Towering conifers, lush rainforests, alpine meadows and a rugged coastline, Olympic National Park is unlike any other national park. With four distinct ecosystems, there are tons of activities to keep the whole family happy. Here are our top 9 family-friendly things to do in the park.
1. Earn Ocean Steward Badges
Have your kids become “Ocean Stewards” if they are ages 4 and up. Pick up an Ocean Steward Junior Ranger book at any park visitor center or print it out at home. From there, your child should complete the booklet while exploring Olympic’s incredible costal ecosystem. The reward? An Ocean Steward patch. (Not making it to the coastal side of the park? Pick up the Junior Ranger Booklet instead.)
2. Borrow a Discovery Backpack
Stop at any visitor center to pick up a Discovery Pack filled with field guides, binoculars, a hand lens, safety light, whistle, and a naturalist journal. The pack will help young explorers get more out of their park experience. You'll have fun learning with interactive outdoor game and field worksheets. (A suggested donation of $5.00 is appreciated.)
3. Examine Sea Stars Up Close at Kalaloch Beach
Exploring Olympic National Park’s coastline and its tide pools is a fantastic family activity. Discover anemones and sea stars in the pools and spot seals and eagles off the coast. In April, you may spot gray whales migrating from Kalaloch to LaPush. One of the most popular tidal pool viewing spots is Kalaloch Beach.
However, getting trapped along Olympic’s coastline by a rising tide is a real possibility, so you must bring a tide chart, topographic map and watch with you to the beach. Some headlands are impassable when the tide rises, leaving you trapped by the water.
You can get a tide chart up at any of Olympic National Park’s visitor centers and coastline ranger stations. When you visit, ask the rangers for information about the beaches you would like to explore to get safety tips. Low tides are the best times to explore the pools. Rangers recommend arriving 30 minutes before the lowest tide.
4. See Wildflowers and Views from Hurricane Ridge
You will be amazed by the incredible wildflowers growing along the trails on Hurricane Ridge. And the bonus is you don’t have to hike far to get amazing views.
There are a variety of hikes along the ridge. The Cirque Rim is a 1-mile, round trip paved hike with views of Port Angeles and Strait of Juan de Fuca on clear days. The 3.25-mile roundtrip Hurricane Hill trail offers panoramic views of mountains and ocean. Stop in at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to see exhibits, get snacks or peruse the gift shop.
5. Hug an Ancient Tree
Show the kids the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. Standing 191-feet-high, it’s in Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rain Forest area. What’s even cooler is it’s 1,000 years old.
To see it, take US Highway 101 to the junction with South Shore Road. Turn east on South Shore Road and travel 3.2 miles to the Big Spruce Trailhead. Parking is on the right. The trailhead is across the road.
6. Take a Dip at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Relax and enjoy a soak in Olympic National Park’s three mineral hot springs and open freshwater pool at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. The pools range from 3 feet deep to 6-8 feet deep. Temperatures in the hot springs-fed pools range from 99 F to 104 F. The freshwater pool’s temperatures varies seasonally from 50 F to 85 F.
Get there early to avoid the crowds and bring your own towel. The resort closes in winter.
7. Check Out the Town that Inspired Twilight Book Series
If your kids were or are obsessed with the book series, Twilight, you must bring them to the town of Forks located in the park. Author Stephenie Meyer based her book series on Forks. Today, you can pick up a Twilight map in town and explore Forks. You also can attend the annual Forever Twilight in Forks, a festival that celebrate the author and “all things Twilight.” The festival is held in September every year.
8. Explore One of Olympic’s Four Rainforests
Olympic is home to four incredible rainforests Hoh, Quinault, Queets and Bogchiel. How do you decide which one to see? Base your decision on how much time you and your family have in the park, as well as how tolerant your children are of long car rides.
A two-hour drive from Port Angeles, the Hoh Rain Forest is less than an hour from Forks. For short hikes that bring you into the lush, green moss-covered rainforest, try the .8-mile loop called the Hall of Mosses or the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail that goes to the Hoh River.
Quinault is farther flung in the southwestern area of the park and about a three-hour drive from Port Angeles and about an hour from Forks. But the area’s natural beauty with views of Lake Quinault, the rainforest and mountain peaks in the distance make the drive well-worth it.
Bogchiel is accessed from Olympic National Forest, but Bogachiel Rainforest Trail #825 wanders into Olympic National Park after 1.6 miles. From Forks, drive on US 101 five miles south to Undi Road, which is milepost 186. Turn east and travel five miles to the trailhead. The last two miles is F.S. Road 2932, a 1.5-lane gravel road.
To visit Queets in the southwestern corner of the park, you have to negotiate 11 miles of curvy roads, so if you or anyone in your family gets car sick, this may not be the area to explore. Furthermore, a major landslide in 2005 severely damaged the Lower Queets Road, so you can only drive to Matheny Creek. Beyond there, it is closed.
9. Go Sledding at Hurricane Ridge
Olympic is one of only three national parks in the United States that has a ski lift. The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area (hurricaneridge.com) gives you opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. There is also a Ski and Snowboard School - the small scale of this snowplay area makes it ideal for beginners. More about winter in Olympic National Park.
Need an Olympic National Park map? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Olympic National Park map at REI.com. The map includes clearly marked trails and points of interest such as scenic views, campgrounds, trailheads, boat launches, picnic sites, ranger stations and more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.