10 Best Things to Do on an Olympic National Park Vacation
From strolling on sparkling beaches to hiking to mountain peaks, here are our favorites things to do.
Olympic National Park and the surrounding areas are a things-to-do Mecca! You’ll be hard-pressed to fit it all in a single vacation. Don’t miss these must-do activities including exploring rainforests, strolling past sea stacks on beaches and hiking Hurricane Ridge trails.
1. See Big Trees Covered in Moss
Olympic protects one of the most unique habitats on the planet—the temperate rainforest. Found primarily on the west and southwest sides of the park, these rainforests are home to towering western redcedars, hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruces, plus an assortment of giant ferns, moss, and lichen.
The Hoh Rain Forest is the most popular place to see this ecosystem, and it’s well worth a visit, but don’t overlook the equally impressive Quinault and Bogachiel Valleys.
Olympic also features several champion trees, the biggest examples of a species in the nation: See the largest Sitka spruce (191 feet, Quinault), western redcedar (159 feet, Quinault Big Cedar Trail), Pacific silver fir (220 feet, Bogachiel Valley), and Douglas fir (281 feet, Quinault).
2. Spend a Day at the Beach
This is no California beach—the water can be too cold for swimming, and the weather often too wet for sunbathing. But the park’s rugged Pacific coast features a stunningly beauty all its own: sculpted sea stacks, tide pools, high bluffs, wildlife, and endless ocean views.
With 73 miles of wilderness coast, there’s no shortage of beach trips at Olympic. At the southern end, Kalaloch Beach offers miles of driftwood-strewn sand, plus a campground, hotel, and restaurant.
The tide pools are excellent at northern Shi Shi Beach, and Second and Third Beaches offer beach camping at its finest. Whale watching can be done right from the beaches (look for Whale Trail stations) and during winter, the waves crashing on the rocks steal the show.
3. Reach New Heights on the Mountain Trails
Olympic’s inner alpine zone encompasses dramatic, craggy peaks soaring to almost 8,000 feet and wildflower-dotted meadows frequented by mountain goats and marmots.
The quickest way to the top is to drive to Hurricane Ridge, where you can get excellent views from the visitor center and connect with hiking trails. One of the finest high-elevation hikes in all the national parks circles the Seven Lakes Basin; the loop can be hiked in two or three days and offers vistas of Mt. Olympus and the Hoh Rainforest far below.
4. Float on a Lake
Olympic National Park’s two most popular lakes are Lake Crescent on the north edge of the park, and Lake Quinault in the southwest corner. Go human-powered with kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals available at both lakes. Or take a narrated scenic cruise to learn more about the park. Learn more.
5. Soak in Naturally Hot Pools
The pools at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort can be a welcome relief if you have been out all day in the rain or if you just want to relax your muscles from a strenuous hike. There are three mineral hot springs pools ranging in temperatures of 99F to 104F, and one freshwater pool at the resort.
6. Hike to a Waterfall
The Olympic Peninsula is known for its abundance of waterfalls. With the two most popular falls inside the national park boundaries both located on the northern edge, it’s convenient to do both in the same day.
Sol Duc Falls is the park’s signature triple waterfall with two choices of trails. Take the 1.6-mile round trip easy jaunt from the roadside trailhead or a more challenging 6-mile round trip hike on Lovers Lane Loop from the trailhead at Sol Duc Campground Loop B.
Even though the Marymere Falls is a single narrow stream of water, it makes up for it with its grand 90-foot drop into a pool below. The thick wooded trail to the falls is a ‘mere’ three-quarter mile from the Storm King ranger station at Lake Crescent to the waterfall. Fern-bordered shaded trails, boardwalks, a bridge and two overlooks make this excursion a true pleasure for the whole family.
7. See a Winter Wonderland on Skis or Snowshoes
The park doesn’t shut down when the snow flies—instead, it becomes a wonderful spot for winter recreation. The place to be on a snowy weekend is Hurricane Ridge, where you’ll find a visitor center with a warming hut and snack bar and excellent snowshoeing trails.
Check avalanche conditions with rangers, then tromp out on the ungroomed route up 5,757-foot Hurricane Hill for gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks.
The private, no-frills Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area (hurricaneridge.com), one of only a few ski lifts operating inside a national park, offers a family-friendly spot for playing on a small groomed area or exploring untracked bowls and glades.
Hurricane Ridge Road is open Friday through Sunday only during the winter; check road conditions before you go at twitter.com/HRWinterAccess.
8. Sleep Under the Stars
Olympic’s diverse and beautiful campgrounds make for unforgettable memories. The only hard part is choosing which of the 16 frontcountry campgrounds you want as your home away from home.
Like falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves? Head to the coastal Kalaloch, South Beach, or Mora Campgrounds. Hungry for easy access to mountain hiking trails? Pitch your tent at Deer Park or Heart O’ the Hills. Dreaming of a night among the rainforest’s giant trees? Bunk at Hoh or Graves Creek. All but Kalaloch are first-come, first-served, so arrive early in summer to guarantee a site.
9. Spot Huge Wildlife
Did you know that Olympic National Park was originally established to protect the Roosevelt elk? Named for President Theodore Roosevelt, these dark brown ungulates are the largest subspecies of elk in North America, sometimes weighing over 1,000 pounds. Popular elk hangouts include the Hoh Rain Forest and the beaches.
Whale watching can be done right from the beaches. Look for Whale Trail station at Kalaloch Beach for information about whale species and their migration seasons in spring and fall. Want to get closer to the whales? Drive to Port Townsend a few miles northeast of the park to go on a whale watching boat tour.
10. Go Beyond the Park Borders
Go birdwatching on a sandy sea spit. Just north of Olympic National Park, near Sequim, the Dungeness Spit unfurls into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This long (5.5 miles), skinny sand spit provides an important habitat for a slew of birds and mammals (the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge protects much of the beach here).
Go as northwest as you can. Near the tiny burb of Neah Bay, hike to Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly spot in the lower 48 states. The easy half-mile boardwalk trail stops at multiple overlooks with views of rock formations jutting out in the Pacific Ocean. Remember to get your Makah parking pass in Neah Bay before you head to the recreation area.
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.