Top 10 Things to Do in Olympic National Park

by Jon D. B.
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From glacier-capped mountains to America’s most breathtaking rain forests and wild coastline, Olympic National Park is unmissable.

There are few national parks that pull this Outsider’s hear back on a daily basis, and Olympic National Park is at the top of that list, bested only by my home, the Great Smoky Mountains.

While the Smokies are the premiere rain forest of America’s East Coast, Olympic is exactly that for the West Coast. Here, untold exploration awaits. It’s near impossible to recommend just 10 top excursions to Washington state’s crown jewel, but it’s absolutely a worthwhile venture.

Known for its incredible range of ecosystems and elevation, “diversity is the hallmark of Olympic” as the national park states. With nearly a million acres to explore, the park boast vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different world you have to see to believe. Below is a set of Top 10 recommendations to hit within, whether you have a day, week, month, or lifetime to spend in the national park. Let’s get to it!

10. Hike Ozette Loop Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 9.2 miles
  • Elevation change: Sea level to 100 feet
  • Ecosystem type: Coastal Forest and Ocean Beach
  • Trail tread types: Well maintained – boardwalk
  • General elevation trend: Flat with steep overland trails
  • Unique features: Boardwalks, wilderness coast, bald eagle viewing, marine mammals
  • Best Season: April through October

Looking for a longer hike? This gorgeous trek through the coastal region of Olympic National Park is your bet. The entirety of Ozette Loop Trail is near 10 miles, but is almost completely flat and an easy walk, making for a beautiful day-trip or weekend-long backpacking/camping trip (with Ozette, Sand Point and Cape Alava campgrounds along the loop).

Ozette is a loop, but is also referred to as the Ozette Triangle, as it features three prominent treks:

  • North Sand Point Trail
  • Cape Alava Trail
  • Olympic Coast

To make the triangle, head to Ozette Campground, then pick a route towards the coast. You’ll walk 3 miles of breathtaking coast to reach the other trail, creating the base of the triangle. This is one Olympic excursion Outsider can’t recommend enough.

9. Tackle Second Beach Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 0.7 mile
  • Elevation change: 80′ gain and 100′ loss on way in
  • Ecosystem type: Coastal forest and ocean beach
  • Trail tread types: Well maintained
  • General elevation trend: Flat
  • Best Season: April through October

For a far shorter hike to a spectacular beach, tackle Second Beach Trail. First, you’ll wind through gorgeous Olympic National Park rain forest. Once you reach the beach, a dramatic, picturesque scene greets you. Enormous sea stacks rise like towers out of the ocean, with an arch spreading out from the coast to the north.

Here, bald eagles and seals both hunt fish in abundance. And if you come from March or April (or for their return journey in October), you can watch the great whale migration right off the coast.

Overnight stays are also allowed with a permit at Second Beach. But please note for hiking or camping that this is bear country, and all food, garbage, and scented items must be stored—overnight and when unattended—in park-approved bear canisters along the entire Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast.

8. See Quinault Rain Forest

Located in the southwestern portion of the park, Quinault Rain Forest is about a three-hour drive from Port Angeles and one hour from Forks, and worth the trek from either point.

This stunning, almost otherworldly rain forest rests within Quinault Valley, a wilderness haven full of alpine meadows, pristine lakes, and towering peaks overhead. Here, you can drive the Quinault Scenic Loop, or take to multiple short trails that lead through the temperate rain forests of both the national park and national forest.

The best place to start is the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station. There, one short 1.3 mile loop leads to the old Kestner homestead, while another winds through groves of bigleaf maples.

Or, spend a day on the North Fork Quinault River Trail to the Low Divide. You can also take the East Fork Quinault River Trail to the historic Enchanted Chalet. Camping is also available in the valley, alongside lodging opportunities to accommodate longer treks and stays.

Find information about the facilities, trails, camping, and regulations in the park’s Quinault Valley brochure.

