Olympic National Park has it all: epic hikes, mountain ranges, beaches, waterfalls, mysterious rainforest and animal sightings if you get lucky. It’s the kind of place where you could spend weeks exploring and realise there are still so many Olympic National Park hikes yet to do!
Conveniently close to Seattle and the perfect addition to a Washington State Road Trip, Olympic should be on the radar for anyone wanting to see the best of the Pacific Northwest.
Organising your trip to Olympic National Park
At 2.5 hours away from Seattle, Olympic is a place that can easily be visited on a weekend getaway. You can even combine it with a trip to Vancouver Island if you have more time as ferries leave regularly from Port Angeles.
The main thing to consider when planning your trip is that Olympic National Park is huge and all roads go round it. At over 3,500 square kilometres, you’ll realise that Olympic isn’t one of those parks where everything is congregated together in one spot.
When planning your trip, it’s best to consider splitting your itinerary in two to cover the major areas you want to visit - Forks for the beaches and Hoh Rainforest, and Port Angeles for Crescent Lake and Hurricane Ridge.
We recommend basing yourself in Forks and Port Angeles to ensure you don’t spend most of your time driving between locations - after all, the Hoh Rainforest is over 2.5 hours away from Hurricane Ridge.
The Olympic Coast
The coastline of the Olympic Peninsula is iconic and the beaches are usually top of people’s list to visit. The unusual sea stacks often scattered with picturesque pine trees are instantly recognisable and are numerous across all the beaches in the area.
The other characteristic of these beaches are the stacks of driftwood that line the beaches. The driftwood here is on an Olympian scale, we’d never seen anything like it. The huge cedars stack up along the sand, sometimes requiring a test of your climbing skills to clamber over!
Read next: The best Mount Rainier hikes you should do
Rialto Beach to Hole in the Wall Hike
Distance: 3.1 miles (5km)
Type of track: Out and back
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: A great way to see the sea stacks and walk through a natural hole in the rock.
The hike along Rialto Beach to the Hole in the Wall is the most popular in the coastal area. It’s a great introduction to this wild coastline and you can check out the stacks close up as well as walk through the hole in the rock during low tide.
The hike is easy, although walking on sand and small pebbles can be a little more tiring than it looks. Luckily the beach looks amazing, very wild and windswept and the huge waves will entertain you along the way.
It won’t be long before you arrive at the Hole in the Wall. We recommend visiting at low tide as you cannot pass through the hole when the tide is up. If you just want to get to the beach on the other side of the hole you can use the high tide track but most people want to walk through the hole itself.
Even in summer the beach is often cold and windy so we’d recommend having a few layers with you.
Getting to Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach is a 20 minute drive from Forks and has a reasonably big car park. However, this can fill up very quickly as it is a popular spot! We recommend going in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
Whilst it is next to La Push, there is a river that separates the two beaches, meaning you have to drive nearly 20 minutes to get between the two!
Sunset at Ruby Beach
There are several great spots in Olympic for sunset, in fact you’re spoilt for choice, but Ruby was our favourite. As the sun sets directly ahead, you’ll see the sky change colour over the sea with the stacks silhouetted in the background and lots of driftwood in the foreground. It’s a pretty magical scene.
It’s a great place if you’re a photographer, but also beautiful if you simply want to sit and take in the stunning surroundings. Many people build fires on the beach and stay here for a couple of hours.
The beach is mainly sandy unlike some of the others in the area which can be quite stony which is another reason we preferred it.
Getting to Ruby Beach
Ruby Beach is out on a limb and not near any of the other beaches. It is a 35 minute drive south of Forks and is in the same (ish) area as the Hoh Rainforest - which is a 50 minute drive away.
The car park here is a decent size and you shouldn’t have any problems at sunset as most day trippers will have left already. It’s a two minute walk downhill from the car park.
Checking out the mist and stacks at La Push
La Push, otherwise known as First Beach, is now famous for being one of the filming locations for the Twilight movies. However, people were coming here long before the movies were released for the long stretch of wild beach with multiple sea stacks as a backdrop. On our visit, there was a fog lingering around the stacks which gave it an almost eerie feel. We loved it. If you have time it’s also another great sunset spot.
A few people were surfing in the area but we’d recommend checking conditions first as the waves and currents can be pretty fierce.
Getting to La Push
La Push is a 20 minute drive from Forks and has ample parking, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a space here!
Take a short stroll to Second Beach
The imaginatively named Second Beach can be found at the end of a 0.7 mile walking trail meaning it sees less visitors than some of the more accessible beaches. The trail is through a pretty stretch of forest and is easy on the way out and a little steeper on the way back.
