Olympic National Park Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
Credit

Courtesy of VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm/Getty Images

Free Things To Do in Olympic National Park

If you have extra time, Kalaloch and Ruby Beach is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in Olympic National Park
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    #1 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    With an annual rainfall ranging from 140 to 170 inches, the Hoh Rain Forest is a lush, green wonderland, with mosses and ferns covering every tree and surface. According to the NPS, it is one of the finest remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the United States and is one of the park's most popular spots to visit. One visitor described walking in the forest as a "Hansel and Gretel-type of feeling" while another likened it to a fairy tale enchanted forest.

    Most travelers begin at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, which is staffed with rangers who can offer advice on what to see and do. The visitor center also houses exhibits and a bookstore. Two short nature trails loop through the forest near the center, the Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles) and the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles). If you're up to the challenge, there is also a 17-mile trail that leads to Glacier Meadows, on the shoulder of Mount Olympus, called the Hoh River Trail.

  • #2
    Hurricane Ridge
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    #2 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Hurricane Ridge is located 17 miles south of Port Angeles and is the most easily accessed mountain area within the park. In clear weather, it offers amazing views. In fact, many visitors can't seem to find enough adjectives to describe the scenery, but some include "amazing, spectacular, awesome" and "stunning." You can admire the scenery while hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

    Hurricane Ridge offers a variety of hiking trails, from ridgetop traverses to steep paths that descend to subalpine lakes and valleys. Easy trails include the half-mile round-trip Big Meadow trail, which is paved and crosses open meadows with views of the Olympics. The mile-long roundtrip Cirque Rim is another paved trail and offers views of Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. More challenging trails include the Klahhane Ridge trail (3.8 miles each way) and the Hurricane Hill trail (1.6 miles each way), which is paved for the first quarter-mile, then climbs to a panoramic view of mountains and saltwater.

  • #3
    Kalaloch and Ruby Beach
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    #3 in Olympic National Park
    Beaches, Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Kalaloch, located on the southwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula, is one of the most visited areas of Olympic National Park. The marine environment and offshore islands are protected by three national wildlife refuges. For thousands of marine species, the coastal waters provide a safe haven, which is why Kalaloch is such a draw for birders. Western gulls, bald eagles and other coastal birds can be seen nesting and feeding along the southern coast. Large nesting colonies of birds, like common murres and tufted puffins, love the rocky outposts. Visitors also commonly see harbor seals and harbor porpoises. Reviewers call the scenery "beyond beautiful" and "picture perfect."

    The mile-long Kalaloch Nature Trail is an easy loop through coastal forest. There are also seven beach trails that lead to the ocean from Highway 101. Ruby Beach and Beach Trail 4 have accessible viewpoints and accessible vault toilets. What's more, Beach 4 is an excellent place to look for sea stars and anemones in the tide pools.

  • #4
    Lake Crescent
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    #4 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Formed thousands of years ago, this crystal-clear, glacially carved lake has depths of up to 624 feet in places. As the ice retreated, it left behind a steep valley that filled with the waters of Lake Crescent. Visitors use words like "beautiful" and "amazing" to describe this area of the park.

    Activities at the popular spot include hiking, boating and camping. Its protected waters are home to fish like the Beardslee and Crescenti trout, two types of fish found nowhere else in the world. There are also several hiking trails of varying lengths to explore. The hike to Marymere Falls, which measures a little less than a mile each way, leads to a 90-foot-tall waterfall. Meanwhile, the easy .6-mile Moments in Time loop trail is a self-guided trek through the forest and along the lake. More strenuous trails include the Mount Storm King trail, which climbs a steep trail with switchbacks 2,000 feet up (2.2 miles each way) and the Pyramid Peak trail, which climbs steeply to a World War II spotting tower (3 ½ miles each way).

  • #5
    Mora and Rialto Beach
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    #5 in Olympic National Park
    Beaches, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Rialto Beach, which sits about 40 miles southwest of Lake Crescent and about 70 miles from Port Angeles, offers dramatic coastal scenery and is a great place to look for sea lions, seals, otters, whales, seabirds and eagles. Visitors call the beach "intense" and a place to see the "pure power of nature."

    The Mora area is located farther inland and offers a seasonal campground, along with a variety of trails to explore. Hikes include the .3-mile loop James Pond Trail; the .9-mile (each way) Slough Trail, a forested trail to the Quillayute River; and Rialto Beach, which is just a 200-foot-long path to an ocean view. A temporary accessible ramp is available in summer season. If you head 1½ miles along the 20.6-mile North Coast trail, you'll find a sea-carved arch called Hole-in-the-Wall and tide pools. Make sure to check tide tables before you set out.

  • #6
    Sol Duc Valley
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    #6 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Sol Duc Valley, located in the northwest region of the park, offers several trails to explore, but probably the most popular is the mile-long hike to the Sol Duc Falls overlook. Recent visitors described the falls as stunning and called the journey an easy hike through the forest. Several visitors highly recommend it.

    Other options include a 5.2-mile round-trip climb to Mink Lake or the 6-mile Lover's Lane trek. The Sol Duc River serves as a vital path for coho salmon, which run through the valley and ascend to the lakes and headwaters in the surrounding mountains. In late October and early November, many visitors head to the Salmon Cascades overlook (about 5 miles down Sol Duc Road) to watch the salmon leap over the falls on their way to spawn upstream in the Sol Duc River.

  • #7
    Olympic National Park Main Visitor Center and Wilderness Information Center
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    #7 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Recreation, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    According to recent visitors, this should be your first stop in the park. Found in Port Angeles, Washington, the center houses exhibits about Olympic National Park's natural and cultural history, a hands-on "Discovery Room" for kids, a 25-minute orientation film, the "Mosaic of Diversity," a bookstore and two short nature trails just outside the center. Visitors call the "rangers exceptionally knowledgeable and very friendly" and say the staff is very helpful.

    Access to the center is included in park admission. The center is open daily, but hours vary according to season. Generally, it's open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the NPS website for the most up-to-date opening and closing times. Access to the center is free. 

  • #8
    Staircase
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    #8 in Olympic National Park
    Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Staircase, located in the southeastern corner of Olympic National Park, is dominated by enormous Douglas firs. You'll find a variety of hiking trails along the Skokomish River and the nearby forests. The Staircase Rapids Loop Trail is an easy 2-mile path that leads visitors through old-growth forest to a bridge over the North Fork Skokomish River, with only a 200-foot elevation gain. A spur trail leads to a huge fallen cedar. There's also the flat Shady Lane Trail, which measures less than a mile and takes visitors to Lake Cushman. If you're looking for more of a challenge, consider the 7½-mile hike to Flapjack Lakes, which boasts a 3,000-foot elevation.

    Several recent visitors said the short trails were great for beginners and families with young kids. If you're visiting in summer, several reviewers also recommended bringing your swimsuit to take advantage of several swimming spots along the trails. 

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