If you are visiting Washington State, you must visit Olympic National Park. First, the national park is only two hours out of Seattle. Second, there are many amazing things to do in Olympic National Park, and third, it’s one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States.
We hadn’t thought of visiting Olympic National Park, but after attending TBEX TriCities (a travel blogging conference that we’ve enjoyed since 2011) we set out on a tour along the coast of Washington State. We ended up visiting this amazing national park on a whirlwind trip through the Olympic Peninsula.
Things to do in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park covers nearly a million acres. The park is an expanse of snow-capped mountains, glacier meadows, beaches, and hiking trails galore. When planning an Olympic National Park itinerary, you are spoiled for choice with all the activities. For those wanting to escape city life and stay in a cabin, tent, or campervan for a while, the national park is a perfect adventure.
This guide will cover all the best things to do in Olympic National Park. You could be soaking in hot springs, cross-country skiing, or even spotting mountain goats and mountain lions on scenic hiking trails. We’ll leave you with plenty of inspiration.
But first, let’s take a look at some important details. These are some quick FAQs with essential information before you visit Olympic National Park.
If You are Staying in Seattle and want to explore Olympic National Park, then this full-day tour offers a great overview of the best areas in the park!
How to get to Olympic National Park
The most popular way to get to Olympic National Park is by car or ferry. Which you should choose depends mostly on where you want to go, so it’s worth checking the places you want to visit on an Olympic National Park map beforehand.
Driving is the easiest way to get to the southern area of the national park from Seattle. While if you want to get to the north, catching the ferry from Seattle across Puget Sound is best. The ferries take vehicles and foot passengers – so you don’t have to leave your car behind if you catch the ferry first.
Booking a shuttle to Olympic National Park might be a good idea if you want to just see a specific area. There is a bus line running from Seattle to Olympic National Park too, so you can always use public buses to reach the park if you want more freedom but can’t drive.
Getting around Olympic National Park is easiest with a car. While there are buses and shuttle services, these don’t cover all the destinations, attractions, and things to do in Olympic National Park. With a car, you’ll be able to reach everywhere that you want to visit. Check the best prices on Rental Cars here.
Of course, you may wish to book an organized tour of Olympic National Park. You won’t have to worry about getting around or too much driving. You sacrifice a bit of freedom, but this is a good option if you don’t want to rent a car.
Best time to visit
Usually, the advice for visiting national parks is to avoid the crowds and peak seasons. However, Olympic National Park is fantastic in July and August.
If you can visit just before the school holidays in June or in September, you’ll skip the crowds that the park attracts in the height of summer. But aim to visit Olympic National Park as close to July and August as possible.
These months have the warmest weather, and there is less chance that trails and attractions will be closed due to bad weather. Closures can be disappointing, especially when you’ve traveled long distances to see a particular attraction. The best time to visit is in the summer season, when most things remain open.
1. Lake Quinault
Lake Quinault is a glacially carved lake on the outskirts of Olympic National Forest. Sat in the dramatic hollow of Quinault Valley, the lake is a scenic spot for watersports and a popular place to stay in Olympic National Park.
There are two campgrounds in Quinault Valley, plus Lake Quinault Lodge, for anybody seeking luxury accommodation. Of course, you don’t have to stay overnight. Even visiting Lake Quinault for a few hours is one of the most fun things to do in Olympic National Park. On a hot day, there’s little better than going for a quick swim, fish, or kayak. You can read reviews on TripAdvisor and compare prices on Booking.com
2. La Push Beaches
La Push Beaches are three beaches unimaginatively named First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach. The series of beaches are on the Pacific Northwest coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. For an unforgettable beach day, visiting these beaches is one of the best things to do in Olympic National Park.
First Beach is the easiest to access and sits directly in front of the village of La Push. Second and Third Beach are accessed via trails on foot, and you can reach the trailheads by driving along La Push Road.
