The Ultimate Olympic National Park Adventure Guide

47.8021° N, 123.6044° W

Snowy mountains peaking over a green valley in Washington

EXPLORE OUR COMPREHENSIVE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK ADVENTURE GUIDE THAT COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING THIS STUNNING NATIONAL PARK; INCLUDING, HOW TO GET THERE, THE BEST TIME TO VISIT AND THE TOP PLACES TO GO.

 



Olympic National Park might just be one of our all-time favorite national parks. Yes, we know, controversial. But honestly, this stunning national park in the heart of the Pacific Northwest truly has so much to offer that it would honestly be criminal to only give it one day to explore (we think you need at least 3, if not a whole week). Snow-capped mountains, glaciated valleys, lush forests, rugged coasts, and hundreds of miles of trails. What more do you need?


But all of that can start to seem a bit overwhelming when you really sit down to plan your trip to the massive national park. At least that is how we felt the first time we planned to head out and explore it. Luckily, this comprehensive adventure travel guide outlines literally everything you need to know about exploring Olympic National Park. From how to get there, what to bring with you, to just seven amazing destinations that are 100% worth visiting.


So if you are looking to plan a trip out to the amazing Olympic National Park (which you obviously should), then this is definitely the planning guide for you.




JUMP TO


☼ THE BEST TIME TO VISIT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK 🎒 WHAT GEAR TO BRING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK


📌 HOW TO GET TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK 🥾 TOP 7 THINGS TO SEE IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK


🏕 WHERE TO STAY IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK








\\ Fast Facts About Olympic National Park



| Year Established: Mount Olympus National Monument was established in 1909, then the area became a national park in 1938.


| Where is Olympic National Park: it is located in northwest Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula.


| Overall Size: 922,650 acres (95% of that is designated as "wilderness")


| Number of Annual Visitors: 2.5 million people visited in 2020


| Cost to Enter Olympic National Park: $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, $15 per person (all valid for 7 days).


| Best For: hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching








\\ Important Things to Know About Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park is a very large, very diverse national park. Because of this, it is important to figure out which area you want to explore. Below is a quick breakdown of some of the most important things to know about visiting and adventuring in Olympic National Park.




THE 3 DIFFERENT AREAS OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK


Olympic National Park is split into three different areas: the mountains, the rainforests and the coast. Each area is beautiful in its own right, and also full of amazing things to do. If you plan to visit the national park and only have one day to explore, we recommend focusing on only one of the three areas. Below is a brief breakdown of each one.



THE MOUNTAINS

The Olympic Mountains are part of the much bigger Pacific Coastal Range, which extends both north into Canada and south down into Oregon and California. The tallest mountain in the Olympic Mountains is Mount Olympus, which sits at 7,965 feet or 2,428 meters tall. Likewise, Mount Olympus is almost fully covered in glaciers - giving it an epic appearance (in total, there are about 184 glaciers crowning the Olympic peaks). On a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains from downtown Seattle and even as far away as Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier (though it is likely you will see Mount Constance and not Mount Olympus).


Common animals in the Olympic mountains include black bears, cougars/mountain lions, Roosevelt elk, mule deer, marmots, beaver and banana slugs. Also, mountain goats are quite common - though they are not native. Instead, they were introduced in the 1920s for the sole purpose of hunting. Today, the mountain goats are known to be quite aggressive (so much so that some trails close during peak goat season). Because of this, and the fact that they are causing the loss of native vegetation and soil erosion, there has been a major effort to remove the mountain goats from the national park and instead place them in the nearby Cascade mountains.


The best places to explore the beauty of the Olympic National Park mountains are Hurricane Ridge, the Sol Duc Valley (where you can spend some time backpacking and soaking in hot springs), the Elwha Valley and the Enchantment Valley. Likewise, many of the top backpacking trails in the national park head deep into the Olympic Mountains.




Lush forested valley near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic NP



THE RAINFORESTS

The lush forests found in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Bogachiel valleys are some of the most spectacular examples of primeval temperate rain forests in the whole lower 48 states. While today very few of these forests exist (and what does is mostly under strict protection), in the past, these types of lush forests stretched all the way from Oregon up into southern Alaska.


How are these forests so lush? Well, in a word, rain. And lots of it. In fact, the western side of the national park is one of the wettest places in the whole contiguous United States. In one year, the Hoh Rainforest sees between 140 and 167 inches of precipitation. That insane amount of rain in turn leads to a dense growth of epiphytes (plants growing on other plants). The most common epiphytes in this area include thick green mosses, spike mosses, ferns and lichens. Altogether, these plants are what give the four rain forests such a lush feel.


