Updated: Mar 13
Olympic National Park has always been near the top of my list of national parks to visit and I finally had the chance to visit in January 2023. As you guys know, mountains and lakes are some of my favorite places to visit, and Olympic National Park did not disappoint! I hope you find inspiration from my list of top 5 places to visit to make the most of your own trip to the park!
Before we get into my top places to visit, I thought I’d provide a brief background of the park itself. Olympic National Park was created in 1938 from the earlier Mount Olympus National Monument and it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its diverse ecosystems and the longest undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. So, if you are planning a visit to Washington, you should check out Olympic National Park!
Getting To Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula located approximately 100 miles northwest of Seattle.
The park has multiple entrances, and the drive around the perimeter of the park takes approximately 11 hours to complete and there are no roads that bisect the park. This means you’ll have to drive around the park perimeter to get to the entrance nearest to the place you intend to visit.
The closest airport is Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac), which is a 2 hour drive to the main visitor center located in Port Angeles. Alternatively, Portland, OR is the next largest city with an airport and is a 2-hour drive to the southern Stairway entrance or about a 5-hour drive to Port Angeles.
Fees & Passes
Entrance fee for Non-commercial cars is $30.00 and this fee is valid for seven days.
Olympic National Park Annual Pass $55
If you have National Parks Pass it covers park entrance fees
You can also learn more about your pass options, find the right pass for you, and buy at Recreation.gov
Places to Stay
Port Angeles, WA
Port Angeles is a city located on the northern shore of Olympic Peninsula with a population of about 20,000 and offers multiple hotel and restaurant options if you’d like to stay in a hotel rather than camping. Port Angeles is close to Hurricane Ridge (40 min), Lake Crescent (30 min), Hoh Rain Forest (2 hrs.)
Forks is a small town located near the Pacific Coast and offers some hotel options for folks not looking to camp while being close to Rialto Beach and approximately 45 minutes away from the Hoh Rain Forest. The main claim to fame of this town is that it served as the setting for the Twilight books/films. For fans of the series, they have a Twilight themed festival during a weekend in September. So, if you are looking for a convenient place to stay in the western part of Olympic National Park (and/or if you are a Twilight fan) you should definitely check out the hotels in the town for a place to stay.
Both Lake Crescent and Lake Quinault have a corresponding lodge where you can rent rooms should you want to enjoy your trip lakeside without camping. Prices vary depending on location and season with Lake Crescent Lodge open from April to November and Quinault Lodge open year-round.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
This is the most expensive place to stay within Olympic National Park. Then resort’s main feature is the mineral water hot pools available to guests and its location near Sol Duc Falls. The resort has 32 cabins and is open from March to October.
This campground located in northern Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent is one of 4 campgrounds located in the park that accepts reservations during the peak season (May – September). Outside of peak season the campsites are first come first served. Fairholme Campground has 88 sites which are also fit RVs up to 21 feet. This lakeside campground is a great place to stay while visiting the northern part of Olympic National Park.
Graves Creek Campground
Located in the southwestern section of Olympic National Park in the Quinault Rain Forest, this campground has 30 sites open year-round. Due to the road conditions RVs are not permitted at this campsite. Additionally, all the sites are first come, first served. This campground is a great place to stay to see all the waterfalls in the Quinault River Valley and the can’t miss Enchanted Valley.
This campground is also in southwestern Olympic National Park and its location along the coast provides Pacific Ocean views for some of the 168 campsites. The campground provides direct access to the beach and is also RV friendly (up to 21 feet). The highlight of the campground is its location along the coast, but it is also the farthest on this list for people coming from the Seattle area (around 3 hours). Also, given its location along the coast this campground may be damper than other options in the park. Reservations are required for the summer season and are available up to 6 months in advance.
This campground located in the Hoh Rainforest has 72 sites that are also RV friendly (some up to 35 feet). With the area experiencing 144 inches of rain per year on average there is a good chance it may rain during your stay. However, don’t let the possibility of rain make you pass up the unique opportunity to camp under moss covered trees in this temperate rain forest. It is also in a great location to visit the northern and southern portions of the park. Don’t miss the Hall of Mosses and River Trail during your stay!
