Recreation in Olympic National Park Biking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights and top things to do in Olympic National Park, as chosen by AAA editors.
What should you do at Olympic National Park? When in doubt, hike. The park’s most rewarding outdoor activity offers a rich variety of wilderness environments and enough magnificent scenery to provide a lifetime’s worth of memories. Following are some favorites; if you’re interested in a particular hike, stop at a visitor center or ranger station to pick up maps and trail guides or speak to a ranger for details.
Hikes Near Lake Crescent
Marymere Falls makes for a doable and rewarding hike (1.8 miles round trip). The trailhead begins at the Storm King ranger station parking lot on the south shore of Lake Crescent , just off US 101. The well-marked trail leads through a majestic old-growth forest of towering Douglas firs and mossy western hemlocks. The luxuriant vegetation creates a cathedral-like serenity. The trail becomes fairly steep close to the falls as it ascends a series of steps, but there are wooden handrails to hold onto and stumps where you can pause and catch your breath. The payoff for this exertion is an up-close view of a lovely 90-foot waterfall cascading down the side of a rocky cliff.
The Moments in Time Nature Trail can be reached from the same ranger station parking lot. This half-mile loop winds through the woods and offers frequent views of Lake Crescent. Best of all, there’s no elevation gain.
Hikes Near Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge is about as close as most folks get to the park’s untamed and largely inaccessible interior. Several hiking trails begin at the visitor center on Hurricane Ridge Road. Big Meadow and Cirque Rim are short paved trails crossing open sub-alpine meadows. You’ll frequently see deer grazing on the summer foliage, and wildflowers wash these emerald meadows in color during the early summer.
For really stupendous views, hike the paved High Ridge Trail to a dirt trail leading to Sunrise Point. The dirt portion is short (three-tenths of a mile) but steep; however, the 270-degree panorama is absolutely stunning even when visibility is less than ideal. Paved Hurricane Hill Trail, which begins at the end of Hurricane Ridge Road, is longer (3.2 miles round trip), ascending to 5,757 feet with a vista taking in mountains to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.
Note: Unless you want to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, summer is the best time to visit Hurricane Ridge. Port Angeles (less than 20 miles to the north) remains green year-round, but winter comes early to the ridge, with cold wind-driven rain beginning in October and snow lasting well into April.
Hikes Near Lake Quinault
The Quinault Valley is a spectacularly scenic area of lush rain forests and monster trees. Various hiking trails branch off North Shore and South Shore roads along Lake Quinault . The Rain Forest Nature Trail, a half-mile loop with interpretive signs along the way, is a delightful stroll. There’s more woodsy grandeur along the Falls Creek Loop, which passes waterfalls and streams. If you crave solitude hike the Trail of the Giants and marvel at the size of the Douglas firs. The Lakeshore Trail follows the south shore for a meandering mile.
The Quinault Big Cedar Trail begins at the Lake Quinault Resort on North Shore Road. A procession of stairs and boardwalks leads to an enormous western red cedar with a hollow trunk. The Maple Glade Trail, beginning at the Quinault Rain Forest ranger station on North Shore Road, is a half-mile loop winding through a forest of bigleaf maples dripping with moss. Mushrooms sprout from the forest floor in the fall.
Hikes in the Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is another scenic highlight. The Hall of Mosses Trail and the Spruce Nature Trail both begin a short distance from the rain forest visitor center. These easy loop hikes take you into a realm of surreal beauty—dense stands of lofty trees and a plethora of plant species nurtured by mild winters, cool summers and up to 140 inches of precipitation annually. You might even spot an elusive elk or deer.
Hikes Near Quilcene
Although not technically within Olympic National Park, Mount Walker Viewpoint has great wilderness views. The signed turnoff (Forest Road 2730) is 5 miles south of Quilcene on US 101. You can either drive to the summit (an 8-mile round trip) or hike the Mount Walker Trail (a 4-mile round trip); the trailhead is about a quarter of a mile from the US 101 turnoff. This strenuous hike gains 2,000 feet in elevation.
Mount Walker is cloaked with a dense growth of century-old Douglas firs that arose in the aftermath of a fire. Growing beneath the conifer canopy are huckleberry, Oregon grape, vine maple and salal, a member of the heath family. This hardy shrub has glossy green leaves and purple berries. Pacific rhododendrons make the biggest splash, however; these native “rhodies” are ablaze with large pink flowers in May and June.
There are two viewpoints atop Mount Walker: the North Viewpoint (which you reach first if you’re hiking) and the South Viewpoint (reached first by car). From the North Viewpoint there is an unobstructed view of the spectacular rock faces of 7,743-foot Mount Constance, the third-highest peak in the Olympic range. You’ll also see Quilcene Bay, a sheltered arm of Hood Canal—itself an arm of Puget Sound gouged thousands of years ago by glaciers. The South Viewpoint offers a panoramic vista of Olympic peaks, Hood Canal and—on clear days—the Seattle skyline and distant Mount Rainier.
Note: The trail can be hiked all year; the road is closed during the winter. The gravel road is steep and narrow and has a couple of turnouts; drive with caution.