Besides admiring the various plants that thrive in the Olympic National Park rain forests, you also have a good chance of spotting Roosevelt elk. In fact, the national park protects the largest herd of these large herbivores in the entire Pacific Northwest.


Some of the best places to admire the park's rain forests are at the Hoh Rainforest (also the top spot to see Roosevelt elk) and the Quinault Rainforest (near the beautiful Lake Quinault).


💬 INSIDER TIP: the Roosevelt elk actually got their name because of President Theodore Roosevelt's action of redesignating part of the Olympic Forest Reserve into Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 (with the hopes of protecting the elk's quickly disappearing habitat).



THE COAST

The third area of the park is the large coastal region along the western half of the park. Stretching from the north near Shi Shi Beach to the south near Kalaloch, the 73-mile long wilderness coast is a rare treasure in a country where much of the Pacific coastline is seen more as just prime real estate than a natural resource to be preserved.


The Olympic National Park coastline is a popular place for wildlife viewing - especially for numerous marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, whales, and sea otters. While you can see many of these animals year-round, for the best gray whale watching opportunities, head to the coast between March and May and look for their spouts or barnacled-splotched backs as they migrate to their northern feeding grounds.


Likewise, spending a day along the coast is also great if you are interested in tidepooling and birdwatching. Some of the best beaches for these two activities include Kalaloch's Beach 4 and Mora's Hole in the Wall (near Rialto Beach). Other popular beaches include Second and Third Beach near La Push and Ruby Beach. Likewise, if you want to combine hiking with beach exploring, consider heading out to Lake Ozette in the northern part of the park. This sizeable lake (the largest in the park and the largest unaltered lake in the entire state of Washington) is a fantastic spot to explore both the coast and the forest.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the intertidal areas are not only within the boundary of the national park, but also within the boundary of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Likewise, the offshore islands that house nesting seabirds and other marine mammals lie within the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.






MAP OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Map of Olympic National Park in Washington state
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.




OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTERS


There are three visitor centers within Olympic National Park: the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles, the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Besides the three main visitor centers, there are also numerous ranger stations dotted around the park. These ranger stations are often not open year-round and are not always manned by park officials. If you are looking to visit a ranger station, we suggest checking out the national park website ahead of time to see if it is open (most are open in the summer but not in the winter).


Below is more information about the three visitor centers in Olympic National Park.



OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTER (PORT ANGELES)

The main visitor center is located right outside of Port Angeles, Washington. It is at the base of the famous Hurricane Ridge Road and very close to numerous hiking trails. This is also where you will need to go to learn more about backpacking in Olympic National Park; including, what permits you need, what are some of the top backpacking trails in the park, and what are the necessary safety measures in place. You can learn all about backpacking in Olympic National Park at the Wilderness Information Center (which is right inside the visitor center).


HOURS: open year-round except major holidays

SERVICES: exhibits about the area’s natural and cultural history, a hands-on "Discovery Room" for kids, a passport stamping station, a bookstore, and two short nature trails.



HOH RAINFOREST VISITOR CENTER

This smaller visitor center is located near the very famous Hoh Rainforest, which is roughly 31 miles from the town of Forks (near the Pacific Coast). The visitor center is a great place to head to to learn more about the Hoh Rainforest - one of the wettest places in the world - and also to learn about the various animals that call that part of the national park home. Nearby, you can find the Hoh Campground, which contains 72 sites (learn more about camping in Olympic National Park below) and the famous Hoh River Trail, an 18.3 mile (one-way) hiking trail up into the mountains.


HOURS: open daily during the summer and then Friday - Sunday in the off-season, closed January and February.

SERVICES: various exhibits, a passport stamping station and a bookstore. There are also two self-guided nature trails nearby. During the summer, guided walks and talks are offered by the park rangers.




EXPLORE MORE | HOW TO SAFELY HIKE AND BACKPACK IN BEAR COUNTRY: TOP TIPS






HURRICANE RIDGE VISITOR CENTER

Located up at the top of Hurricane Ridge (which is just under 20 miles from the main national park visitor center in Port Angeles), the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is an awesome place to head to to get a stunning view of the towering Olympic Mountains - including (on a clear day) Mount Olympus itself. From the visitor center, you can head out on a couple of hikes, learn about the wildlife that calls that part of the park home, and even see the small ski hill that runs during the winter.


HOURS: open daily in the summer, and hours vary the remainder of the year.

