Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse places in the USA. Inside the park’s boundaries, you can hike to high alpine lakes, rugged beaches, wild glaciers, and remote temperate rainforests, paddle a kayak around many of the pristine high country lakes, go fishing or climbing, explore the tide pools teeming with colorful species at low tide, take a ranger-led tour to learn about the history of the park, and much, much more.
Aside from the great diversity and endless activities inside Olympic National Park, you have a chance of spotting whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins, sea otters, and countless invertebrates wading in the tide pools and inhabiting the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean, and black bears, deer, cougars, and elk wandering on land.
In this complete guide to Olympic National Park, I am going to share with you the top hikes, the best things to do, when to visit, and much more!
Complete Guide to Olympic National Park
Quick Facts About Olympic National Park
Location: Washington, USA
Established: 1909 (National Monument); 1938 (National Park)
Size: 922,651 acres
Annual Visitors: 2,432,972 (2022)
Fee: $30/vehicle or FREE with an annual park pass
Visitor Centers: Olympic National Park, Wildnerness Information Center, Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rain Forest, Kalaloch Ranger Station
Fun Facts About Olympic National Park
95% of the park (876,447 acres) is designated wilderness.
Olympic National Park’s wilderness acreage is larger than the acreage of the entire state of Rhode Island.
The park protects 73 miles of wilderness coast.
There are 60 named glaciers in the park.
There are over 3,000 miles of streams and rivers inside the park boundaries.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the few remaining temperate rainforests in the USA.
The Hoh Rainforest receives over 12 feet of rain per year.
Lake Crescent lacks nitrogen, so the waters are crystal-clear. Visitors can see over 60 feet down into the lake.
Olympic is one of the most diverse national parks in the USA. Inside its boundaries are rainforests, glaciers, hot springs, alpine lakes, coastal beaches, and mountains. The six types of environment in Olympic are coastal forest, lowland forest, temperate rainforest, montane forest, subalpine, and alpine.
Top Hikes in Olympic
Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier
- Distance: 37 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 6,026 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
The Hoh River Trail is a spectacularly diverse trail in the Hoh area of Olympic. You’ll follow the Hoh River – which flows from Mount Olympus to the Pacific Ocean – underneath the canopy of the temperature rainforest, subalpine meadow, and montane forest ecosystems.
The entire trail is 37 miles roundtrip from the trailhead to where it deadends at Blue Glacier, but since there are so many spectacular stopping points and campsites along the way, you could easily hike a section of the trail and still get a great taste of the rainforest terrain.
The first 13 miles are pretty flat; the last 4 miles up to Glacier Meadows gradually become a lot steeper. You’ll cross a braid of the river around 8 miles in along with a few other small stream crossings.
If you do choose to thru-hike it or backpack a portion of it, make sure to snag wilderness permits to camp overnight! Those can be reserved online at recreation.gov.
BE AWARE: Those who are adventurous and want to backpack all the way to the terminus of the trail, be aware of the ladder. Shortly before the end of the trail, hikers will reach an intimidating ladder that descends into the valley before Glacier Meadows. Several years ago, the trail suffered a terrible washout near that valley, creating a muddled, unstable environment for hikers. To alleviate the problem, the NPS came up with a solution: to install a ladder in the avalanche chute. If you’re used to climbing, or you’ve accomplished a feat such as Half Dome in Yosemite, maybe this won’t be as daunting to you. But for those backpackers who aren’t prepared, you may be in for a wild surprise!
Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall
- Distance: 3.8 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 108 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
If you’re seeking a leisurely beach stroll with noteworthy natural features to gawk at, look no further than Rialto Beach!
A mix of sand and rocks, this segment of the Olympic Coast is wild, rugged, and breathtaking. Sea stacks jut out of the water, waves angrily licking their dark statures. Tidepools filled with bright orange, yellow, purple, and green aquatic life hide in between slick rocks. Coral seastars cling to slimy boulders.
The northern terminus of the trail is a colossal rock with a hole large enough for explorers to walk through at low tide cut right out of the middle! The rock is smartly named Hole-in-the-Wall. Visitors flock to this giant rock at low tide to walk through the hole and marvel at the marine life tucked away between the rocks.
This trail is popular, but since it’s on a beach where there is an abundance of space, I never once felt crowded. Take your time perusing the tide pools and exploring the sea stacks, but be aware of slippery rocks! It’s very easy to lose your footing.
