National Forest Camping
Olympic National Forest has fifteen developed campgrounds containing nearly 900 sites throughout the forest.
All campgrounds managed by the forest service have a fire pit and an outdoor table, but none have RV hookups or showers.
The only campsites in the forest with RV hookups are Sol Duc Hot Springs and Log Cabin Resort, privately owned and managed within Olympic National Forest.
Only a few sites have dump stations: Fairholme, Mora, Kalaloch, Log Cabin Resort, and Sol Duc Hot Springs.
Fairholme, Kalaloch, Mora, Hoh, Staircase campgrounds, and any privately managed sites can be reserved ahead of time. All others are first come, first serve.
Several of the Olympic National Forest camping sites only operate seasonally, so be sure to double-check which are open when you’re planning your trip!
What to Bring for Olympic National Forest Camping
Olympic National Forest boasts a wide and wonderful weather range across its distinct geographical regions.
As such, campers are advised to come ultra-prepared for all possible conditions, particularly cool, wet weather.
Rain gear, clothes for layering, a compass, a flashlight with backup batteries, a first aid kit, a fire starter, extra food, a small ice pick, and maps are the bare minimum requirements for a safe journey through the forest.
For Olympic National Forest camping, a tent with a rain fly and waterproof storage for your pack and sleeping bags are necessary.
In addition to typical topographical maps, it’s crucial to have tidal maps or charts on you and know how to use them!
Along the coast, there are several spots that are only passable at lower tides. If timed incorrectly, you could easily get trapped.
Some final tips: avoid cotton clothing, know how to read a map and a compass, and waterproof your boots before heading out!
Things to do at Olympic National Forest
Because of the diverse terrain, the opportunities for fun outdoor adventures on your Olympic National Forest camping trip are ample and varied.
Along with miles upon miles of the Pacific coastline, Olympic National Forest boasts over 800 lakes and 4,000 rivers ripe for salmon and trout fishing.
The extensive bodies of water throughout the forest also make for great locations to raft, kayak, and canoe!
Some popular spots for water sports include Ozette Lake, Lake Crescent, Hoh River, and Quinault River.
The forest also has more than 40 different day hiking trails, all shorter than six miles.
Olympic National Forest also has a wide variety of activities you won’t find in most other national forests.
The snow-capped mountains are perfect for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, with the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club tucked in amongst the peaks.
The expanse of beach that frames the perimeter of the forest is perfect for tide-pooling and beachcombing, particularly at Kalaloch Beach.
Beach backpacking is also an activity unique to Olympic National Forest, a fun alternative to typical mountain backpacking.
For more structured fun, Olympic National Forest offers a variety of ranger programs, most notably their night sky program.
Wildlife at Olympic National Forest
Types of Wildlife and Vegetation
More than 95% of Olympic National Forest is designated wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States.
From coastal to lowland, from temperate rainforest to alpine, an Olympic National Forest camping adventure offers a variety of wilderness regions teeming with diverse wildlife.
The changes in elevation, climate, and precipitation throughout the forest create many different habitats very close together.
The length of the Pacific coastline makes for ample opportunities to spot whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, otters, and other sea life.
A little closer to shore, you can find many invertebrates in the tide pools.
More than 15 threatened and endangered species can be found in and around the forest, including the gray wolf, spotted owl, and blue whale.
Additionally, there are over 1,450 types of plants growing in the Olympic National Forest, featuring giant old-growth conifers and unique lichens.
How to Observe Wildlife Safely
There is a true abundance of wildlife to observe on your Olympic National Forest camping trip.
However, it’s crucial to do so safely!
Even the fluffiest of bears and most graceful deer pose a big risk to humans, as we do to them.
It’s best practice to stay at least 150 feet from the wildlife; feeding them is a fine offense. You’re too close if your presence changes a wild animal’s behavior.
Instead of encroaching on their space, try using binoculars!
To ensure your best chance at spotting some of the amazing critters that populate the Olympic National Forest, aim to watch for them around dawn or dusk, also known as feeding time.
Some animals are migratory, and others hibernate, so they won’t be spotted year-round.
If you’re keen to see a particular species, study it beforehand to know when and where they’re most likely to appear.
Some of the most accessible wildlife to view include birds, marmots, salmon, goats, deer, elk, whales, and bears.
For more information on the wildlife, where to view them, and how to observe them safely, stop by a visitor center to ask a ranger!
There are also a variety of ranger-led programs throughout the forest that can facilitate a successful wildlife encounter.
Wrapping up the Olympic National Forest Camping Guide
While each national forest is special in its own way, an Olympic National Forest camping trip really has a lot to offer.
It should be now if it wasn’t on your bucket list before! What’s better than spotting whales, going snowshoeing, and splashing at the beach all in one day?
Check out our Los Padres National Forest Camping Guide for even more camping inspiration.
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Leah is a writer, editor, and content manager with a master’s degree in English. Naturally, she is passionate about all things writing and learning.
She is proud to call North Carolina (specifically, the Outer Banks) home and loves exploring the state’s stunning coastline, sprawling Blue Ridge, and everything in between.
Leah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org