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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