7. Visit Olympic National Forest

If Quinault Valley sounds like paradise to you, consider visiting Olympic National Forest, the U.S. National Forest that surrounds the national park.

Encompassing 628,115 acres around the park, the national forest offers countless hours of further forest trekking. From rushing rivers and coastal rain forests to alpine wildflowers and the incredible Puget Sound via mountain peaks, the national forest is only bested by Olympic National Park in Olympic Peninsula experiences.

It’s also worth noting that the national forest offers 360 views of the peninsula from mountain peaks, something you’ll have to do a whole lot of climbing to achieve in the national park.

For more information on all of the above, we highly recommend checking out the park’s free forest-wide recreation guide, the Olympic Outlook.

6. Sol Duc Falls of Sol Duc Valley

Washington State, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park, Sol Duc River, Sol Duc Falls. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Another forest paradise in Olympic is Sol Duc Valley. Located in the northwest region of the park about 40 minutes west of Port Angeles, Sol Duc is easily accessible from Highway 101. From there, Sol Duc Road will lead you down into one of the most gorgeous forests on the planet.

Here, the Sol Duc River serves as a highway for coho salmon, and a pristine guide through the forest lows. Several shorter hikes allow you to experience the river. But it’s Sol Duc Falls that we recommend you seek out.

From the main Sol Duc parking lot, the trail to Sol Duc Falls overlook is only a 1 mile hike. To get there, you’ll experience the areas most beautiful old-growth forests and babbling brooks.

For further excursions, take to Lover’s Lane, a 6 mile loop, or climb to Mink Lake, a 5.2 miles roundtrip.

5. Olympic National Park’s Rialto Beach

Fog bank over Rialto Beach on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the Olympic National Park in Washington State, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • Level of difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1 mile to Hole-in-the-Wall camp area
  • Ecosystem type: Coastal Forest and ocean beach
  • Trail tread types: beach
  • General elevation trend: Flat with steep overland trails
  • River crossings: Ellen Creek
  • Unique features: Beach hiking, natural arch
  • Best Season: April through October

Looking for Olympic’s famous rocky beaches, giant drift logs, and pounding waves? Head to Rialto Beach for views of the iconic, towering offshore islands, or sea stacks, a defining feature of Rialto.

Also head inland to experience the magnificent Mora area, where towering trees, lush undergrowth and the omnipresent roar of the Pacific Ocean sets the ultimate Olympic National Park mood.

One of the best scenic coastal areas of the national park, Rialto Beach is accessible by Mora Road, off of La Push Road. Rialto Beach is about 36 miles southwest of Lake Crescent, and about 75 miles from Port Angeles, so it’s a trek, but one absolutely worth making.

4. Don’t Miss Lake Crescent

Canoeing on Lake Crescent near Lake Crescent Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula in the Olympic National Park in Washington State, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Speaking of, make sure not to miss Lake Crescent when in Olympic. This pristine, enormous body of water lies nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains. The area, about 18 miles west of Port Angeles, is famous for its immensely deep, crystal clear waters amidst a glacially-carved landscape.

And the adventures are boundless once at Lake Crescent. Here, you can hike multiple trails that lead to surrounding mountains. Or, explore the lowland forests, creeks, and valleys between. One hike we highly recommend is the Barnes Creek Trail, which leads to Marymere Falls.

Spruce Railroad Trail is another excellent choice, one that runs along the north shore of Lake Crescent and offers lesser-seen vantage points of the area.

Another favorite pastime at the lake is boating, with boat launches available at the eat and west ends of the lake. Visitors can rent rowboats from Lake Crescent Lodge, or bring their own kayaking, sailboats, etc.

Camping is also available at the Fairholme Campground. Or, book a stay at Lake Crescent Lodge or the Log Cabin Resort. No matter which you pick, you’ll instantly fall in love with the Lake Crescent area.

