Washington State's Olympic Peninsula is home to the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest. With nearly a million acres of lush green moss covered trees, snow peaked mountain ranges and the pristine Pacific Coast, it's a destination just waiting to be explored! Located just two hours away from the city of Seattle, this is the perfect weekend escape from the city life or the perfect extension to your Seattle getaway.
The Olympic National Park and surrounding Peninsula is truly a bucket list destination for those who love the outdoors. The different ecosystems and vast landscapes gives you plenty to explore in a weekend. But if it is your first time to the Olympic Peninsula, it may be overwhelming for you to determine what you should put on your itinerary. So to help you plan your itinerary, this is the ultimate first-timers guide to the Olympic National Park.
Best Time to Visit
When is the best time to visit Olympic National Park? This is a fully loaded question because each season offers something a little different and the season you choose will directly relate to what you plan on doing in the park. But most travel guides will tell you to visit during the summer months, which also tends to be the most popular. The summer months brings warmer and drier weather. The park is fully open with no road closures and all facilities are open. With that being said, with an increase number of tourists, you may have a hard time finding parking at popular trailheads and the beaches may be crowded.
In comparison to the summer months, a trip to Olympic National Park in the winter gives you an entirely different and unique perspective of the diverse landscape. The weather tends to be cooler and wet with snow fall noted above 3000 feet. But one of the unique aspects of visiting during the winter is you can spend your time driving up Hurricane Ridge into the snow covered mountains where you can snowshoe and ski and then drive to the coast to enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach while soaking up the sun all in a single day. But one of the best perks of visiting the park in the winter? The crowds have disappeared and you can enjoy the park essentially to yourself. But if visiting during the winter, you need to consider the possible road closures and lack of open park facilities.
The entry fee into Olympic National Park is $30 per vehicle and is valid for 7 consecutive days. Olympic National Park also offers yearly passes for $55 that is valid for one year from the month of purchase and can be purchased at the Olympic Park visitors center. If you plan on visiting more than one national park in a year, I highly suggest purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass, which is an annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $80. This pass can be purchased at any REI location, online at the USGS store and at certain Federal Recreational locations.
What to do in Olympic National Park?
Olympic National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the United States. With nearly a million acres of land to explore, it may be difficult deciding what to add to your itinerary if it is your first time visiting the park. I recently visited Olympic National Park for the first time in January to visit my friend who lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Below is a local's guide to what you should see and do if it is your first time visiting Olympic National Park.
One of the most popular stops that you can make in Olympic National Park is Lake Crescent. Lake Crescent is located just 18 miles from Port Angeles in the heart of the Olympic Mountains. The pristine glacier waters are calm and with beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains. Lake Crescent offers so many recreational activities such as hiking trails, kayaking, boating and beaches where you can relax and have a picnic.
I highly suggest hiking the Devil's Punchbowl via the Spruce Railroad Trail. This is a 2.4 mile out and back trail. This trail is well maintained and mostly paved. I unfortunately was not able to hike this trail due to road closures, so please check prior to hiking to assess for road and trail closures.
For all of my millennials wanting to relieve their Twilight phase, you have an opportunity to drive through the town of Forks. Forks is on the way to the coast and the Hoh Rainforest, but let me tell you, don't blink because you may miss it! This town is small with one stop light. The only indication that you are in Forks, is the classic welcome sign. It's definitely worth passing through but you won't need much time.
Rialto Beach is located on the Olympic Coast near the town of Forks and is part of the Olympic National Park. If you plan on driving through Forks, I recommend driving to Rialto Beach for lunch. This beach is one of the more popular beaches that lines the Olympic Coast.
Rialto Beach is a black stone beach with large washed up driftwood that lines the coast with tide pools and the infamous Hole-In-The-Wall. The "hike" to the Hole-In-The-Wall is 2 miles and only accessible during low-tide, so when planning your time at Rialto Beach, check the weather and tide.
