Along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park offers visitors an enticing selection of glacial peaks, stunning waterfalls, and epic coastlines. Spectacular and remote, the park rewards those that venture into the mountains, while also providing beautiful and accessible trails for the rest of us.
The surrounding national forest and Olympic Peninsula in western Washington are equally worth your time, offering unique coastal landscapes and storybook lakes. Connecting all parts of the region is the Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive. This drive allows you to experience some of the best things to do in Olympic National Park with incredible scenery as you head from one memorable adventure to another.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. Quinault Rain Forest
Below the renowned Hoh Rain Forest and along the edge of Lake Quinalt – come to the Quinault Rain Forest to spot ancient spruce trees and beautiful waterfalls. Connecting to the main scenic drive, the Quinalt Rain Forest has a scenic road all for itself. The 31-mile drive brings you along the forest, circling the lake and river. Along the drive, you’ll pass important trailheads ready to show off the best the region offers.
Home to six of the tallest trees on earth, the Quinault Rain Forest is a land of giants. Some of these impressive wooden beasts aren’t accessible. However, you will be able to spot the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree from the Big Spruce Trailhead.
11. Ozette Loop Hike
Olympic National Park is known for its epic mountain treks and glacial journeys, and you’ll have plenty of time to do either that you choose. However, for a mellow, yet equally rewarding trek, add the Ozette Loop Hike to your itinerary. The loop is structured more like a perfect triangle. The first section heads down towards the beach, the second section up along the coast, and then the third cuts back inland.
Covering 9.2 miles, this loop can be completed in a single day. However, there are campgrounds along the coast offering amazing views to wake up to. Along the way, take your time to check out the tide pools, laze by the water, and admire the uninhibited sunset.
Along the North Fork of the Skokomish River, is one of the most underappreciated sections of Olympic National Park. Only one percent of visitors to the 6th most popular national park in the United States make the journey to Staircase. Away from the crowds, experience rugged mountains that shoot out of the wild rivers.
There are several exceptional trails that receive few footsteps. One of the top hikes here is the 2.5 mile Staircase Loop Trail. Venture through old-growth forests besides the rushing Skokomish River before crossing a classic cable bridge. All the while, take in the mountain scenery that looms imposingly from above.
9. Olympic National Forest
Surrounding the national park, Olympic National Forest is enveloped by mountains on one side and saltwater on the other. Covering five major landscape settings, from rainforests and beaches, to craggy mountains, the national forest has much to offer away from its more renowned sibling.
Olympic National Forest has over 270 miles of trails, with 20 campgrounds to choose from. Of the forest’s many treks, eight of them are wheelchair accessible, including the half-mile Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail and the Brown Creek Nature Trail around a beaver pond.
The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive also meanders through much of the Olympic National Forest.
8. Sol Duc Valley
Providing visitors with hot springs, rivers, and waterfalls, the Sol Duc Valley is one of the most picturesque parts of Olympic National Park. Offering a variety of short and long hikes, you can enjoy the best of all three without extensive hiking experience.
The most popular trail in the valley is the 1.6 mile return hike to Sol Duc Falls. Arguably the best waterfall in the national park, visitors will be rewarded with dazzling views among old-growth forests.
One of the top hikes in Olympic National Park also starts here. The 19 mile Seven Lakes Basin Loop shows off the best of the Sol Duc Valley, including the falls and Deer Lake. At the highest point, hikers will enjoy sweeping views of Sol Duc Valley and Mount Olympus.
7. Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive
With the mountains in the middle of the Olympic National Park soaring to great heights, the only way through is around. The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive is a stunning scenic road that follows Highway 101 for over 300 miles through the park.
Beginning in Port Angeles, the loop passes the majority of attractions and things to do in Olympic National Park. After taking you by a connection to the amazing Hurricane Ridge, the drive descends towards the Sol Duc Valley. From there, enjoy impeccable scenery on your way to Forks, with easy access to the coastline. Continue on to find Lake Crescent and Lake Quinault.