La Push Beaches are known for their wildlife sighting and stunning natural formations. You can spot whales and eagles on a lucky day, and there are iconic sea stacks and tide pools on all the beaches. First Beach is particularly famous because of its mention in the Twilight saga. First Beach also has enormous trees that have been washed up as driftwood, so it’s a fantastic spot for photography.
3. Drive the Juan de Fuca National Scenic Byway
The Juan de Fuca National Scenic Byway stretches 61 miles across the Olympic Peninsula’s northern coast. You can drive the length of the byway in just under two hours – making it a great addition to a day’s itinerary in Olympic National Park.
Sandwiched between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic National Park, drivers have beautiful views on either side. The byway is excellent for those who want a short road trip experience, and you can stop at lots of viewpoints along the way.
Driving the scenic byway is well combined with a visit to Lake Crescent, Port Angeles, Makah Indian Reservation, or La Push Beaches. There is already lots of driving to do when visiting the park, so when you can pick the scenic route, why not?
4. Klahhane Ridge Trail
Klahhane Ridge Trail is an ultimate fitness test. If you want challenging things to do in Olympic National Park, add hiking the trail from Klahhane Ridge to Mount Angeles to your to-do list.
Tackling Klahhane Ridge is not for the fainthearted, though; you’ll need a strong stomach and good fitness levels. The ridge is narrow and requires some tricky scrambling. Luckily, you have stunning views over Olympic National Park to keep you motivated – just don’t look down. You have even better views on a clear day from the Mount Angeles summit. Even if you’ve visited Olympic National Park before, the 360 degrees vantage point will be impressive.
Allow eight to ten hours to complete the Klahhane Ridge to Mount Angeles summit hike. It is a full-day activity in the national park and requires preparation beforehand as facilities are severely limited once you start the trail.
5. Marymere Falls, Olympic Peninsula
Does the Klahhane trail sound a bit too intense? Hike to Marymere Falls instead. Forget spending a whole day hiking; you can reach the Marymere Falls in less than an hour.
The path to Marymere Falls is one of the best short trails in the national park. It has a magical atmosphere too that makes it very well suited to families with young children. You’ll walk through old-growth forests, past twisted trees and fairytale-like scenes – emerging at a single-drop waterfall with a small plunge pool.
6. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is a luxury accommodation option and one of the best things to do in Olympic National Park. The National Park Service originally developed the resort, commercializing the natural hot springs and turning them into formal spa pools. Now, you can stay at the resort to enjoy the hot springs or book to bathe in the pools without a stay.
Hot spring sessions are ninety minutes long and have limited availability. We recommend booking in advance to avoid arriving and finding no slots available. It is worth noting that the springs are only open seasonally as well. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort closes the pools over winter, reopening them between spring and fall.
Sol Duc Hot Springs are a safer alternative to Olympic Hot Springs, which, while free to use, are considered high risk for dangerous bacteria and are untreated for bathers. Commercialized hot springs tend to be better for safe and enjoyable bathing.
7. Hike the Hoh River Trail
Hoh Rainforest is an unbelievably beautiful temperate rainforest in Olympic National Park. It is a key marker in the national park boundaries and is one of the Olympic National Park’s most impressive areas to visit. The challenging Hoh River Trail is the most beautiful way to experience Hoh Rainforest.
The word ‘hoh’ is Native American and comes from the phrase ‘fast water. The Hoh River suits the name and is particularly impressive after heavy rainfall. The trail follows the river from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center upstream to the Blue Glacier. The trail is 36 miles long, although you can pick smaller sections to hike if you are short on time.
Hikers usually tackle the trail over two to four days, depending on their free time and fitness level. The route takes you through dense temperate rainforest, glacial meadows, and past wildlife like elk and sometimes bears (take necessary precautions). There are multiple campgrounds en route, so you carry your camping gear, and plan stops beforehand.
Hiking along the Hoh River is one of the most rewarding things to do in Olympic National Park. If you have the time to spare, we recommend challenging yourself to this stunning multi-day hike.
