We’ve had Olympic National Park on our bucket list for a long time. This is because it is large, rife with wildlife, and thick with natural beauty. When we finally made the trip, we were stunned at how beautiful Olympic Park actually is. We recommend that you put this park on your bucket list, too!
One of the neat things about Olympic National Park is that there are 3 different types of terrains to explore. In one area you will be high up in the Olympic mountains, and in another you will be exploring the ocean and beaches. The final areas are the rainforests that dominate this national park. Olympic Park has something for everyone to enjoy.
Olympic National Park is located in Washington. In fact, you know that little thumb that sticks up on the left side of the state? That’s Olympic. The park is massive, but we found it to be a little difficult to access. Basically, you can drive a complete loop around the park and access it by taking small roads toward the center. None of the roads connect, though, so you have to drive back out to the loop. For this reason, we’ve written this post like the hands on a clock. We’ll start at 5 o’clock and go clockwise, as that is closest point to the Seattle/Tacoma Area. That’s right near Olympia.
Lake Quinault Area
From Olympia, drive west around our clock to about 6 o’clock. This is the Lake Quinault Area. Technically, most of this area is outside the park, so there are stores and a little town. The drive along the south shore of Lake Quinault is definitely worth your time. Along the way, you pass several waterfalls, and a few short hikes, not to mention some record-breaking trees that only require a short walk. Plan to spend about a half a day in Quinault.
These are the stops that we recommend in the Lake Quinault Area:
- Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail
- Cascade Falls
- World’s Largest Sitka Spruce
- Merriman Falls
- Bunch Falls
- Maple Glade Nature Trail
Farther west, about 45 minutes from Lake Quinault, is the Kalaloch Area (pronounced KLAY-lock, for some reason). The park is sort of oddly shaped here, as it takes in the beach, but leaves a large gap of land that isn’t on national park land to the east. The Kalaloch Area is beautiful for a seaside drive. We recommend stopping at Beach 4 if you’d like to do some tide pooling. We stayed at the historic Kalaloch Lodge, which was great because we could get up early with the low tide. This is also the area to visit the famous Ruby Beach.
These are our recommendations for the Kalaloch area:
- Kalaloch Beach
- Beach 4
- Ruby Beach
Drive north from Kalaloch to the Hoh Rainforest Area at about 9 o’clock on our map. This area is extremely popular, and the parking is tight. If you don’t arrive by 8 in the morning, you may sit in a line for more than 2 hours to park at Hoh. That’s why staying nearby at Kalaloch or Forks is nice. If you do get to park at Hoh, you are in for a real treat. This area of Olympic is a rainforest, thick, dark, and mossy. Massive stands of old growth forest will make you think you’re walking among the Ents of Lord of the Rings. We spent a half day doing the three major hikes in the Hoh Area. This is the most iconic part of Olympic National Park, so don’t miss it!
These are the three hikes in the Hoh Rainforest area:
- Hall of Mosses
- Spruce Nature Trail
- Hoh River Trail (this is a long hike, but you can walk about 1.0 mile to the river)
Up around 10 o’clock is the Forks Area. This is vampire country as made famous in the Twilight saga books. There is a really nice hike near Forks called Hole in the Wall at Rialto Beach. The trail runs right along the beach and ends up at a large tunnel that is exposed at low tide. Sully’s Drive In, located right in Forks is a great stop for burgers and fries. There are also a few museums that you can visit inside the town of Forks. We didn’t spend a lot of time in this area, but this is a great jumping off point for many areas in Olympic National Park.
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Continue around the clock up to 11, and you get to an area called Sol Duc Hot Springs. This is another area where you can drive toward the center of the park. There are a few nice hikes, including a must-do hike to Sol Duc Falls, which is one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park.
Make sure to check out all of these stops in Sol Duc:
At straight up noon on the clock is Lake Crescent. We stayed at the lodge, which is right on the water. Many people vacation here, and our kids loved the rocky beach and the pier right on the water. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the lake, too. There are several good hikes in the area, including Marymere Falls, and a really popular diner called Granny’s Cafe. When we go back to Olympic, we will plan 2-3 days to hang out and enjoy Lake Crescent, as it was the best leisure area in the park.
- Lake Crescent–find an area to enjoy the lake
- Marymere Falls
- Granny’s Cafe–even if you don’t eat a meal, go get some ice cream!
Just a little farther on, at about 1 o’clock is the main park headquarters for Olympic located in Port Angeles. (Don’t miss Madison Falls along the way.) Port Angeles has a large visitor center, and is the best spot to get your Junior Rangers or turn them in. We asked the rangers lots of questions and looked at the displays. Many of them were hands-on, so our kids enjoyed exploring this Visitor Center. This area is also the entry point for Hurricane Ridge.
The crowds are larger in this area, but the views are breathtaking, so it is worth your time to drive out to Hurricane Ridge. There is a nice Visitor Center and some amazing hikes that have a lot of wildlife including marmots, deer, elk, coyotes, and other large mammals. The hike up Hurricane Hill is amazing if you can handle the climb (and find parking!) This part of the park is so different than the other areas because we even found snow in August at the top of Hurricane Hill.
Here are some ideas of things to do in Hurricane Ridge:
- Hurricane Hill
- Cirque Rim Trail
- Sunset Point
- Grab a slice of chocolate cake at the Visitor Center/Store. It was yummy!
There is so much more to do and see in Olympic, but our time was limited, so we didn’t manage to enter the park at 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock (Dosewallops and Staircase, respectively). This gives us reason to go back and explore more in Olympic National Park. We spent 3 full days in this park and enjoyed every second.