Just shy of 1 million acres, Washington State’s Olympic National Park, truly is one of nature’s most incredible playgrounds. Home to three ecosystems, and 49 peaks of 6,500 feet, adventurers can find that this playground stretches from the west coast all the way to the alpine highlands. After visiting this location many times, we wanted to share our ideal 3-day itinerary, which we believe encompasses the best experiences in the Olympic Peninsula.
Activities to do
You made it to Olympic National Park, now what? After a long day of traveling, the best way to ease yourself into any trip is by sightseeing. The easiest, and probably one of the most popular destinations in the Hoh Rain Forest. It’s attached to a visitors center and has two short hikes, both under 1.5 miles, that you can take which is the perfect way to stretch your legs after a long drive.
You can also stay at any of the park’s 15 campgrounds. With campsites dispersed all throughout the peninsula, there is something different for every adVANturer.
With water temperatures only averaging a high of 56 °F during the summer, water sports are still one of the most popular activities the National Parks visitors choose to do. With access to kayaks, paddleboards, boats, and fishing gear, many take out to the water to get their coastal fix before heading inland to take in the mountains. When spending time at the beach, be sure to look out to the horizon as you can spot Gray Whales, Orcas, and Humpback Whales all year round.
For the avid hiker, this park was made for you. With 70 miles of coastline hiking alone, there are plenty of trails for every experience level. Be sure to check out the plethora of trails to choose from at AllTrails Olympic National Park and stay current on the trail conditions as they can change at any point during the year.
Passes & Permits
The main pass you’ll need to see the majority of all the places that we mention on our itinerary is a National Parks Pass aka America Beautiful Pass ($80). This is an annual park pass that you can buy online or at any of the parks in person and will give you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.
Best Times to Visit
Anytime really! Each season brings you a new experience that you won’t want to miss. Here is what you can experience during those times.
Summer – The most popular season, and driest. You will see more sunny days than rainy and you can expect temperatures to be in the 65-75°F range. It’s the perfect season for backpacking, fishing, boating, really anything on the water since it’s warm enough, and sightseeing. The possibilities are endless so don’t limit yourself to just one thing!
Fall – With temperatures starting to drop, beautiful foliage starts to cover the park and brings the rainforests a pop of color during this time of year. But be prepared, while the fall colors may entice you, this season is known for its fog and rainy weather. Be sure to pack your rain jacket and galoshes on this trip!
Winter – While this is the season of snow and colder temperatures, it is also the season with the smallest amount of crowds, making it a dream come true for those that wish for solitude on their trip. While lodging is easier to obtain, be sure to stay up to date on the road conditions as roads tend to close frequently and carry snow chains as they are required by the park.
Spring – If you’re traveling to Olympic National Park for the wildlife, then Spring is the season to go. This is the best time for viewing the parks Roosevelt Elk, Black Bears, Birds, and Whales. Wildflowers are starting to bloom, and as the temperatures are starting to rise, allowing the winter season’s snow to melt, waterfalls begin cascading over cliff edges.
Many would describe Olympic National Park as a photographer’s dream. Considered one of the most biodiverse national parks there is, it offers a large opportunity for anyone willing to battle some rain and travel to this beautiful Washington State Park. If you’re looking to grab a souvenir that will last a lifetime, check out our list of the best places to takes photos –
- Rialto Beach
- Ruby Beach
- La Push Beaches
- Shi Shi Beach
- Hoh Rainforest
- Lake Crescent
- Hurricane Ridge
- Sol Duc Falls
- Tree of life
Remember, if you’re going to take a photo and share it with others, please keep the park clean & pristine so we can continue to share it with others.
When you’re inside the park you may feel desolate but there are tons of little towns where you can get almost any amenity you need.
There are tons of Gas Stations throughout the peninsula but none within the national park, so make sure to fill up before heading in. Also, if you’re taking the ferry it’s a good idea to fill up at Bainbridge Island. The closest gas station to Hoh Rain Forest is 31 miles away.
Expect patchy Cell Phone Service throughout the Olympic National Park. However, when you’re driving through the smaller towns, you will most definitely have a strong connection – Just make sure to download Google Maps!
Make sure to acquire Firewood at a store before heading into the park because it is much more expensive there. There are also locals who sell them on the side of the road – Support the locals if you can.
The best place to shop at Grocery Stores is in Port Angeles as it has a few options. Outside of that main town, you’ll mostly see convenient stores and farm stands.
You can Dump Waste in every campground within the park but there is an $11 fee if you aren’t staying at the campground.
Pets are allowed on two different beaches and 4 specific trails. In addition, pets are welcome in drive-in campgrounds and picnic areas as well as paved or dirt roads. Leashed dogs are allowed on Olympic National Forest Trails but NOT Olympic National Park – They are two different entities. For more information on exactly which trails and areas allow pets, please visit this link for reference.
Where to stay
What’s so great about the Olympic Peninsula is that it caters to all types of lodging. From tent camping, RV’s, campervans, and classy hotels, this peninsula has something for everyone. It also encompasses a variety of ecosystems, so you’ll have your choice of staying on the coast or in the forest. Just make sure to reserve ahead of time and at least 6 months in advance for campgrounds since they tend to fill up quickly. Reservations can be made through the Recreation.gov website.