8. Hike the Mount Storm King trail
The Mount Storm King trail still involves water views, just without a two to four-day commitment. Hiking up Mount Storm King barely requires a morning, let alone an entire day.
The 3.8-mile hike takes you through an old-growth forest and between numerous viewpoints. You have stunning views over Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains from these viewpoints. Is the trail challenging? Relatively. You have to be confident enough to tackle technical parts of the path like a rope section and a scramble near the summit.
However, Mount Storm King is one of the best short trails and only takes around four hours to complete – so you should have plenty of energy to tackle difficult sections. The views make all the challenges worthwhile. Just time your hike with good weather to avoid extra difficulties like slippery or muddy conditions.
Hole-In-The-Wall is a unique rock formation located on the Pacific Northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The most striking aspect of the formation is a large hole – large enough for visitors to walk through and snapshots of the beach scenery it frames. However, the whole formation is dotted with holes and pockmarks created during a volcanic eruption.
The ‘Wall’ is a huge boulder run deeply aground in the sand. During low tide, you can easily explore the whole boulder, taking your time to take pictures and admire the formation. However, during high tide, you cannot get up close to the boulder, so choose your visiting time wisely.
Hole-In-The-Wall takes about an hour to walk along the Pacific Northwest Trail. You can join the trail at Rialto Beach, and the beach trail has a glorious view over the Pacific Ocean and coastline. It’s a moderate but beautiful hike to complete when you visit Olympic National Park.
10. Hall of Mosses trail
The Hall of Mosses trail is another gem in Hoh Rainforest. The route is often described as atmospheric, and it is clear to see why.
The Hall of Mosses has a definite feeling of natural grandeur, and the path is lined by overgrown trees and ferns covered in blankets and blankets of moss. The temperate rainforest has a real elven feel. If you ever wanted to experience living in Tolkien’s imagination, the Hall of Mosses seems a great place to start and is like jumping straight into a forest in Lord of the Rings.
The trail is just 0.8 miles long – a convenient, short activity to complete on a visit to Hoh Rainforest. It is suited to families because of its length but honestly should be visited by anyone visiting Olympic National Park. Walking the Hall of Mosses is easily one of the most memorable things to do in Olympic National Park.
11. Enchanted Valley
Enchanted Valley is a beautiful spot in Olympic National Park. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains surround the valley, and it has the nickname the ‘valley of 10,000 waterfalls’. It very much has a similar aesthetic to the Dolomites or Swiss mountains. It is the perfect place to visit to appreciate the mountainous side of the national park.
Visiting the valley does require a bit of commitment, though. It is only accessible on foot, so visiting is not something you can squeeze into a day – sadly, a car cannot save the day when no roads are available.
You can hike to the valley via Graves Creek Trail and explore the 38.5-mile Enchanted Valley Trail as a multi-day hike. You’ll need to set aside at least four days to visit, as the trail has many scenic points and natural attractions that you’ll want to detour to and stop at. There are designated camping spots and a few outhouses en route. You’ll need to carry all your other supplies. Enchanted Valley is a tremendous multi-day expedition if you want a real adventure.
12. Climb Mt Olympus
Mt Olympus is no easy picking. The peak is the tallest of the Olympic Mountains and is almost 8000 feet tall. It is considered a challenging, extremely technical climb and is only accessible at certain times of the year. Climbers take two to four days to scale Mt Olympus – slow and steady wins the race in this case.
By this point, you have either written Mt Olympus off or are desperate to give it a go. If you want to climb it, we recommend joining a guided climb. Often, you’ll have most of your equipment provided, and you’ll have the safety net of a highly knowledgeable, expert guide to show you the way.
Mt Olympus is a serious undertaking, but what better way to challenge yourself in Olympic National Park? On a clear day, you’ll have views of the whole Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park from the summit. On some special days, you can even see the Canadian mountains across the border.
