What is the Best Season to Visit Olympic National Park?

Summer is the most popular season to visit the park, but spring, fall and winter all have their own charm.

Photo: Getty Images

Some parts of Olympic National Park see nearly 300 inches of rain each year. This results in fantastic rainforests, lush mountains and beautiful rivers and waterfalls, but it makes it tricky to decide what the best season is to plan a vacation.

The most important thing to know about Olympic is that it’s made up of tons of different climate zones. The weather and ecosystem vary wildly from the coast to the mountains to the rainforests. The northeastern part of the park, near Port Angeles, receives the least amount of rain. On the coast, the northern areas see less rain than the beaches surrounding Kalaloch. The Hoh Rain Forest gets, on average, 144 inches of rain per year while Mount Olympus can see nearly 300. While the season you visit the park in matters, you can often find different weather simply by driving to another area of the park. Keep your plans flexible and always pack rain gear.

Our favorite season to visit Olympic is summer, with access to the park’s gorgeous mountains and the least chance of getting rained on. Here’s what to expect in every season.

Spring (mid-March through May)

A gray whale breeching the Pacific Ocean
Watch the gray whale migration in spring (Photo: Getty Images)

The hallmark of spring in Olympic National Park is unpredictability. While temperatures begin to trend warmer and the heavy winter rains begin to abate, frequent rain, snow and cold weather can continue into June. Because the climates around the park vary wildly, you might encounter pleasant weather in one spot and bad weather in another. Be flexible with your plans in spring and either follow the good weather or don your rain jacket and enjoy whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

March is still quite rainy in most parts of the park, with precipitation letting up some in April and a lot by May. If you want the best chance of staying dry, stick to the east side of the park like Staircase Rapids Loop and areas around Port Angeles. The northern coast, near Ozette, sees less rain than the southern coast near Kalaloch. Hurricane Ridge Road doesn’t open for the season until May, and even then snow and cold temperatures stick around through early summer at this high elevation area. Check to see if the trails you want to hike are snow-free by downloading GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com).

Average highs in Port Angeles and Kalaloch are in the 50s and low 60s in spring, while Ozette and Sol Duc tend to be cooler with highs in the high 40s and 50s.

Be sure to head to the coast in the spring to try to spot migrating gray whales. These mighty creatures migrate each year from the shores of Baja, Mexico to the Arctic. March through May, you might just catch sight of them from Olympic’s beaches on their way to Alaska. Keep your eyes peeled for their spouts.

Summer (June through August)

Exploring the tide pools and sea stacks of Second Beach in Olympic National Park
Exploring the tide pools and sea stacks of Second Beach in Olympic National Park (Photo: Getty Images)

Summer is the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park with mild weather and the lowest average rainfall. Average highs even in July and August tend to stay in the upper 60s, so pack a light jacket for lower elevations and a warmer coat if you plan to camp or hike in the high alpine.

Hiking Hurricane Hill Trail in summer
Hiking Hurricane Hill Trail in summer (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you choose to hike through rainforests, cross wildflower-studded meadows to alpine lakes or explore tide pools at the beach, summer weather is the best. Rain is still a frequent occurrence, especially in the rainforests and along the coasts, so be sure to pack waterproof layers. Snow can persist at high elevations into early summer. Check to see if the trails you want to hike are snow-free by downloading GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com). Thunderstorms are common in the summer at high elevations. Always check the weather forecast before hitting the trails and if you see dark and building clouds, turn around immediately.

If you visit the park in July, don’t miss a stop in Sequim, which neighbors the park. This town is known for its lavender fields and seeing the landscape awash in purple is truly gorgeous.

Fall (September through mid-November)

Autumn foliage at Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park
Autumn foliage at Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park (Photo: Getty Images)

Olympic is stunning in the autumn, when the leaves start to change and fall, but this season comes with cold temperatures and plenty of rain. September is the driest month of the autumn season, with rainfall increasing rapidly through October and November. Temperatures remain mild in Port Angeles and along the coast through September, with highs dropping into the 50s in October and November. Higher elevations see temperatures dropping much more, with snow possible in the mountains as early as September.

If you choose to visit Olympic in the fall, be prepared for cold and wet weather. Pack warm, synthetic or wool base layers that dry quickly and waterproof and wind resistant outer layers. Check trail and road statuses before heading out as bad weather can affect conditions.

One of the highlights of visiting the park in autumn other than the colors is watching coho salmon make their journey from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning grounds in the park. The fish swim upstream, leaping over cascades in a wild display. You can often spot them in late September and early October at Salmon Cascades along the Sol Duc River.

Outside the park, don’t miss the area’s agricultural bounty during harvest season. Many local festivals including the Apple and Cider Festival in the Chimacum Valley and the Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival in Port Angeles happen during the fall.

Winter (December through mid-March)

Cross-country skiing on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Cross-country skiing on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park (Photo: NPS Public Domain)

If you’re willing to brave cold weather, Olympic National Park is an often underrated winter destination. With snow blanketing the mountains and powerful storms rocking the coasts, Mother Nature is on full display this time of year.

Winter is the area’s wettest season, with rain falling most days at low elevations and snow in the mountains. Highs in Port Angeles and along the coast remain in the 40s, with lows rarely dropping below freezing. You’ll find much colder temperatures up at Hurricane Ridge, with average highs in the 20s and 30s and lows in the teens. Hurricane Ridge sees 30-35 feet of snow fall each winter.

At 5,242 feet in elevation, Hurricane Ridge transforms into a winter wonderland when the snow flies. Cross-country skiing and snowshoe opportunities are abundant and you’ll find one of the country’s only national park downhill ski areas complete with two rope tows, a poma lift and a tubing hill. The road to the summit is open Fridays through Sundays starting in late November and ending in late March. The road usually opens for uphill traffic by 9 a.m., but call the hotline at (360) 565-3131 to check before setting out. All vehicles must carry chains and leave the area by 5 p.m. Avalanche danger is often a factor at Hurricane Ridge so be sure to check the forecast before recreating (https://nwac.us/).

Down at sea level, winter brings its own unique brand of fun. Violent storms are frequent along the coast from November through February. Visiting during this time of year is popular to watch the wild natural display. Strong winds, heavy rains and big ocean swells make for a mesmerizing scene tucked safely in the cozy Kalaloch Lodge or at Quileute Oceanside Resort.