Autumn in Olympic National Park

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Waterfall in Olympic National Park during autumn

The big leaf maples of the rainforest turn color and drop

The sound of elk bugling to show off to their harems.
Huge colored maple leaves twice as big as your hand.
Eagles, otters, and bobcats feeding on spawning salmon.

These are the sights and sounds your will witness in Olympic National in autumn - usually without another person in view.

October through June is the rainy season in this northwest corner of Washington State so many people stay away. But, not wanting to get rained on in a rainforest is simply an oxymoron. The forests come alive in fall.

Elk Rutting Season

Roosevelt elk during the autumn rut in Olympic National Park

Roosevelt elk during the autumn rut

Olympic National Park was founded by Teddy Roosevelt to protect the native elk. Today the Roosevelt elk are the largest herds of unmanaged elk in the Pacific Northwest. Fall is the mating season for elk and the bulls have odd behavior rituals to show their dominance. You’ll hear them wail –called bugling. They’ll roll around in the mud and adorn their antlers with strings of moss. And they run themselves 24-hours a day to keep their harems in a tight group. It’s quite a sight. The best places to see elk are the Quinault and Hoh River Valleys at twilight.

Leaves Turn Color and Mushrooms Pop Up

Mushrooms and moss on the forest floor

If you want to see autumn colors, head for the rainforests. Olympic National Park’s rainforests have bigleaf and vine maples interspersed among deep green hemlock and spruce trees. Most of the year, the trees wear a lush green moss coat. But in fall, these coats are speckled with red, orange, and yellow leaves. It’s more of a subtle scene compared to east coast color shows, until a breeze causes giant colored leaves to drop around you. You should also look down at your feet. The wetter weather brings colorful mushrooms and other water-loving plants to the forest floors.

Here are our picks for top color views in the park

  • Hoh Rainforest on one of the Hall of Mosses trails
  • Along the Quinault River through the Quinault Rainforest
  • Hurricane Ridge Road (Call 360-565-3131 for road status)
  • Highway 101 between Forks and Lake Crescent

Salmon Spawning Season

Viewing platform over the Salmon Cascades along the Sol Duc River

Viewing platform over the Salmon Cascades along the Sol Duc River

In late September through early October, coho salmon from the Pacific enter the Sol Duc River by means of the Quillayute River and leap, with great determination, over the cascades en route to their spawning grounds. Stop at the Sol Duc River overlook to view the salmon jumping up the Salmon Cascades. With any luck, you’ll also see opportunist eagles, otters, and even bobcats snacking on the easy prey.

Related: Autumn Photo Gallery


General locations of ferries to Olympic National Park

Where is Olympic National Park?

This park is in the northwest corner of the United States in Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula. It contains Pacific Ocean beaches and mountains.