Hoh Rain Forest
Did you know that the Olympic Peninsula is home to 4 different rain forests? It really should be no surprise since Washington has a reputation for being rainy all of the time. One of those rain forests and the one that I think you need to see if this is your first time visiting Olympic National Park is Hoh Rain Forest.
The Hoh Rain Forest gets as much as 14 feet of rain each year, which results in one of the world's lushest rain forests. Expect to see moss covered Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees, which can reach over 300 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter! This rain forest has a unique ecosystem that has remained unchanged for thousands of years and is awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the top things that you need to do when visiting Olympic National Park. But before you plan your trip, there are some things you need to consider before planning your visit. The Hoh Rain Forest can be accessed by the Upper Hoh Road, off of Highway 101 and is open year round. Camping and hiking is also accessible year round. If you are looking to camp within the Hoh Rain Forest, there are 72 camp sites located along the river. All campsites are reservable during the peak season and reservations are available online six months in advance at recreation.gov. And last but not least, the visitor center's hours vary according to the season.
If you are visiting the Hoh Rain Forest, you will most likely be hitting the trails. There are two short loop trails as well as an out-and-back trail through the forest starting at the visitor center.
Hoh Rain Forest Trails:
The Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8 miles) is a loop trail that takes you through the forest.
The Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles) is a loop trail that takes you through the forest and alongside Taft Creek and the Hoh River.
The Hoh River Trail (18.5 miles) is the area's main hiking trail and is an out-and-back trail which you can take as far as your little heart desires. This trail ultimately ends at the Blue Glacier moraine looking out at Mt. Olympus.
Please note that if you decide to do any of these trails be aware of wild life. During my time of visit signs were posted to be aware of bears, elk and cougars. If you are visiting the park with a dog, dogs are not allowed on any of the Hoh Rain Forest trails. We sadly made this mistake during our visit and we were unable to hike the trails. For more informations regarding pets in Olympic National Park check out the NPS website.
Catching a sunset over the Pacific Ocean should definitely be on the list of things to do while visiting Olympic National Park. The beach that I think is best for catching an epic sunset is Ruby Beach. This beach begins where the Hoh River ends and is highly protected as it is part of Olympic National Park. The beach is located along Highway 101 in the Kalaloch area.
Ruby Beach is famous for its reddish sand and large sea stacks. But as you can tell the sand is more pebbles and rocks. If you plan on exploring this beach, I recommend shoes that you won't mind getting wet. There will be areas with tide pools that you will have to walk through.
Sunset at Ruby Beach will be one of the highlights of your trip to Olympic National Park and it is no wonder that this beach is one of the most anticipated and sought after beaches that you can visit along the Olympic Coast.
One of the most visited areas in Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge. Hurricane Ridge is a road that is 18.6 miles long that takes you from Port Angeles to the top of the mountains. This drive takes you up the mountains through tunnels and can take about 30 minutes without any stops. But like most scenic drives there are many areas to stop and take in the view no matter the season. Hurricane Ridge is one of the most scenic drives in Olympic National Park and something that needs to be on your itinerary if this is your first time at the park.
Before embarking on a drive up Hurricane Ridge, check the National Park Service website for road closures. The road is open throughout the summer and during the winter months, the road may have closures due to snow. If there is no road closures, Hurricane Ridge is open Friday-Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm.
So what can you do once you are at Hurricane Ridge? At the top of the mountain, there are beautiful mountain views and the Visitors Center. But Hurricane ridge provides opportunities to hike during the spring and summer and enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing and more during the winter.
Olympic National Park is hands down one of the most beautiful and diverse national parks I have ever visited. Spending a weekend is not long enough to explore the whole park given its size but it is long enough to scratch the surface with the most popular things to do.
So if this is your first time visiting Olympic National Park or are simply short on time and just want to escape the city for a weekend, this is the perfect itinerary and adventure for you. It allows you to explore at a relaxing pace and see the top destinations in the park. So I hope you found this helpful in giving you ideas on what to see and do in Olympic National Park for your first visit.
See you in the next adventure where ever in the world that may be!
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