- Distance: 4 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 310 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
The densely forested trail that leads from the parking lot to the beach is quite simple to weave through. The trail becomes narrower the closer you get to the beach; you will feel like you’re getting a hug from the hemlocks and spruce trees by the end.
When you reach the sand, which is just 0.8 miles from the parking lot, you’ll have to hobble over some log obstacles before making your way to the shoreline. On your right, you’ll see a giant rock with a hole carved in it; on a windy day, you’ll hear a whistling sound as the breeze whips through the cavity. To the left will be the dramatic sea stack with the trees growing atop it that is often portrayed in travel blogs, calendars, and advertisements.
If you stay overnight on the beach, you can choose to find a camping spot close to the trail, or venture anywhere from Quateata Head to Teahwhit Head, as long as you pitch your tent above the high tide line and away from fellow campers.
Make sure to read my comprehensive guide on backpacking to Second Beach! In the blog post, you’ll read about the hike, when to backpack the trail, how to obtain a wilderness permit to camp overnight on the beach, rules to follow when backcountry camping in the Olympic wilderness, how to read and understand tides and tide tables, what to pack, beach camping tips, and exactly what to expect when hiking and backpacking the Second Beach trail and coastline.
- Distance: 1.8 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
Located at Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls Trail is a short, popular hike to a beautiful waterfall. Beginning at the Storm King Ranger Station, hikers will wind through an old-growth forest to the 90-foot falls. The end of the trail features a loop that offers hikers two viewpoints of the waterfall. You’ll be able to get a view from the base of the falls and gain a vantage point from above the falls.
Mount Storm King
- Distance: 4.1 miles
- Type of Trail: Out & back
- Elevation Gain: 2,106 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
Chances are you’ve seen that iconic shot of a hiker standing on a rocky outcropping above the bright blue waters of Lake Crescent. These photos were taken atop Mount Storm King.
On a clear day, the views of the lake and surrounding peaks are absolutely stunning. If you’re prepared to put in the work, you will definitely be rewarded.
Mount Storm King’s trailhead begins at Lake Crescent as well. Marymere Falls and Mount Storm King share a trailhead at the Storm King Ranger Station. Since the trail begins on the Marymere Falls path, it will be easy at first. But the flat, wide trail will pivot into a climb after branching to the left at the Storm King junction.
The grind will be worth it! Soon the forest will open up and the Barnes Creek valley and Lake Crescent will pop into view. What most people might not know is that the trail dead-ends at a surprising point. At two miles in, hikers might be confused as to how to get that iconic shot that I mentioned at the beginning of this trail description; they might even wonder if they missed it and start heading back. But you have to continue PAST the “end of the maintained trail” sign.
The trail gives way to a climber’s paradise because gone are the steep, maintained paths. Now the route is rough, unmaintained, and exposed. When you see the ropes, you can be assured that it’s one final grueling jaunt before you reach the peak! But be aware that the NPS didn’t install nor do they maintain the ropes, so proceed at your own risk. The exposed drops on either side of the ropes are enough to cause jitters in even the most experienced hikers.
THREE MOUNT STORM KING TIPS:
One, don’t proceed to the very top if you’re not comfortable with climbing up the ropes. The climb back down will be much more dangerous and difficult.
Two, you don’t need to climb to the very top to get beautiful views of the blue waters of Lake Crescent. The trees gradually open up along the rope section, so just do what you can and know that you’ll still see the lake.
Three, if you’re not going on a clear day, the trek to the top isn’t worth it. The lake and surrounding peaks will be shrouded in a blanket of fog or clouds, hindering your view.
High Divide and Seven Lakes Basin Loop
- Distance: 19.1 miles
- Type of Trail: Loop
- Elevation Gain: 5,387 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
This is another iconic Washington hike. If you attempt to do this hike in one day, which is not recommended, you won’t need a permit. But if you plan to stay overnight and take your time thru-hiking this gorgeous loop, you’ll need a wilderness permit (or permits, for multiple nights) to camp.
Hikers will begin on the Sol Duc Falls Trail. This parking area can get crowded thanks to the short and easy Sol Duc Falls hike, but most crowds will diminish after the falls when the trail gives way to the High Divide.