Once you’ve clambered over the driftwood on the beach to reach the sand you’ll see it’s well worth the effort. The sandy beach feels like it goes on for miles and it isn’t difficult to walk for a short amount of time and feel like you have the whole thing to yourself. Yet more sea stacks add to the atmosphere.
It’s another popular sunset spot, particularly with photographers.
If you have more time you can also head to Third Beach which is not too far from here (although not walking distance).
It’s meant to be pretty but we were advised it wasn’t quite as pretty as First and Second Beach so if you have limited time stick to those.
Getting to Second Beach
Second Beach is a five minute drive from La Push. Whilst they look close together, you can’t walk from one to the other - you’ll need to take a 10 minute trail through the forest to get there.
The car park for Second Beach is tiny, so we recommend avoiding the middle of the day!
Search for Bald Eagles at Rialto Beach
Most Americans probably don’t think much of seeing Bald Eagles - they are fairly common in Washington - but to a foreigner, seeing this iconic bird is pretty exciting. We recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the tops of the trees at Rialto Beach.
If you wait long enough, you’ll see one perched atop a pine, looking for it’s next feed!
The Hoh Rainforest
One of the largest rainforests in the US, the Hoh is a must for any visitor to Olympic National Park. We only had time for the two short trails mentioned below but if you have longer you can actually take on the Hoh River trail to Blue Glacier which clocks in at 17 miles each way! Most people choose to camp if going this far or you could walk a portion of the track as a day hike.
Be warned though: there’s only one car park for the Hoh Rainforest and it gets full really quickly. You’ll find a lot of people can crowd onto the few hiking trails that are here, so we recommend avoiding the middle of the day or weekend rush if you can.
Meander through the Hall of Mosses
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: Short and sweet, the Hall of Mosses feels ancient and like you’re entering another world!
The most popular walk in the Hoh Rainforest, the Hall of Mosses is an easy one mile loop which is almost entirely flat. It’s a shady trail which takes you through a beautiful section of lush green forest with lots of different trees, some which are still standing, many of which have fallen and others that have grown directly on top of those which have fallen.
The moss that drapes the trees gives a mysterious air and the sheer size of the cedars make this a highlight of visiting Olympic National Park. It’s popular with families and even if you normally prefer longer hiking trails like us, don’t miss the Hall of Mosses.
And take the quieter Spruce Nature Trail
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: A beautiful forest without the crowds. Picturesque and easy.
The Spruce Nature Trail is often overlooked by visitors who simply head straight to the Hall of Mosses and leave. However, this slightly longer (1.25 mile) trail may not have the enchanting moss, but it definitely showcases the beautiful rainforest.
The trail that winds through the cedars is a lot more open than the Hall of Mosses but it’s still beautiful and also more peaceful due to less people on the trail. You’ll pass several sections of dense ferns and even come out to the river at one point.
Whilst it may not be quite as atmospheric as the Hall of Mosses, it is well worth doing to escape the crowds and stroll around a tranquil part of the forest.
Where to stay in Forks - for the Hoh Rainforest & the Coast
Accommodation in Forks can sell out quickly (there isn’t much in the area and there are more Twilight fans than you’d expect!), especially at weekends and in the holiday season. We recommend booking early to make sure you don’t get left stranded which is pretty much what happened to us. We didn’t rate either place we stayed in Forks (both were Airbnb) so we’ve checked out some of the reviews on booking.com to find a couple of recommends for you.
Here are our top tips for where to stay in Forks.
Hoh Valley Cabins in Elk Meadows
If the Hoh Rainforest is the main reason you’ve come to this part of Olympic National Park, then the Hoh Valley Cabins are the perfect place to stay. It’s only a 20 minute drive from the rainforest and is about as close as you can get.
These comfy cabins are hidden in the wilderness, offering peace and quiet, as well as being surrounded by the forest - perfect for resting up after a long day exploring.
The cabins are also self-contained with kitchenettes and really nicely styled bungalows, meaning you don’t have to go hunting for restaurants every night, especially as it is a 30 minute drive to Forks and trust us when it comes to Forks restaurants you really aren’t missing much!
Dew Drop Inn, Forks
For something closer to Forks, check out the Dew Drop Inn. Reviews say it’s very clean and comfy and the location is very central. For us the major win is also the kitchenettes and access to a BBQ.
Lake Crescent Area
Lake Crescent is more like your traditional Washington National Park area - pine trees everywhere, steep mountains and a beautiful lake. It’s famous for the epic Mount Storm King trail, but there is more to do here than simply see how much your calves can burn after a hike!
Relax at Sol Duc Waterfall
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: For the waterfall at the end, a photographer’s dream!
