Best Hikes in Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington state boasts glaciers, 73 miles of wild coastal beaches, sea stacks, a temperate rainforest and an incredibly undisturbed and highly diverse ecosystem with plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The Olympic Mountain Range juts above the surrounding river lowlands with Mount Olympus, the highest point, at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.
Though less imposing than nearby Mount Rainier, the area is well worth a visit. And if you take the time to explore the more remote areas, you'll be rewarded with unadulterated Mother Nature and few other people in true Pacific Northwest wilderness. It's worth the trip to breathe in the humidity of pristine old-growth forests, or explore stunning beaches. Just remember to bring your rain gear, because the Hoh Rain Forest also receives the most rain of anywhere in the continental United States, with an average rainfall of around 150 inches per year.
To get started, check out this webpage for ferry information, driving directions, airports, camping, lodging, road status and more.
Though accessible by car, no road crosses the park like in nearby Mount Rainier or North Cascades National Parks. Instead, 12 different roads stem off different points along US-101, and none of them penetrate the real interior of the Olympics, which is only accessible by foot. And without a set of wheels, it's difficult to navigate the various sections, which can be several hours apart even by car.
The Olympic National Park has quite a few unique areas to explore, but the most popular parts of the park are Hurricane Ridge in the north, the Sol Duc hot springs, waterfalls and Lake Crescent in the northwest, the temperate Hoh Rain Forest in the west and the pristine, rugged Pacific coastline to the far west, which is detached from the main park itself.
Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed part of the Olympic National Park for those coming from the Seattle area, and one of the most popular due to its spectacular views at the top of the 17-mile Hurricane Ridge Road, which begins in Port Angeles. It's a popular drive, motorcycle ride or cycle trip. Just watch the weather, because as the name suggests, Hurricane Ridge gets mighty gusty. Once there, enjoy the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center exhibits and film, open year-round (weather permitting).
At the time of writing, Elwha was closed to vehicles due to major flood damage, leaving limited parking and turn around space at the Madison Falls parking lot. If you're planning on hiking in the Elwha river area, it's worth taking a look at their massive restoration efforts and the recent removal of two dams.
Who doesn't love a good hot spring? And Olympic National Park has multiple! The Sol Duc Hot Spring Resort is open March 24th through October 29th, with surprisingly low rates for adults and children alike. If you're looking for something less developed, hike to the natural pools up the Boulder Creek Trail. Modest hikers beware, as local tradition dictates these are bathing suit optional. The National Park Service also wants to inform hikers that the water quality in the natural pools isn't monitored, and may contain harmful bacteria.
The Boulder Creek Trail is also a great spot to hop onto the last big section of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, extending 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana through the North Cascades National Park and the Olympic National Park, ending at Cape Alava, the westernmost point of the 48 contiguous states.
Lake Crescent is hard to miss, as it sits on the US-101 in the northwest corner of the park. Get reeled in by the miles of glistening shoreline, and enjoy a few of the local trails. If you're looking for a coffee or a meal, the historic Lake Crescent Lodge is worth a visit.
Hoh Rain Forest and Quinault Rain Forest
The temperate Hoh Rain Forest is a special part of the Pacific Northwest, and no visitor should miss it. With its ferns and massive Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Douglas-Fir and trees covered in hanging beards of moss, you might just feel like you've wandered into an enchanted forest.
From the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center you'll find ample parking, campgrounds and trails into the interior of the park and to the slopes of Mount Olympus itself. Don't miss the short Hall of Mosses loop trail, a great introduction to the area, and the One Square Inch of Silence—the quietest place in the United States, just a few miles from the visitor center.
Though less popular, the Quinault Rain Forest just south of the Hoh has its own special attractions. It's supposed to be one of the best places to hear newborn elk in the spring, or elk bulls bugling in the fall—an eerie sound you won't soon forget. If you're short on time, check out the Quinault Loop Trail from Lake Quinault.
Staircase, Dosewallips and Deer Park
These three areas are all located on the eastern side of the park, and are closer to Seattle and the ferries. Though less frequented, they're a good place to beat the crowds, and are less likely to be rainy due to the rain shadow effect of the mountains. Check out the Dosewallips River Trail, or the 7.5 mile out and back Obstruction Point-Deer Park Trail.
Ozette Lake, Mora and Kalaloch coastlines
A visit to the Olympics is not complete without a stop to some of these pristine beach areas. Our favorites include Ruby Beach, the very short Second Beach Trail, and the Ozette Lake - Cape Alava - Sand Point beach trail triangle, which can be made into a great overnight backpacking trip.
When to Go
The summer is undoubtedly the best and driest time to visit the Olympic National Park, as many amenities close for the winter. The road to Hurricane Ridge remains open and plowed on winter weekends and holidays, and is a great spot to enjoy winter sports on your own, or with kids in the sledding and tubing areas. Check out the operating hours for the park, and details on winter fun at Hurricane Ridge.
Permits and entrance fees are required at the Olympic National Park, and are an important part of keeping our national park system alive and well. Find all your wilderness permits for backcountry camping, entrance and campground fees and information, here.
Sorry dog lovers, but much of the Olympic National Park is inaccessible to pets, like many national parks. But don't despair! Though limited, there are a few great trails where leashed dogs are welcome. We recommend hiking Rialto or Ruby Beach. And don't forget that dogs are allowed in the nearby Olympic National Forest.