Olympic National Park offers so much to see that planning a trip can be overwhelming. With a dozen distinct sections of the park and nearly a million acres of protected areas, you’ll never see it all. The opportunity for biking, hiking, coastal exploration, and other outdoor recreation is mind-boggling.
But what if your time is limited? You can still hit the highlights and grasp the ecological variety of the park. In my opinion, these are the four best spots of Olympic National Park — showcasing the variety and natural beauty that this Washington park has to offer.
Olympic National Park Mountains: Hurricane Ridge
Just outside of Port Angeles is the Hurricane Ridge section of the park, the area that was my introduction to the Olympic Peninsula. As my sister exclaimed as we drove up the scenic route, “I didn’t even know there were mountains in this part of the state!” Sure enough, the Olympic Mountains are gorgeous even on a rainy, overcast day like ours was.
When it comes to mountains, they’re best appreciated by heading up. Driving to the park visitor’s center is a good start, providing views back toward the water and overlooking the Olympic range.
Don’t Miss this Hike in Hurricane Ridge: The Switchback Trail to Klahane Ridge (3.2 miles round-trip)
Most visitors head up Hurricane Hill and that’s not a bad option. If you have more stamina, this steep switchback trail is a great option. At the top, you’ll get expansive views of the lower valley and if you’re lucky, you’ll say hello to the family of mountain goats that lives in the area.
For wildlife watching in Olympic National Park and other parts of Washington, I recommend packing a pair of binoculars that are meant to stand up in wet weather. These Nikons are under $100 and work fabulously for the pricepoint.
Olympic National Park “Dry” Forest: Elwha Canyon
The lesser visited Elwha Canyon section of the park was by far my favorite even though it was a last minute addition to our plans. The river valley is beautiful and the surrounding greenery makes the whole park smell like a Yankee Candle. However, it is the manmade additions to this part of the park that are truly remarkable: the Elwha Canyon Dam was built in the 1920s and fully removed by 2014. Seeing how it’s impacted the landscape is a really cool experience. The best part of this park section, though, was hot springs. YES, HOT SPRINGS!
Worth a Half Day: Boulder Canyon Trail to Hot Springs (5 miles round-trip)
This trail is easy enough for anyone to do, since it’s on a wide path with relatively flat terrain. Hike in about an hour, crossing the log bridge, and you’ll find some great hot spring pools on the right hand side. Pop in and relax those feet before heading back the way you came. (Hint: continue farther down the path and uphill in the woods once the path stops to find some smaller, hidden pools great for skinny-dipping).
Nothing is worse than putting wet feet back into your hiking shoes after you’ve gone for a dip! I’ve got two solutions: either wear SmartWool socks which are designed to prevent blisters even on wet feet or pack along a pair of amphibious hiking shoes.
Olympic National Park Beaches: Ruby Beach
The length of coastline protected by Olympic National Park is astounding, with the most-visited beaches near Forks, WA. For sunbathing, head to Second Beach in La Push, where a fifteen-minute hike will bring you to a beautiful beach with soft sand that invites you to pull out a book and get some sunshine.
However, if you’re looking for somewhere downright gorgeous, go to Ruby Beach.
Ruby Beach is popular. Want it to look deserted like these photos? Plan your visit for early in the morning if you can — but remember low tide is more important than no crowds if you want to do any tidepooling. Check out more tips for visiting national parks.
Olympic National Park Rainforests: Hoh Rainforest
When most people think of the Olympic Peninsula, they usually think of the rainforest. This area receives 140-167 inches of rain per year, and it’s full of mosses, large trees, and ferns of all sizes.
I was able to explore the Bogachiel, Hoh, and Quinault temperate rainforests, but I thought the Hoh Rainforest was the one that matched the image in my head the best. There’s a Jurassic Park feel to the area and if you’re lucky, the chance to spot Roosevelt Elk.
Just Try It: Hoh River Trail to Five Mile Island (10.6 miles round-trip)
If you’re looking for a full-day hike, the Hoh River Trail is your best bet. It’s 31 miles long and beloved by backpackers, but even day hikers love it. It provides a great glimpse into the rainforest, cascades, riverside, and glimpses of the Olympic Mountains in the distance — yet is still relatively flat and easy. You can turn around at any point (though do try to make it to Mt. Tom Creek, about 1 hour each way), but Five Mile Island is considered a great stopping point for a picnic lunch before heading back.
Olympic National Park in a Whirlwind
Can you see all of the Olympic Peninsula in a weekend? Absolutely not, but you’ll understand the vast variety of natural beauty if you try and hit these highlights.
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