Beach Hiking in the Park
While the park’s mountain hikes are uniformly exhilarating, beach hiking has a mystique all its own. Kalaloch and Ruby Beaches are two of the most accessible; from parking lots along US 101 it’s a short walk to either beach (the trek from Ruby Beach back to US 101 is slightly uphill). At Kalaloch Beach, site of popular Kalaloch Lodge , you can observe all sorts of marine creatures that inhabit the shoreline tide pools. The offshore waters, part of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, encompass subtidal reefs, rocky intertidal zones and beds of waving kelp. The rocks poking above the surface provide gathering places for seabirds such as common murres and tufted puffins. The Kalaloch Nature Trail is an easy 1-mile loop hike through coastal forest.
Ruby Beach has a wilder look. Waves crash against sea stacks, columns of rock broken away from the headlands by the ocean’s constant assault. Fog frequently shrouds the driftwood-littered beach, but on clear days (most likely during the summer months) the sunsets are spectacular. Large swells can break unexpectedly, and the water is very cold; be vigilant when walking along the beach.
Somewhat more isolated, but still easy to get to, is Rialto Beach. From the town of Forks , take US 101 north about 1.5 miles to the SR 110 turnoff. Take SR 110 west to Mora Road (about 8 miles), following signs to the beach. This narrow paved road follows the Quillayute River before tunneling through a forest of tall conifers, emerging from the dense canopy at the Pacific coast. Piles of sun-bleached driftwood lie in twisted heaps, with huge logs at the extreme high tide line. Rialto Beach also is notable for sea stacks; the rock pinnacles—often with stunted trees growing from their tops—rise 50 feet or more above the water. Low tide reveals a wide swath of sand punctuated by rocks covered with starfish, anemones and barnacles.
Hardy souls desiring a really out-of-the-way beach hike should head for Cape Alava, the westernmost point in Washington (and the continental United States). From US 101 at Sappho, take state roads 113 and 112 north to the small fishing town of Clallam Bay. From Clallam Bay SR 112 heads west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline (Vancouver Island lies some 15 miles across the strait). Turn left at Hoko-Ozette Road and follow it southwest for about 21 miles to Ozette Lake, the third-largest natural lake in Washington.
The road ends at the little community of Ozette, where you can pick up hiking information at the ranger station. From the ranger station hike the Cape Alava Trail, a 3.3-mile wooden boardwalk ending at a hillside where you can clamber down to the beach. Explore the coastline tide pools and rocks and then head back the way you came, or continue hiking south along the beach to Sand Point. From here, a boardwalk trail leads back to the Ozette ranger station. The round trip is a formidable 9 miles, but the beaches are magnificently desolate and the fascinating hike passes through swampy meadows, fern-covered little valleys and dark, brooding rain forest.
Tips for Hiking in Olympic National Park
Wear sturdy hiking shoes; the boardwalks can be slippery. Walking on the beach is easiest at low tide, when it’s wider and you don’t have to take the overland routes necessary at high tide. Bring food and water, as there are no facilities.
The weather anywhere in Olympic National Park can be changeable, even on short hikes and during the summer months; if possible carry food, water, a couple of layers of clothing and a raincoat. Bring out everything you bring in (including leftover food and garbage). Help preserve the wilderness by staying on trails to avoid trampling vegetation. If hiking along the coast pick up a tide chart at a park ranger station or visitor center, as high tide can come in quickly.
The park's single visit entrance fee (good for up to 7 consecutive days) is $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, $15 per person entering on foot or bicycle. An annual pass costs $55. At most trailhead parking areas, a National Park Service Federal Recreational Lands Pass or Northwest Forest Pass (available at U.S. Forest Service offices) must be displayed in each vehicle.
Where to Camp in Olympic National Park
If you relish the idea of camping in the midst of unspoiled wilderness, the park offers plenty of opportunities. Kalaloch Campground on US 101 at Kalaloch Beach is a stone’s throw from the Pacific. At Hoh Campground and Sol Duc Campground you can hike along trails through the rain forest. Elwha Dam RV Park is convenient to Port Angeles. In addition to RV hookups, Log Cabin Resort RV & Campground has chalets and rustic cabins, with a lakeside location taking full advantage of Lake Crescent’s scenic charms.
Most park campgrounds are open all year, although winter facilities may be limited. Hiking, fishing and beachcombing are the main activities.
Scenic Drives Within Olympic National Park
Olympic is one national park where you don’t have to be out in nature to enjoy it—scenic drives abound for those who would rather admire the view from a car window. The 36-mile stretch of US 101 between Sappho and Elwha, a AAA Scenic Byway, runs along the park’s northern boundary, revealing a glorious vista with each twist and turn. Big conifers rise up almost from the roadside, and the cloak of green contrasts beautifully with deep blue lakes. US 101 runs along the southern shore of Lake Crescent; East Beach Road branches off US 101, following the lake’s northern shore for several additional miles of lovely views.
Another AAA Scenic Byway, the Hoh River Road, branches off US 101 on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula and heads east into the Hoh Rain Forest. Although you’ll have to backtrack to 101 once you reach the visitor center, it’s well worth taking this drive to see the lush forest setting. For more rain forest scenery take the Quinault Loop Drive (North Shore and South Shore roads), a 31-mile round trip encircling Lake Quinault, and head up the Quinault River Valley before doubling back. Allow 2 hours minimum to complete the loop, or more if you stop to view a waterfall or take a walk (and you will).
Along the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula US 101 is outside of the park proper, but you’d never know it as the highway negotiates looming mountain ridges blanketed with trees. The stretch of 101 from the junction with SR 20 south to Hoodsport is a delightful drive of alternating mountain, forest and water views—the road runs right next to Hood Canal most of the way.
Olympic National Park, WA
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