SERVICES: a couple of exhibits on Olympic's mountain habitats, a passport stamping station, a couple of short, paved walking trails, and a gift shop and food hall. During the summer, guided walks and talks are offered by park rangers.




ENTRANCE FEES


While you don’t have to pay an entrance fee everywhere you go in Olympic National Park, it is important to be prepared to pay the entrance fee at many of the more popular park destinations (including Hurricane Ridge). It costs $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per person. All are valid for 7 days from the date of purchase.


If you are planning to visit multiple national parks, either during your trip to Washington or on other adventures, then we HIGHLY recommend buying the America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass. It costs $80 and is good for a whole year (12 months from the date of purchase). This annual parks pass gets you into all 63 national parks, as well as 2,000+ other federally protected areas (including national monuments and national historic sites - see the full list).


You can purchase your national parks pass at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center or online here.


💬 INSIDER TIP: besides getting you into all of the national parks and monuments in Washington (there are 6 in total), the annual America the Beautiful Pass also gets you into all of the national forest lands for free. There are thousands of adventures to be had in these national forests, so if you are planning to spend a decent amount of time exploring Washington’s stunning scenery, there is even more reason to buy the annual pass.





\\ When to Visit Olympic National Park


The most popular months to visit are June through September. During this busy summer season, most roads and facilities are open and a full range of programs are available to enjoy. But this is also the busiest time to visit the park, so be prepared for full parking lots, packed hiking trails and few available campsites (reservations are highly recommended).


Outside of those months (the winter/off-season) some park roads, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities are either closed or have reduced hours. But if you are fine with having less services, this is a good time to visit for it will be much quieter. Plus, there are still plenty of adventures to do once the weather starts to cool down. In the winter, consider heading to Hurricane Ridge for some cross-country or downhill skiing and tubing or along the coast where there is very little snow.




OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK WEATHER


Due to the park's coastal location, the weather stays relatively mild year-round. In the summer, expect mild to warm temperatures and sunnier skies (though rain is always possible). While in the fall and winter expect cooler temperatures and a lot more rain (winter is the wettest time of year). In fact, most of the park's precipitation falls between November and April. This includes up to 140 inches of rain in the coastal rainforests (especially the Hoh Rainforest) and up to 35 feet of snow on the higher mountains (including Hurricane Ridge).




Empty coastal beach in Washington

READ MORE | THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK






HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED TO EXPLORE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK


We would suggest putting aside at least 2 days to explore Olympic National Park fully. And if you can, three days would be even better. This is because the park is so spread out and super diverse. You can easily spend one full day in the rainforest and then another full day either in the mountains or along the coast.






\\ How to Get to Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park is located in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula, which is in turn located in the far northwest corner of Washington state in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. The national park, though somewhat remote, is easy to reach via your own private car. If you are planning to spend a decent amount of time in Olympic National Park, we highly suggest either bringing your own vehicle or renting one nearby (either in Seattle or Tacoma or in Port Angeles).



GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY CAR


Even though Olympic National Park is somewhat far away from any large city, it is still quite easy to reach - especially if you have your own vehicle. Below is a quick breakdown of how to get to Olympic National Park from Seattle and Portland.



OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK TO SEATTLE

It can take anywhere between 2.5 hours to 3 hours to reach the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center from Seattle, Washington. There are three possible route options you can take, two include a ferry and one does not. The two routes that include a ferry leave from either downtown Seattle or up north a bit in the town of Kingston. Both ferries cost $20.90 for a vehicle with a driver, $9.25 for an adult and $4.60 for a senior or child under 18.


If you choose to not take a ferry and instead drive around the Puget Sound (this is a very lovely drive), then likely be prepared for some traffic along I-5 in Tacoma - especially if you are doing the drive during rush hour or during busy hours on the weekend.



OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK TO PORTLAND

From Portland, Oregon, it takes approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes to reach the main visitor center in Olympic National Park (without traffic). The drive is mostly along I-5 from Portland up to the city of Olympia and then on Highway 101 from there all the way up to Port Angeles and the main park visitor center.







GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY BUS


Once you land in Washington, likely at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (see more below) then you do have the option to hop on the Dungeness Bus Line, which is operated by the Olympic Bus Lines. From the airport, the bus will take you to such towns as Kingston, Edmonds, Discovery Bay, Sequim and Port Angeles. It costs roughly $42 for a one-way ticket on the bus (from the airport to Port Angeles).


You can find routes, schedules and book your bus ticket here.




GETTING TO OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK BY PLANE