List of the best campgrounds –
- Kalalah Campground
- Graves Creek Campground
- Staircase Campground
- Hoh Campground
- Mora Beach Campground
List of the best hotels –
- Port Angeles Inn $
- Royal Victorian Motel $
- Olympic Lodge $$
- Lake Crescent Lodge $$ – Inside the National Park
- Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort $$ – Inside the National Park
- Kalaloch Lodge $$ – Inside the National Park
Day #1 Itinerary
Morning: We recommend taking the ferry from Seattle to start your road trip – The novelty of transporting a vehicle across a body of water and deboarding it makes it even more of an adventure, plus the views of the Seattle skyline are just stunning and it’s a uniquely different perspective of the skyline. You’ll want to take the Seattle Ferry to Bainbridge Island which costs $16 for a van or $9.05 if you’re traveling without a vehicle – More fare information here. Once you arrive you MUST visit the Bainbridge Island Starbucks because it’s a great place to get coffee before the long drive and it was honestly one friendliest Starbucks ever! Once you’re fueled up you’ll want to drive to Port Angeles which is a logging town where the seaside meets the mountainside. This place is super cute and has tons of museums and stores with great souvenirs and is considered the gateway to the Olympic National Park.
Afternoon: The next two activities will make the perfect afternoon experience! From Port Angeles head to the Salmon Cascades where you’ll potentially see the salmon migrating up the river. There are 5 species of salmon that live in the Pacific waters and every year each one of them travels through the Olympic National Park rivers to spawn. Fall is the best time to catch this occurrence but if you miss it, it’s still a great place to hike, sightsee and enjoy your lunch. Next, you’ll want to go check out the Sol Duc Falls which is a huge cascading waterfall that will literally take your breath away. This is a roundtrip 2.1 mil hike winding through old-growth forests, smaller rivers, and just beautiful lush plants everywhere.
Evening: About an hour away is the Mora Campground which is in the middle of a coastal forest where you’ll be camping beneath these gigantic trees with large canopies shading the area. It has 94 campsites without electrical hookups and each campsite contains a fire ring and picnic table. During the busier season, there is always some ranger presentation at the outdoor amphitheater and short trails to walk like, the 0.9-mile long Slough Trail and an even shorter 0.3-mile loop trail leads to James Pond.
Day #2 Itinerary
Morning: A fun and active way to start the day is to drive down to Rialto Beach and walk down the beach to the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall rock (3.8 miles roundtrip). If you catch it on a low tide, you’ll see some of the most amazing tide pools with sea stars, urchins, mussels, and numerous barnacles. Make sure to check the Rialto Beach Tide Chart and visit it during the lowest point in the morning.
Afternoon: In addition to the Hole-in-the-Wall, there is so much to do on Ruby Beach that we recommend you spend the entire day (and night) here. This stretch of coastline has many places to explore with crazy rock formations, giant drift logs, and views of the sea stacks. If you’re an experienced paddler and contingent on the conditions, we recommend you bring your paddle boards or kayaks as the river right there is beckoning. You can paddle/kayak upriver or head out to the mouth of the ocean.
Evening: One way to wrap up the perfect day at Rialto beach is to spend the evening there and camp on it. You’ll need a backcountry permit to camp there which you can make right here. You’ll be able to fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and the cool ocean breeze running through your tent.
Day #3 Itinerary
Morning: A trip to the Olympic Peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the ever so popular Hoh Rain Forest. Make sure to arrive by 8:30-9 am at the latest as there will be a long and timely line to get in if you’re late. The Hoh Forest is a protected rain forest that gets an average of 140 inches of rainfall every year and has a few different trails which are all accessible for all ages. The Hall of Mosse is filled with old trees, bigleaf maples, and towering evergreen giants. In addition to the beautiful lush trees, it also has a white river running through it which is from glacier runoff water. If you’re really up for the challenge, hike the 17.3-mile backpacking trail in the summer – It’s amazing!
Afternoon: After you’ve walked through all the trials in the Hoh Rain Forest, head to Ruby Beach for the afternoon. If you’re looking for the iconic sea stacks and a plethora of driftwood structures, this is the place to go. You’ll most likely see a bunch of wildlife both in the tide pools, possible whales in the water, and bald eagles up in the air – It’s teeming with animals!
Evening: Now that it’s time to head back to Seattle and complete the full loop around the peninsula, there are a few more stops you can visit if you have time. For the kayakers and standup paddleboarders, Lake Quinqualt will have calm water for you to explore for hours. For those who are looking to hike, the Quinqualt Forest is another must-see ½ mile hike.
Other Important Information
Remember always to be respectful to the people and area. Also, make sure to practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace to better the area and protect its integrity for future visits. Please don’t forget to travel safely.
Campfires are allowed only in the provided metal fire rings within the National Park campgrounds.
The Olympic National Park is a no-drone zone and they will ticket you if caught flying.