3. Olympic National Park’s Finest Coast: Ruby Beach

If you take to any coastal area in Olympic National Park, make sure it is Ruby Beach. Located on the southwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula, Ruby Beach is an otherworldly, rugged coast that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated.

Here, large nesting colonies of birds like common murres and tufted puffins take to rocky outcrops as giant boulders and sea stacks dot the coast. Outside of Hoh Rain Forest, Ruby Beach’s many faces is this Outsider’s favorite place in all of Olympic National Park. And once you visit, you’ll see why.

Both Ruby Beach and the connecting Kalaloch area are accessible directly off of Highway 101, so it’s no challenge to seek out, either. Once there, you’ll want to take either Ruby Beach Trail or Beach Trail 4 for the best outlooks and views. And yes, you can walk directly down to the coast and explore to your heart’s content.

Consider staying in Kalaloch Lodge, too, if you want to tackle this breathtaking area over a couple of days.

2. Experience Hurricane Ridge

View of the Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles in Washington State on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Photo by Thomas O’Neill/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

We’ve yet to hit the Olympic Mountain vistas of the national park, and that’s because Hurricane Ridge is the one to beat. Firstly, it is the most easily accessed mountain area within Olympic National Park. Secondly, the breathtaking views Hurricane Ridge offers can be enjoyed throughout the year, and are unparalleled in the park.

Located 17 miles south of Port Angeles on Hurricane Ridge Road (off Mount Angeles Road), here you’ll find the park’s best visitors center and access points to everything you’ll need for your Olympic excursions. Stock up on brochures, maps, snacks, and tips from park staff here, and you’ll be set.

From there, head to any of the trails that suit your wishes. In winter, the snowy scenery is a bonus for coss-country skiiers and recreational sledding. But during spring, it’s the wildflowers that will take your breath away. No matter the time of year, be sure to also experience the panoramic views offered by Hurricane Ridge.

1. Olympic National Park Crown Jewel: Hoh Rain Forest

In this Outsider’s mind, there’s no other choice for Olympic National Park’s #1 spot. There aren’t enough (or strong enough) words to describe the beauty, spirit, and splendor of Hoh Rain Forest. Here, the lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species house untold mosses and ferns, all of which blanket every inch of the forest. It is unlike anywhere else you’ll experience, and the one place you absolutely cannot miss in the national park.

Hoh Rain Forest lies on the west side of Olympic National Park, and is about a two-hour drive from Port Angeles and under an hour from Forks. To get here, take to Upper Hoh Road off of Highway 101.

Hoh also has a campground that is open year round. Within one of the 72 sites located in the old growth forest along the river, you can spend nights surrounded by one of the most beautiful forests on Earth. All campsites are reservable during the peak season and reservations are available online six months in advance at recreation.gov.

For the best experience, head to Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center first. The staff there is fantastic, and will help you structure whatever visit suits you best.

Hoh Rain Forest offers two short loop trails, as well as an out-and-back trail through the forest near the Visitor Center. They are:

  • The Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles/ 1.2 km): an iconic loop that takes you through old growth forest and features a grove of maples trees draped with abundant club moss
  • The Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles/ 1.9 km): a diverse trail that loops through both old and new growth forest as you walk alongside Taft Creek and the Hoh River
  • The Hoh River Trail is the area’s main hiking trail. This out-and-back trail can be taken as far as one desires. Taken all the way, it leads past multiple camping areas, the last being Glacier Meadows at 17.3 miles (27.8 km), and ultimately ends 18.5 miles/ 30 km out at the Blue Glacier moraine looking up at Mt. Olympus
    • The Hoh Lake Trail branches off from the Hoh River trail just after the ranger station and ascends to Bogachiel Peak between the Hoh and the Sol Duc Valley
    • For those wanting to explore this area as a day hike, there are additional popular turn-around points along the trail.

For more ahead of your Olympic excursion, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Olympic National Park w/ photos next.

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