The 1.85 mile (3km) walk to Sol Duc Waterfall is short and sweet, taking you through the forest - which is particularly beautiful in the golden light at the end of the day. The path is in excellent condition and whilst it’s not completely flat it’s an easy trail.
The falls at the end of the walk are spectacular, especially after recent rain. The three falls converge into a river that flows under a wooden bridge. It makes for a perfect scene and there are plenty of places to sit and take it all in.
It is off the main road between Forks and Port Angeles so it makes sense to stop off when driving between the two.
Getting to Sol Duc Waterfall
Sol Duc Falls is about an hour’s drive from Port Angeles and is down a turn off from highway 101. Keep going until the final parking lot (there are a few signs for other parts of the falls) where the short walk to the beautiful viewpoint starts.
It is a 40 minute drive from Marymere Falls.
Feel the burn on the Mount Storm King hike
Distance: 2.5 miles (4km) each way
Elevation: 1870 ft (570m) to the ropes and 2000ft to the summit
Difficulty: Short but difficult
Type of trail: Out and back
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: The challenge of such a steep hike and the epic views from the top!
If everything has sounded a bit too sedate until now, Mount Storm King will up the tempo and get your heartbeat going. This hike is incredibly steep and winds uphill (with next to no relief), climbing over 600 metres in elevation over four miles before reaching “the ropes”.
This section is steep and slippery so the ropes are there to help you up to the summit. The views even before the roped section are incredibly beautiful, especially at sunset, so it won’t matter if you don’t want to go to the very top - we didn’t (for didn’t read couldn’t, those ropes were scary!).
If you’re thinking of taking it on, check our detailed blog on the Mount Storm King Trail before you head up.
If you have the energy after your Mount Storm King adventure you can take a short detour from the trail to another beautiful set of falls - Marymere. As we’d gone up to Mount Storm King for sunset we couldn’t visit the falls but they’re on our list for next time.
Getting to Mount Storm King
The trail to the top of Mount Storm King starts from the Marymere Falls car park (see the map below). This is a 30 minute drive from Port Angeles and is an abrupt turn off from highway 101.
Hurricane Ridge is a stunning area where you can get above the tree line and the clouds without having to slog for hours up a mountain trail! The view from the car park alone is breathtaking and there are a few hiking trails you can take which offer up more views, even as far as Vancouver Island.
Sadly the iconic Hurricane Hill trail was closed for maintenance when we visited - something we would have loved to do - but it’s definitely one to check out when it re-opens.
We loved coming up here for sunset, so if you can time your hikes to end for golden hour, you’ll be in for a treat.
Take in the mountains at sunset
Sunset at Hurricane Ridge is stunning. The surrounding mountains and forest take on a golden hue and the whole area becomes even more beautiful.
You can pick the side by the visitor centre which overlooks meadows and a jagged mountain range, or hop on the short and easy Cirque Rim Trail for a direct view of the sun setting on the horizon which is where the photo below is taken.
Whichever you pick, you’ll have the best seat in the Washington Peninsula for sunset.
Stroll around to Sunrise viewpoint
Why we love this Olympic National Park hike: Because sometimes you fancy an easy walk (but also want some great views).
If you haven’t had enough of the views yet, then head up to the sunrise viewpoint to see out towards Vancouver Island and the surrounding area. It would be the perfect view for sunrise as you can see it rise straight in front of you, but if you don’t want an early start it’s still a lovely spot at any time of day.
Along the trail you can also get views to the Klahhane Ridge Trail which looks pretty epic. If you want to take on the ridge trail from Hurricane Ridge it is a 7.2 mile return hike or you can start further down the mountain on the Switchback Trail which is 3 miles return - but much steeper.
It looks like a pretty beautiful hike, but we ran out of time unfortunately.
Where to stay in Port Angeles
Port Angeles is the best place to base yourself for the Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge areas. It’s not the most exciting city but it has everything you need for a few days exploring.
If everywhere in Port Angeles is full or out of your budget, you could try Sequim which is further away from the park but cheaper. Again, we used Airbnb for our accommodation and again we didn’t really rate it so here’s a few other suggestions which were full when we looked last minute.
Olympic Lodge has some of the best reviews in this price bracket and is what we would have gone for if we could. We love these old lodge hotels with log fires and a lot of atmosphere. This one even has a pool and a hot tub. It gets great reviews for being clean. comfy and friendly.
Quality Inn Uptown
If you’re just looking for a good old fashioned motel then Quality Inn gets great reviews for cleanliness and is in a very central location. Reviewers rave about the friendly staff and how quiet it is.
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Are you planning a trip to Olympic National Park? Which hikes would you take on? Let us know in the comments below!