13. Hurricane Hill Trail
Looking for a viewpoint? Hurricane Hill has one of the best in Olympic National Park. You have sweeping views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and offshore islands like Vancouver Island from the hill’s summit.
You walk a 3.4 mile out and back route to reach the summit. The paved trail is well maintained and of moderate difficulty. If Mount Storm King sounded a bit too technical, Hurricane Hill is a great alternative. You’ll cross Hurricane Ridge and pass several scenic viewpoints before reaching the final summit.
Hiking up Hurricane Hill is one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park if you want a straightforward hike with brilliant views.
14. Go cross-country skiing on Hurricane Ridge
In winter, many trails in Olympic National Park close, and many attractions become inaccessible. However, for Hurricane Ridge, winter is prime time. While the rest of Olympic National Park is winding down, Hurricane Ridge is springing into full-blown snow sporting action.
If you visit the Olympic Peninsula when there’s snowfall or in winter, Hurricane Ridge is the best place for snow sports. Cross country skiing is the most popular activity, followed by snowboarding, snow tubing, and skiing in the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club. You can take your pick and easily spend a whole day on Hurricane Ridge.
You can drive up the Hurricane Ridge road all year round, although you will require snow tires. Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area offer lift facilities and equipment rentals for those that need them. Skiing is one of the most exciting things to do in Olympic National Park, and we recommend that you visit Hurricane Ridge to try it out.
15. Go whale watching from Port Angeles
There is always a chance of seeing whales from Olympic National Park beaches. But what if you want to take matters more into your own hands? Would you like to improve your chances? We highly recommend booking a whale watching tour from Port Angeles.
Gray and humpback whales are the most commonly sighted. And, if you are visiting Olympic National Park between March and November, we highly recommend booking a whale watching tour.
It might be whale watching, but you are likely to see all sorts of marine animals on an excursion as well. Dolphins, seals, sea lions, and orcas frequent the waters off of Port Angeles. Sailing the waters around Olympic National Park is an experience you’ll remember.
16. Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach is on the Pacific Northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Rialto Beach is a stunning example of coastal scenery on the Olympic Peninsula and a definite place to visit.
You’ll spot driftwood trees, sea stacks, and plenty of tide pools with starfish and fascinating marine life. Rialto Beach is also an excellent place for wildlife spotting, and there have been reports of otter and eagle sightings – among many others. The coastal forest also adds a secluded feel to Rialto Beach, and visitors get the impression of being in an area of natural solace.
Halfway between Hole-In-The-Wall and First Beach, Rialto Beach is an ideal addition to a day on the west coast. Rialto Beach is especially popular at sunset, so why not add it to the end of your day? Sitting on Rialto Beach with eagles overhead and the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean is a dreamy way to end any day of adventure.
17. Makah Cultural and Research Center Museum
Makah Cultural and Research Center Museum is located just outside Olympic National Park. However, it’s definitely worth a detour. Besides, its exhibitions directly relate to the Olympic National Park’s history and native culture.
The national park has ties to eight different native tribes, including the Makah. And, at Makah Cultural and Research Center, you can learn all about the tribe’s connection to Olympic National Park. The exhibitions are fascinating, with original items like baskets, bowls, and canoes, plus a replica longhouse. Some of the original artifacts are over 500 years old, and visiting the museum is a fantastic way to understand the history of Olympic National Park.
The museum is in Neah Bay, near the Makah Indian Reservation and at the end of the Scenic Byway. The museum is an excellent addition to your itinerary if you plan to visit the Pacific Northwest coast, as it is an easy detour from many of the attractions on the coastline.
Visiting Makah Cultural and Research Center Museum is one of the most insightful things to do in Olympic National Park. We highly recommend paying a visit.
18. Ruby Beach
Ruby Beach is (like Rialto Beach, Second Beach, and all the other beaches on the Olympic Peninsula) full of fascinating geographical and geological attractions. However, Ruby Beach has the best balance between a remote feel and easy access. If you want a nearby parking lot or are visiting on a rainy day, Ruby Beach is great to dash out of your car to quickly sightsee.
