What to Pack for an Olympic National Park Vacation
Bring these items for a Pacific Northwest climate.
You are headed to Olympic National Park where there are three separate rainforests, amazing alpine peaks and miles of incredible beaches. How do you pack for a place where you can experience so many ecosystems in one day? Here are the top 16 items to bring to the park.
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1. A Rain Jacket to Protect You from Pacific Northwest’s Drizzles and Downpours
Rain is a big part of life in the Pacific Northwest, so don’t get caught outdoors without your rain jacket. When it rains and temperatures plummet, you want a jacket that can keep you warm and dry.
Tip: Pick a jacket that claims to be waterproof or watertight, not water resistant. Check out the many brands of rain jackets at www.rei.com.
2. Park Maps
Olympic National Park and its sister parks, Mt. Rainier and North Cascades, cover a lot of ground. It can take hours to drive from one part of the parks to another. It’s good to have a map. You can wait until a park ranger hands you a map at the entrance station, or you can plan ahead and get your maps now. Download a free PDF map or get the NatGeo Washington National Park Map Pack or an individual Olympic National Park detailed typographic map at REI.com
3. Tide Chart, Topographic Map and Watch to Explore Olympic’s Tidal Pools
Exploring Olympic National Park’s coastline and its tide pools is a must-do, but you must bring a tide chart, topographic map and watch with you. Otherwise, you could get trapped by a rising tide. Some headlands are impassable when the tide rises, leaving you trapped by the water.
Pick a tide chart up at any of Olympic National Park’s visitor centers and coastline ranger stations. When you visit, ask the rangers about the beaches you would like to explore to get safety tips. You can also download a tide chart from the National Park Service website. Low tides are the best times to explore the pools. A detailed topographic map of Olympic National Park is available at REI.com.
4. Sturdy, Hard-Soled Water Shoes
Wear water shoes with hard soles when you explore the park’s coast and tide pools that can be full of sharp rocks and barnacles. Be aware, too, that algae and seaweed make rocks slippery, so test each rock before you step on it.
Not sure what a water shoe is? Here’s a great selection of everything from socks to sandals and shoes made for the water at www.rei.com.
5. Hiking Boots to Keep Your Feet Dry and Happy
In Olympic you can encounter wet puddles, muddy trails and rocky alpine paths, so a good pair of hiking boots is a must. To make the most out of your trip, pack a pair of supportive, waterproof and breathable hiking boots. These will allow you to navigate wet and dry trails with ease and enable you to explore farther than you maybe would have. To get you started on your research, one of our staff members raves about his Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX. Our friends at Backpacker magazine really liked the Vasque Skywalks GTS.
If you’re not going more than a couple of miles down the trail, you can pack light with a hiking shoe that can go from the trail to the restaurant. We love the Lowa Locarno Low hiking shoes. www.rei.com.
6. Clothing Layers for Olympic’s Varied Ecosystems From Hurricane Ridge to Rialto Beach
The weather in Olympic National Park can vary, depending on the day and where you are. Bring a variety of clothing layers to keep you comfortable as you explore the park. Even in the summer, temperatures in different areas of the park may vary 10-20 degrees, especially along the coast and higher elevations.
For instance, hiking along Hurricane Ridge can get windy and can be colder than hiking on the trails the meander far below you at sea level. And if fog settles along the park’s coastline, you may find yourself feeling cooler on Rialto Beach than you did when you left the hotel under sunny skies earlier in the morning.
Always check the current weather forecast or call the park’s weather hotline at 360-565-3131 before your visit.
7. Binoculars to See Whales, Seals, Bald Eagles and More
Don’t miss seeing seals, bald eagles and the whale migration in March, April and October. Or the magnificent coastal and mountain views from the top of Hurricane Ridge on a clear day. Bring along a good pair of binoculars to see it all.
It’s worth talking to your local camp store employee about the different types of binoculars for sale as not all are created equal. You don’t want to end up with an extraordinarily weak pair, nor a pair too heavy to hike with. The Nikon Monarch series offers some great features.
Need help on choosing a pair of binoculars? REI.com has this helpful article and has a plethora of binocular brands.
8. Put the Cellphone Tour Number in Your Phone or Download Tour App
The National Park Service’s phone-based audio tour highlights nine areas of the park to help you make the most of your adventure. To participate on the audio tour, use your cellphone to call 360-406-5056. Normal cell phone usage rates apply. Press # to end the message and *0 to leave a comment.
Smart phones with internet access can also use the Olympic web app with the same audio topics plus 100 additional topics and an interactive map.
9. Daypack for Extraordinary Beach, Rainforest or Alpine Hikes
Make going for a stroll to Third Beach, the Hoh Rain Forest or the Mount Storm King Trail much more comfortable with a daypack. Place all your (and your family’s essentials) like extra layers, extra snacks, a flashlight, binoculars, whistle, map, compass, pocket knife and simple first-aid kit in it.
Daypacks don’t need to be the big expensive kind that backpackers use. If you’re just going out for the day, a smaller 18-30L size will work just fine and many can also double as a personal item on an airplane. Here are some good options for daypacks made specifically for travel on www.rei.com.
10. A Couple of Water Bottles or a Hydration System
While Olympic tends to be a wet place, you will want to make sure you are hydrating as you explore its many gems. Drinking water ensures you won’t get dehydrated, which can lead to headaches and more serious conditions like heat cramps and heat stroke. Plan to drink .5 -1 liter per hour of hiking.
Read more: Why Reusable Water Bottles Are Important
11. A Star Chart or Star App to See the Skies above Olympic
You’ll find some dark skies in Olympic National Park, but your views will depend on whether there are clouds overhead. With a star chart, you’ll be able to identify some of the formations you may never have seen before, especially if you are coming from an urban environment. Or use technology and download the SkyView® Free app for iPhone or Android, which enables you to identify stars and so on by pointing your phone at them. You may be able to see up to 15,000 stars in the park’s sky in comparison to 500 in an urban sky. It’s far out!
12. A Tablecloth to Cover Mossy Picnic Tables
It’s the little things that make a big difference. When you stop at the roadside mossy, weathered picnic table to eat lunch, pull out your tablecloth to go from downhome to gourmet in a matter of seconds. You’ll also avoid getting hard-to-remove splinters when you lean against the table.
13. Bug Spray to Combat Mosquitos
Spend more time enjoying the scenery instead of swatting bugs. If you don’t want to use strong chemicals, there are plenty of bug sprays available these days that are derived from natural ingredients and are safer for use by children.
Our pick is the family-friendly Sawyer 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent. Consumer Reports has ranked this formula as the best protection against mosquitoes. Sawyer’s insect repellent is also very effective for ticks and biting flies, and it won’t damage gear or equipment. Learn more at Sawyer.com/picaridin
14. Headlamp to Read or See at Night
Read at night in your tent comfortably with your headlamp or use this great lighting device to safely walk to and from evening ranger talks.
Taking photos of the night skies? A headlamp with a red light option will help you change your camera settings in the dark with minimal annoyance to your travel mates.
15. A Sun Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen to Protect Yourself from the Sun
While Olympic can be wet, you will want to protect yourself when the sun is out. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, which is preferable over a baseball cap, to cover your entire face.
Then, apply sunscreen over all exposed skin, including the back of your neck. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from being burned and polarized lens will help you see views more clearly.
16. Plastic Bags to Help You Leave No Trace
Plastic bags come in handy to keep things dry in the event you get rained on, as well to pack out used toilet paper if nature calls while you are hiking. It’s a big no-no to try to bury toilet paper in the back country. It has to be packed out.
Read more: Leave No Trace