Sol Duc Campground
This campground located along the Sol Duc River offers 82 car campsites and 17 RV sites and is open seasonally from March to October by reservation. Once the season ends in the fall, campsites are available without reservations. Out of season the available services are limited with no running water and will close completely after the first winter storm. This campsite is centrally located in the northern section of the park and be sure to check out Sol Duc Falls if you stay here!
Things to Do
Hurricane Ridge is in northern Olympic National Park near Port Angeles, WA and has an elevation of 5,242 feet providing awesome views of the Olympic Mountains, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and even parts of Canada. It is also the most easily accessible mountain area in the park. When you are there check out the Hurricane Ridge to Hurricane Hill trail, which is approximately 3.2 miles out and back.
The high elevation means Hurricane Ridge is a popular destination for snowshoeing and skiing in the winter from the end of November to March. During the winter the road to Hurricane Ridge is open only from 9:00am to 4:00pm Fridays to Sundays, although winter storms may cause the road to close during these times.
Lake Crescent is a can’t miss destination (among many others!) in Olympic National Park. Whether it is a rare sunny day, or the lake is cloaked in fog it is one of the highlights of my trip to the park. Lake Crescent offers many hiking options and boats are allowed in the lake with kayak rentals operating in the peak season.
My personal favorite hike in this area is Mt. Storm King. This strenuous 4-mile hike with around a 2,000-foot elevation gain is quite a workout! Once you reach the top the view of the surrounding mountains and Lake Crescent below are well worth the effort!
Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is approximately 2 hours from Port Angeles, WA and 1 hour from Forks, WA and is open year-round. The forest sees on average 144 inches of rain each year…so make sure to bring a raincoat, especially in winter. The rain forest is perhaps the best place to spot Roosevelt elk in Olympic National Park, which is home to the largest unmanaged herd in the United States. You’ll also notice that due to the large amount of rain in the forest the trees are covered in moss.
When in the forest check out the Hall of Mosses trail, a 0.8-mile trail through the moss-covered trees. You can extend your hike by taking the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail. The Spruce Nature Trail is a loop trail although, at the time I was there, trees had fallen and blocked the trail, so we had to climb over them. Except for the fallen trees both trails are easy, family friendly trails. Looking for a longer trail, the Hoh River Trail is a little more than 18-miles one way to Glacier Meadows and is more of an overnight multi-day trip.
Quinault Rain Forest
Located in southwestern Olympic national Park about 3 hours from Port Angeles, WA and an hour from Forks, WA this is the second rain forest in the park besides the Hoh Rain Forest.
There are multiple trails in the rain forest including the Quinault Loop Trail and the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, both being relatively short and easy. The loop trail follows the shoreline of Lake Quinault for part its length, which is also worth checking out.
No list of top places to see in Olympic National Park is complete without the Enchanted Valley. Starting from the Graves Creek Trailhead (near the Graves Creek Campground) follow the East Fork Quinault River Trail to the Enchanted Valley Chalet. This is a challenging hike of 27 miles out and back with a 3,244 feet of elevation gain making this at least an overnight hike for most. For those camping overnight a wilderness permit and a bear can are required. Once you reach the Enchanted Valley, you will understand why it is called the valley of a thousand waterfalls. You can also see a 1930s chalet in the valley originally built for hikers but is now not accessible to the public.
Sol Duc Falls
A more accessible waterfall destination is Sol Duc Falls, which is approximately 40 minutes west of Port Angeles, WA. The walk to the falls on the Sol Duc Falls trails is approximately 1.5 miles roundtrip. There are other longer trails in the Sol Duc Valley including the 6-mile Lover’s Lane trail.
This is a great place to see a quintessential Pacific northwest beach with its often tumultuous waves and fog. Make sure to bring a jacket and/or raincoat because this is not a beach you will be found sunbathing. If you time your visit during low tide, you can hike 3.3 miles out and back to Hole-in-the-Wall, which is a narrow arch in the rock you can walk through at low tide. So, make sure you check out the local tide tables to time your visit! Even if you can’t make it there it is worth just sitting on the beach and watching the waves and fog roll by.
I hope you found my list inspiring your own trip to Olympic National Park! It is well worth the visit at any time of year. The park has so much to offer from mountains and rain forests to waterfalls and beaches! Have a great trip and see you on the trail!