The Olympic National Park in northern Washington State is one of the most rugged and raw places in the United States. Jagged and rough coastlines combine with mossy and wet rainforests to create an environment that is filled with stunning landscapes. Get lost looking for driftwood on the coast or explore snowy mountains Hurricane Ridge, either way, your adventure into this national park will be like taking a step back in time and escaping into the wild. Coast, mountains, snow, lakes, rainforests … this unique range of eco systems makes this national park a very special place. Join us for an exploration of this incredible wilderness in this Olympic National Park Travel Guide.
How To Get There
The Olympic National park is located on the Olympic Peninsula, a large piece of land that dramatically juts out of the side of Washington State. The National Park takes up most of the peninsula, land that is mostly reservations. The park itself is huge, taking up almost 4,000 square kilometres. Be prepared to drive some long distances to get to this national park. As it sits in the middle of the peninsula, you must drive around it to enter at different sections.
This Pacific Northwest wonderland is accessible from either the main highways from Oregon in the south, and also via ferry from Seattle in the east. Expect to pay about $35USD for your car to be ferried across to the peninsula, leaving about every hour or so. You will depart the ferry and drive across Bainbridge island, before heading over the bridge that connects to the peninsula. You will then enter the national park itself. The prices of entrance into the park are as follows:
What To See and Do
This incredible ridge sits on the top of a mountain range, and is surrounded by stunning snow-capped giants. At an elevation of 5,242feet, this is perfect for your Winter escape in the Olympic National Park. Head to the visitor centre first, and gain information about trails that are open, the mountains that form the backdrop to the ridge, and the wildlife that co-exists here. You can grab something from the gift shop, the restaurant or rent gear from the rental store. The views alone from the visitor centre are breathtaking, showcasing the valley below and the mountains in the background. In Summer, there are some phenomenal trails around this area, so be prepare with your pack. In Winter, the possibilities are endless – with skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and show shoe treks. Hurricane Ridge is located about 27kms from Port Angeles (the unofficial capital of the Olympic Peninsula), and is situated in the mid-north of the national park.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the most famous in the US. Emerald green giants surround you as you traipse through the thick and wet rainforest. With over 12 feet in rain per year, this rainforest is drenched to perfection. Located about 144 kms from Port Angeles, this rainforest sits on the west side of the national park. The rainforest has a lush canopy of trees, creating a dark and mysterious escape. There are a range of hiking trails to explore through the Hoh Rainforest, each one showcasing a different aspect of the dense greenery. You can venture through moss draped trees, a Douglas Fir tree forest, through glacier meadows and past Mount Olympus. Start your visit with an exploration of the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Centre, where you’ll learn about the trails on offer and wildlife that has been spotted in the area. After hiking, spend some time in the picnic area and enjoy lunch while gazing up towards the green giants that surround you.
Crescent Lake is a stunning turquoise lake in the mid-north section of the Olympic National Park, about 28kms from Port Angeles. The shape of the lake is almost a half-moon, hence its name. The lake has depths of 190m, and is fresh water that is fed by the glacier. The main road across the north of the of the park follows the south rim of the lake, providing incredible views across the beautiful water. There are plenty of picnic grounds and campgrounds that surround the lake, not to mention a number of lodges to stay in while you’re there. This lake is truly a dream for the ‘water inclined’ – offering boating, fishing, kayaking, sailing and water skiing, with boat rentals available in the Summer months. There are even two completely unique species of trout fish in the lake for the avid fishermen. There are numerous hikes to do around the lake in the Summer, and a number of restaurants open to the public.
There is also an intriguing local legend of how the lake was initially formed. The Indian legend tells the story of severe fighting between the Klallam and Quileute tribes along a small river that flowed through the present site of Lake Crescent.
Their fighting escalated into a massive battle, that lasted three full days. The mountain spirit of the area became very upset at the foolish fighting. He hurled a gigantic boulder down at them, killing all of the warriors. The boulder was so big that it dammed the river and the water backed up, forming Lake Crescent. Geological records support the idea of a large-scale disturbance affecting Lake Crescent. There is evidence that landslides from surrounding mountains divided what was once a larger lake into two separate lakes, Lake Crescent and its neighbor Lake Sutherland.
Accommodation and Camping
There are 13 campgrounds within Olympic National Park, with over 800 sites available in total. Kalaloch and Sol Duc are the only two that require reservations in the Summer, the remaining are first come first serve. These only have toilets, no showers, so be mentally prepared! Ensure that you bring cash with you, as some of these are self-serve and you cannot pay with card. Most of these have potable water and range between $10 and $22USD per night.
Ensure that you check the requirements on the park websites, as not all campgrounds accept RVs. There are also four lodges that are available to stay in. Three of these are only open during the summer months, however the Kalaloch Lodge is open all year round. One other option is staying in the towns that border the actual national park, but are not inside. These include Port Angeles and Sequim in the north, Forks (for our Twilight fans) and La Push in the west and Hoodsport and Brinnon in the south. All of these towns have multiple accommodation options, including BnBs, campgrounds, motels, hotels and some hostels.
What to pack
When you enter the park, and especially when you go on a hike, ensure that you have the following things:
- sufficient food
- layered clothing,
- first aid kit
- sturdy shoes
- compass/maps/navigation device
- sun protection
- flash light
- hiking poles
- gas stove (with extra propane gas)
- eating and drinking utensils
- camping chairs
- camping table
- camping hammock
- flashlight/camping light
- personal items/clothing
- sleeping bags (it gets cold at night! Even in the Summer!)
- travel pillow
- extra batteries for all devices
- solar powered battery charger (particularly useful for charging phone and navigation devices)
- dish washing liquid and cloths
- appropriate snow/ice equipment for your car and for hiking
- bear spray
- extra shelter
- wind and rain resistant jacket
- emergency light
- extra water
Weather conditions in this neck of the woods can be unpredictable and volatile. Ensure that you keep up to date with constant updates from the park website. This is a raw and rugged environment, so be careful, and pack emergency gear in case you get into trouble. This is truly a magical place, filled with unique wildlife, stunning landscapes and rugged coastlines. Enjoy every moment of your escape into the wilderness!