If you hike counterclockwise, you’ll reach Deer Lake first, a few miles in. The views gradually become more impressive the higher you ascend above the treeline. Trees begin to clear and views open up. As you wind through the loop, which is nestled in a subalpine and old-growth forest region and, despite the trail name, dotted with more than seven lakes, you’ll cross exposed ridgelines and scramble across rocks.
Eventually, you’ll reach a spot where you can view many of the lakes at once from a high vantage point, the legendary Seven Lakes Basin.
Where to Stay in Olympic
Lodging (Inside the Park)
- Kalaloch Lodge. Year-round accommodations, including cabins, lodge rooms, and campsites. Amenities include a restaurant, a gift shop, and a mercantile.
- Lake Crescent Lodge. Seasonal accommodations, including cottages, cabins, and lodge rooms. Amenities include a restaurant, a gift shop, and kayak rentals.
- Log Cabin Resort. Seasonal accommodations, including chalets, cabins, lodge rooms, and a campground. Amenities include a cafe, deli, gift shop, convenience store, laundry, and boat rentals.
- Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Seasonal accommodations, including cabins, suites, and a campground. Amenities include hot spring pools, a restaurant, a deli, a convenience store, and a gift shop.
Lodging (Outside the Park)
- Red Lion Port Angeles – North Peninsula
- Olympic Suites Inn – West Peninsula
- Hampton Inn & Suites Olympia Lacey – East Peninsula
- Deer Park Campground. Tent only, seasonal, first-come, first-served, 14 sites, $15/night, pit toilets, and no potable water.
- Dosewallips Campground. Tent only, year-round, first-come, first-served, no fees, no vehicle access (the road is washed out 6.5 miles from the campground, so you’ll need to hike in), pit toilets, and no potable water.
- Fairholme Campground. Tent and RVs up to 21 feet, seasonal, reservations accepted, 88 sites, $24/night, flush toilets, and potable water.
- Graves Creek Campground. Tent only, year-round, first-come, first-served, 30 sites, $20/night, pit toilets, and no running water.
- Heart O’ the Hills Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), year-round, first-come, first-served, 105 sites, $24/night, flush toilets, and potable water.
- Hoh Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), year-round, reservations accepted during the peak summer season (first-come, first-served the rest of the year), 72 sites, $24/night, flush toilets, and potable water.
- Kalaloch Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), year-round, reservations accepted during the peak summer season (first-come, first-served in the off-season), 170 sites, $24/night, flush toilets, and potable water.
- Log Cabin RV Resort & Campground. Tents and RVs up to 35 feet, seasonal, call 888-896-3818 to reserve, 38 sites, $25-44/night, restrooms with flush toilets, potable water, and laundry.
- Mora Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), year-round, reservations accepted during the peak summer season (first-come, first-served the rest of the year), 94 sites, $24/night, flush toilets, and potable water.
- North Fork Campground. Tent only, year-round, first-come, first-served, 9 sites, $20/night, pit toilets, and no running water.
- Ozette Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet, year-round but some sites flood in the winter, first-come, first-served, 15 sites, $20/night, pit toilets, and potable water.
- Queets Campground. Tent only, year-round, first-come, first-served, 20 sites, $15/night, pit toilets, and. no running water.
- Sol Duc Hot Springs RV Resort & Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet at the campground (a few for 35 feet, but the RV Park 1/4 down the road from the campground can accommodate up to 36 feet), seasonal, reservations are accepted, 82 sites at the campground. and 17 sites at RV Park, $25-$29/night for campground and $51/night for RV Park, and flush toilets and running water at the campground.
- South Beach Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), seasonal, first-come, first-served, 55 sites, $20/night, flush toilets, and no potable water.
- Staircase Campground. Tents and RVs up to 21 feet (a few for up to 35 feet), year-round but primitive in the winter, first-come, first-served, 49 sites, $24/night, flush toilets and potable water during the summer season, pit toilets and no water in the off-season.
Since 95% of the park is designated wilderness, there are so many fantastic backpacking opportunities in Olympic National Park! Visit the NPS wilderness trip planner to plan your backpacking adventure. Before you go camping in the backcountry, make sure to snag your wilderness permit online!
Whether you’re backpacking on the North Coast or South Coast or venturing onto the Northside or Southside trails, the wilderness won’t disappoint!
