Olympic National Park is one of our favorite national parks in the American Northwest. There is a wide variety of scenery, with scenic coastal views, beautiful temperate rain forests, and fantastic mountain vistas all available for you to see. Olympic National Park also sports a wide variety of wildlife. Whales, black bears, elk, mountain goats, and a variety of other animals live in the park or off its coast.
In this guide, we will provide you with the resources necessary to plan a successful trip to Olympic, as well as any tips that we have picked up in our many visits.
How to Get There
Olympic National Park is located in Northwest Washington State, and is very close to Seattle Washington. If you plan to fly in to visit the park, we would definitely recommend flying into Seattle. If you plan to see other things while in the Northwest, we have provided you a table below on how far Olympic National Park is from some other large cities in the Northwest.
|Seattle, Washington||2 hours|
|Portland, Oregon||2.75 hours|
|Spokane, Washington||6.5 hours|
When we visited, we flew into Seattle and then visited Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, the North Cascades National Park, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens all in one trip. If you are into national parks and scenic landscapes, there really is a lot to do and see in there area.
Portland, Oregon is also very close. If you have some extra time, you can probably work a stop in Portland into your trip. You can see the beautiful Multnomah Falls (located 30 miles outside Portland), the gorgeous Heceta Head Lighthouse (13 miles north of Florence, Oregon), and drive down the coast to see some of the prettiest coastline in the United States.
Best Time to Visit
No matter when you decide to visit Olympic National Park, you will never be short on things to see or do. However, depending on why you are visiting and what you would like to see, some seasons may be better than others for those activities.
Spring (March thru May)
Spring is a fairly wet and humid time of year to visit Olympic National Park, but it is also one of the best times to visit the park to see wildlife. The month of March is arguably the best time to come to see the famous Roosevelt Elk, for whom the park was originally established to protect. They can often be spotted near the park’s rain forests. And in April and May, you will likely have the best opportunity to spot one of the park’s many black bears, as they just just starting to wake up and become active.
Animals are fairly easy to spot this time of year, as they often use the park’s many roads and hiking trails to get around. Because the humidity is still relatively high, there is a good chance you could see some of the smaller animals the park is famous for, such as amphibians, snails, and banana slugs.
During the early part of the season, the high country, including the access road to Hurricane Ridge, is only accessible on weekends. However, by late Spring (weather permitting), the high country becomes more accessible. If Hurricane Ridge is high on your list of things to see at Olympic, we would suggest you monitor the Hurricane Ridge Twitter Account to see when the access road opens full time.
Summer (June thru August)
Summer is undoubtedly the most popular, and also the busiest, time of year in Olympic National Park. This time of year the park is at its driest, with precipitation and humidity levels relatively low. However, because of the low humidity, rain forest animals such as banana slugs and snails are much harder to spot.
However, if you are hoping to spot some animals, the summertime is a good time of year to spot some of the park’s other wildlife residents. Marmot, black bears, snowshoe hare, mountain goats, and many species of birds are still very active in the summer.
Summer is also a great time to access the high country in Olympic National Park. The roads to the high country, including the access road to Hurricane Ridge, are open every day. With wild flowers in bloom, it is a beautiful time to hike in the high country. However, be aware that the number of visitors is also usually high as well.
Fall (September thru October)
If you ask the locals, many will tell you that the fall is the best time to visit Olympic National Park. Temperatures are a bit cooler, and the humidity is beginning to rise again, but the park is less crowded and there is some fascinating animal behavior to witness. The most notable of which is the start of the Roosevelt Elk’s breeding season.
The park typically doesn’t get its first snowfall until late October, so the high country is still readily accessible. And unlike during the summer months, Hurricane Ridge is much less crowded.
The fall is also a great time to catch a glimpse of several of the park’s migratory birds, which include bald eagles, merlins, and western meadowlarks. And inside the rain forests, the amphibians, snails, and banana slugs start to appear in the open once again.
Winter (November thru February)
If you are looking for some solitude in the park, then the winter months are definitely the time to visit. A part from the holiday season, this is also the time of year when lodging will be most available.
During the winter months the humidity and precipitation is at its peak in the park, so do expect a cooler and damper environment. Because of the cooler, damper conditions, most of the wildlife in the park, with the exception of the slugs and snails, will be more difficult to spot.
The winter months can also be a good time to enjoy some outdoor activities within the park. Olympic National Park can be a great place to do some snow shoeing, snowboarding, and skiing. However, keep in mind that the access roads to the high country, including Hurricane Ridge, will only be open Friday – Sunday during the winter months.
Top Things to See and Do
There is a lot to see and do in and around Olympic National Park. Whether you are into hiking, wildlife viewing, or just want to see some very unique and beautiful landscapes, the park has a lot to offer. To make your job easier, we have included some additional resources below to assist you in planning your trip to see Olympic National Park.
- Olympic National Park – Map
- Olympic National Park – Plan Your Visit
- Olympic National Park – Things to Do
- Olympic National Park Trip Itineraries
There is some absolutely fantastic hikes within Olympic National Park. With lush rain forests, rocky beaches, and wildlife galore, the park is a hiker’s paradise. The park offers a number of fantastic guided hiking tours for those who would like to learn a little bit about the park while getting a hike in. We have included some of the more popular guided hikes for you below.