Olympic National Park has fewer amenities than some of the other parks in the US, especially when it comes to supplies. Along the Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive, you’ll have better access to food and gear for your adventures to more remote areas.
6. Olympic National Park Main Visitor Center
Olympic National Park has a variety of visitor centers placed throughout the park. Two fantastic locations include Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rain Forest. However, the main visitor center exists just outside the park in Port Angeles. Whether you’re arriving from Seattle or traveling from further afield, check in here before heading into the park.
The visitor center has an information desk to gather up-to-date information on trail closings, weather, and campgrounds. This is also the place to pick up backcountry camping permits and bear canisters for the epic hike you’ve planned. Aside from ticking the boxes, there are nature exhibits to explore, including insights into the environment and native wildlife. Better yet, check out the theater and enjoy a free movie on Olympic National Park.
5. Mora and Rialto Beach
70 miles from Port Angeles is the home of Twilight – Forks – and Rialto Beach is the place to spot sea lions, otters, and whales. After a 1.5 mile hike over sand and pebbles, you will arrive. Greeting you will likely be the patented local fog rising above the rugged coastline.
It’s an inspiring sight, where nature is unapologetic, simply doing as it pleases. Through the morning, the sea stacks slowly appear with more clarity. On Rialto Beach, you will have the chance to also see the iconic Hole-in-the-Wall Sea Stack. This natural attraction is a freestanding arch carved by years of erosion and crashing waves. Hot tip: have your travel buddy walk far off into the distance while using the arch to frame a memorable photograph.
4. Crescent Lake
In the middle of the Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive, Crescent Lake combines the awe-inspiring mountain sights with a slower-paced lakeside experience. After some time spent chasing hair-raising experiences in the high alpine, Crescent Lake provides the chance to relax. Head to the shoreline and enjoy the picturesque water, a glacial blue that is hard to find.
This isn’t to say there isn’t adventure to be had here. After eating lunch at Granny’s – the burger and milkshakes always hit the spot – hike the Storm King trail. The 2.4 mile trek takes you up a rocky crevice with expansive views of Lake Crescent below. But be warned, hikers will have to earn it. For something more casual, enjoy a comparatively simple walk to Marymere Falls.
3. Kalaloch and Ruby Beach
Along the Olympic Wilderness Coast are a series of rugged, remote, and amazingly beautiful beaches. Two prime examples are Kalaloch and Ruby Beach. Famous for the Tree of Life, Kalaloch Beach requires a brief 15-minute coastal walk before reaching its expansive shores.
With the regular morning fog lifting off the coast, come here for memorable beach walks ending at the iconic tree. The Sitka spruce tree is on full display, roots and all, providing an insight into how nature adapts in harsh environments.
Ruby Beach is another popular coastal spot offering renowned sea stacks and piles of deserted driftwood. Scenic and adventurous, kids will love creating seesaws out of the wood and exploring the several tide pools. While the endless views will give your camera a working over.
2. Hoh Rain Forest
A major attraction within the park is the Hoh Rain Forest. One of the few temperate rainforests in North America, you can experience some exceptional hiking along the three nature trails. The shorter Spruce Nature and Hall of Mosses trails are family-friendly and educational, while providing a closeup view of some of the most unique landscapes in the United States.
The forest receives almost 15 feet of rain every year. Not only does that make the Hoh Rain Forest a predictably damp environment, but its aura rivals that found high above the treeline. For a more challenging trek through the rainforest, pack an overnight bag and start off on the Hoh River Trail. 17 miles, one way, shows the best that the rainforest offers, passing century-old spruce and cedar trees along the glacial-fed river.
1. Hurricane Ridge
A popular first stop on adventures through the Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge is the perfect introduction. After completing an exceptionally scenic drive to the height of 5200ft, you will be granted amazing views over the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
From there, pay a visit to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Discover local trails and campgrounds while learning more about the park’s history and geography. But you can’t continue on until you’ve wandered through the surrounding meadows on one of the nearby trails. A popular pick is the Hurricane Ridge Trail. Scenic and not too long (3.2 miles return), hikers can witness some of the best views in the park without having to venture too far.