You can wander amongst full-sized trees that have been washed ashore and rotted to driftwood, admire sea stacks, and peer into a lot of tide pools. Ruby Beach has black sand, which adds to the gothic, spooky atmosphere. And, on an overcast day, Ruby Beach is easily one of the most atmospheric places to visit in Olympic National Park.
Ruby Beach is very accessible. The beach has a small parking lot with toilet facilities just a short walk away. Ruby Beach is an excellent option for an easy beach day for families and those with limited fitness or mobility.
19. Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent is another of Olympic National Park’s glacial lakes, and visiting is a fantastic way to spend a day. You can fish, swim, boat, or picnic. The lake has a laidback atmosphere and is the perfect place to indulge in a lazy afternoon of sunbathing and lakeside living.
Mountain peaks surround Lake Crescent, and it has greenery and forest growing right up to its waterfront. Beauty is an understatement, and visiting Lake Crescent is one of the best things to do in Olympic National Park.
Lake Crescent is well combined with several other things to do in Olympic National Park, including the Juan Scenic Byway and Mount Storm King trail. There are also plenty of hiking trails around the lake, so there is no chance of you getting bored.
20. Spruce Nature Trail
Spruce Nature Trail is our final hiking trail in Hoh Rainforest. The one-and-a-half-mile walk is a short and sweet introduction to the temperate rainforest and takes a maximum of half an hour to complete – even with a stop or two.
The highlight of the trail is the nurse logs. Nurse logs are a fascinating natural phenomenon where new trees begin to sprout and grow from fallen trees – creating the name ‘nurse logs’. The process has been happening for centuries, so you’ll see nurse logs in all stages. The process has also impacted the alignment of grown trees, and you’ll see many trees in straight lines thanks to how they grew out of the same log.
If you want a whistle-stop tour of Hoh Rainforest, the Spruce Nature Trail is one of the best things to do in Olympic National Park. It is botanically and geographically interesting. Plus, it’s a fun hike for those who aren’t as keen to complete longer trails or multi-day hikes in Olympic National Park.
21. Visit Salmon Cascades
Salmon jumping is a phenomenon that occurs across the globe. However, Salmon Cascades is easily one of the best places to see it in the United States – if not the world.
Salmon Cascades is a designated viewing platform where you can watch the salmon jump their way back upstream in September and October. The salmon are incredibly determined and scale small waterfalls, boulders, and the strength of the current to make their way back to the birthplace to lay their own eggs every year.
Not visiting Olympic National Park in September or October? Don’t worry; you get a second chance to watch for fish jumping as steelhead trout make the same journey upstream between March and May. If your visit coincides with these months, it’s worth stopping by to check it out.
22. Visit Sol Duc Falls
Who doesn’t love a good waterfall? While Marymere Falls is a pretty waterfall and is best if you want a dramatic waterfall to admire.
Sol Duc Falls drops 48 feet into a canyon and has the scale and power to impress even the most seasoned waterfall chaser. Another draw of Sol Duc Falls is the multiple viewpoints. You can watch the falls from a tiny footbridge crossing the canyon, upstream on the continuing trail path, and downstream as you approach the waterfall. It’s good to get the chance to observe Sol Duc Falls from different angles – especially on a busy day.
Hiking to Sol Duc Falls is straightforward and physically easy. The trail is 1.6 miles return, so it should take you around an hour to complete. It is best combined with a trip to Salmon Cascades, the Scenic Byway, Hoh Rainforest, and Lake Crescent, all of which are nearby or en route.
There are so many things to do in Olympic National Park. Sure, nearby national parks like Mt. Rainer National Park can be tempting to visit. But Olympic National Park has an extra-special atmosphere.
The scale, diversity, and beauty of Olympic National Park make it one of the best places to visit in Washington State and the United States. Have a fantastic time.