• Hurricane Ridge Hiking and Wildlife Tours
• Elwha River Hiking and Dam Removal Tours
• Hoh Rain Forest and Hiking Tour
• Hoh Rain Forest Elk and Hiking Tour
• Hurricane Ridge Snowshoe Tours
Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is a magical place. It is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States and is famous for its moss covered trees and wide variety of wildlife. Taking a walk thru the rain forest is like entering another world. Moss covers many of the trees in the forest, giving the whole forest a glow. I could spend a full day hiking in the Hoh and admiring the beauty of the landscape.
Animals you might find in the Hoh Rain Forest include the northern spotted owl, bobcat, mountain lion, the Olympic black bear, and the famous Roosevelt Elk. If you pay extra close attention, you might even see some of the snails and banana slugs that the make the forest their home.
There is a ranger station located within the forest that provides access into the back country. The Hall of Mosses Trail, which is located near the ranger station, is a short hike that allows visitors to get a true feel for this magical forest. There is also a nature hike that allows you to get a better understanding of all of the trees and plants that grow in the forest.
Hurricane Ridge is one of the most popular features within Olympic National Park. At 5,242 feet in elevation, it provides a breathtaking view of the park. It gets its name from the strong, gale force winds that blow across the ridge. Weather can be pretty unpredictable upon the ridge, so visitors should always be aware of the weather when visiting.
During the Summer months, Hurricane Ridge is a popular launching spot for some of the park’s best back country hiking. Though be aware, because of the elevation, it is not uncommon to see snow on the trails even as late as July. Speaking of snow, during the winter the ridge is a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding. The Hurricane Ski and Snowboard Area has a lift service, and offers visitors a fun, family-friendly place to hit the slopes.
Kalaloch is another one of the park’s most popular spots for visitors. Hiking near the beach provides some amazing views of the beach and some fantastic marine wildlife. Thousands of marine animals take refuge off the coast. The waters are protected by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
The beach is also a fantastic spot for bird watching and searching for sea stars and anemones in the tidal pools. Taking a long walk along the beach can turn up a number of surprises. However, if you decide to visit the beach, make sure you check the tide schedule so that you aren’t caught off guard while hiking. Certain areas of the trails become impassable during peak high tide.
The second deepest lake in the state of Washington, Lake Crescent is known for its crystal clear and beautiful blue water. The lake is in close proximity to a number of excellent hiking trails, including the Spruce Railroad Trail, the Pyramid Mountain Trail, and the Barnes Creek trail that leads to Marymere Falls. There are plenty of picnic areas located around the lake, making it a great place to enjoy lunch and the scenery. If you would like to get out on the lake, rowboats and paddle boats are available for rental at the Lake Crescent Lodge.
Lake Quinault is located at the Southern edge of Olympic National Park, inside the Quinault Rain Forest. Though it is part of the national park, the land is owned by the Quinault Indian Nation. The lake is very good for fishing, but a permit needs to be acquired from the Indian Nation in order to do so. The lake also includes some short, but very scenic, hiking paths that are very popular. The Quinault Rain Forest Interpretive Trail is an excellent trail for those who would like to get a good look at the rain forest.
At the Southern edge of the lake lies historic Lake Quinault Lodge, as well as the Rain Forest Resort Village. Built in 1926, the lodge has the same look and feel as the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. Its rustic, wilderness look is quite beautiful.
Quinault Rain Forest
The Quinault Rain Forest is another of Olympic National Park’s beautiful temperate rain forests. It starts at the Mount Anderson drainage in the east and the Low Divide drainage in the northwest. From there, the forest follows the paths of the North and East Forks of the Quinault River.Like the Hoh Rain Forest, the Quinault Rain Forest is an excellent place to hike and observe nature. In fact, the rain forest is home to several of the park’s Roosevelt Elk herds, and it is not uncommon to spot one of these majestic creatures within the forest. Some much smaller creatures, such as the park’s famed banana slugs, also call the forest their home. These slugs can grow up to 6 inches long and are quite spectacular.
Located near the mouth of the Quillayute River, the Rialto Beach is a stunningly beautiful public beach. The beach was named “Rialto” by famous magician Claude Alexander Conlin after the Rialto theater chain. One of the most scenic aspects of the beach are the giant island rock formations, known as seastacks, just off the coastline. They make for some truly fantastic scenery, especially at sunset. Just inland from the beach is the Mora area, which is comprised of towering old growth trees and heavy underbrush.
One of the more unique and fantastic elements near the beach is the Hole-in-the-Wall. This sea carved rock arch, which sits roughly 1.5 miles north of Rialto Beach, is amazing. If you decide to visit the beach, make sure you check the tide schedule. It is possible to get stranded on parts of the beach by the tide if you are not careful.
Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls is a striking little waterfall in the Sol Duc Valley. To see the falls, follow the Sol Duc Falls Trail, which begins at the Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort. The trail is rather easy going, making it a very family friendly trail to hike in the park. The trail meanders thru lush, beautiful forest before getting to the falls.
Depending on the volume of water, Sol Duc Falls can split into multiple channels before falling 48 feet into the rock canyon below. There are multiple viewpoints of the falls, both upstream and downstream. If you would like to photograph the falls, make sure you bring a tripod and visit during the morning or evening hours. The shadows dancing across the forest floor around the falls make for some spectacular pictures.
Here are just some of the stunning pictures we were able to capture in Olympic National Park. There are some gorgeous landscapes inside the park.