Where to Go Backpacking in Olympic:
- Rialto Beach – North Coast
- Shi Shi Beach – North Coast
- Second Beach – South Coast
- Third Beach – South Coast
- Hoh River – Northside
- Sol Duc/High Divide Loop (7 Lakes Basin) – Northside
- East Fork Quinault – Southside
Getting Around Olympic
Since the park protects nearly one million acres of land and water, there is quite a bit to see. You’ll need a vehicle to drive to the different sections of the park. Access most areas of the park via U.S. Highway 101, but plan for some drive time between each section. The chart from the NPS website illustrates the mileage between each park area.
When to Visit Olympic
Since Olympic is wildly diverse in relation to both its array of environments and range of elevation, there isn’t a bad time to visit the park!
Summer months (June-September) are ideal for alpine hiking and backpacking since the snow has melted in the higher elevations, rain isn’t as frequent during these months, and temperatures are generally more comfortable.
Fall and spring (October-November & March-May) can be great times to visit with fewer crowds; the temperatures may be a bit chillier and snow may dust the peaks, but most of the park is still accessible.
Fortunately, the rainforest and coastal areas stay mild year-round, so these regions are able to be visited in any month!
If you’re craving a winter extravaganza, look no further than Hurricane Ridge. This area is the hub of winter adventure in Olympic. Snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing are all available!
Best Non-Hiking Activities in Olympic
If hiking isn’t your thing, or you prefer to do a variety of outdoor pastimes while you’re exploring a National Park, here are some suggestions for non-hiking activities to do in Olympic!
Swimming, Tide-Pooling, or Beachcombing (Coastal)
There are 73 miles of wilderness coast within Olympic National Park’s boundaries. The Pacific Ocean coastline is a quintessential place to go swimming, tide-pooling, and beachcombing.
Many families choose to spend their day lounging on the beach, but beware: this is no Gulf of Mexico, white-sand beach on Florida’s coastline. These beaches are wild, rugged, and unpredictable. Also, many beaches are rocky, not sandy, or they contain a mix of both.
Always carry a tide table so you know exactly when low tide and high tide will be. Prepare for varying conditions and sudden weather changes.
- Tidepools are revealed at low tide. They are buried beneath the water’s surface again at high tide.
- Bring a tide table so you know exactly when low tide and high tide will be.
- Watch closely for the returning tide and “sneaker waves,” large coastal waves that can appear without warning.
- Algae, seaweed, and the tide make rocks extremely slippery in and around tidepools, so use extra caution and pay attention to your footing when walking on them.
- Wear sturdy shoes with good traction.
- The most popular spots to view tidepools are Kalaloch Beach, Hole-in-the-Wall, Second Beach, Third Beach, and Ruby Beach, but every beach will have its own unique tidepools at low tide!
- Don’t disturb any of the intertidal life.
Climb the Olympic Wilderness (Alpine)
Olympic National Park is chock-full of rock formations that are composed of shale, sandstone, and pillow basalt. The NPS warns that climbing in the Olympic Mountains is a drastically different experience than climbing in the Cascades. The Cascades offer solid granite while Olympic rock is more fragmented and loose.
To read more about climbing in the Olympic wilderness, visit the NPS website.
Participate in a Ranger-Led Program (All Regions)
Ranger-led programs are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the park’s history and natural spaces. On these guided tours, rangers often reveal secrets, share lesser-known historical information, and give firsthand insights into the trails and ecosystems. They are a wealth of information, not only sharing helpful tips but generously revealing information that you might not otherwise get the pleasure of knowing.
From guided snowshoeing trips in the winter to interpretive walks and campfire chats in the summer, join a park expert on one of these ranger-led programs!
Kayak Lake Crescent (Alpine)
Backdropped by Mount Storm King, Lake Crescent is an icon of Olympic National Park. Its glacier-fed waters are pristine and bright blue, alluring visitors to glide along its surface. Rent a canoe, single or tandem kayak, or paddleboard from the lodge, and enjoy drifting, paddling, fishing, or picnicking from your boat.
Rentals are first-come, first-served, weather permitting. From 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM, visitors can rent a boat for a half day or full day for a very reasonable price.
What to Explore Around Olympic
I’d highly recommend adding these places near Olympic National Park to your road trip itinerary:
- Mount Rainier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Columbia River Gorge
- Snoqualmie Falls
- Franklin Falls