Hey there! Planning your first trip to Olympic National Park in Washington?
I've visited this gorgeous national park three times. The first two times were with my husband and young children. We were visiting this area for a family reunion and we just sampled Hurricane Ridge and Hoh Rainforest on those trips.
Then last June, I returned to Olympic National Park for a full week with two of my sisters. This was a getaway without our husbands and kids, and it was so much fun to spend time together, digging deep into all this park has to offer.
Olympic National Park is a “happy place” for my youngest sister and she has made several trips here in recent years. She hand-picked her favorite places for us. And now I'm sharing them with you.
Here are my top tips for your first trip to Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park is a large park covering much of the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. It's incredibly scenic and diverse, with mountain peaks, rugged beaches, dense rain forests, picture-perfect lakes, dramatic waterfalls…
Expect to do a lot of driving in Olympic National Park. There are no roads through the center of the park. You'll use Highway 101 – a winding two-lane road – to access most of the park's highlights from the perimeter.
There are small towns scattered along Highway 101 where you can find lodging, food, and phone service. However, when you are in the park, it feels wild and remote.
We arrived at 10:30 AM on Friday and claimed one of the last sites at Fairholme Campground, near Crescent Lake. On Sunday, we waited in a line of cars at the Hoh Rainforest fee station for about 45 minutes because the parking lot was over capacity. On weekdays, we had little trouble with crowds.
Things to Do
Olympic National Park is filled with wild wonder. My trips have focused on the north and west sides of the park. Here are my favorite things to do in Olympic National Park.
- Hurricane Ridge – A scenic mountain road leads from Port Angeles to a spectacular mountain panorama. You'll find hiking trails, a ranger station, a gift shop, and a small cafe at the top.
- Lake Crescent – A gorgeous lake surrounded by forested mountains. Swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, and boating are popular activities.
- Marymere Falls – Take the trail through lush forest from Lake Crescent Lodge or Storm King Ranger Station to this pretty waterfall.
- Sol Duc Falls – This dramatic waterfall at the end of a lovely family-friendly trail is one of the most scenic in the park. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is nearby.
- Rialto Beach – A scenic, rocky beach that is fantastic at sunset. The parking lots are just a few steps from the beach.
- First/Second/Third Beach – Beautiful beaches just outside of La Push. Short, forested hiking trails lead to each beach.
- Hoh Rainforest – Scenic walks don't get much greener than this. Explore and learn about the rainforest via two easy trails.
- Ruby Beach – One of the most beautiful and popular beaches in the park. It's a short walk from the parking lot down to the beach.
- Beach 1/2/3/4 – Four more scenic beaches can be found in the Kalaloch area.
- Lake Quinault – A large, beautiful lake and a historic lodge make a fun base on the south end of the park.
- Learn about local tribes – The Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Ozette, and Makah Nations share this part of Washington with Olympic National Park.
- Twilight – Did you read the Twilight book series or watch the movies? They are set in this part of Washington. Look for souvenirs and landmarks in Forks.
All of the hikes on my list are fairly short (under 1.5 miles each way) and good for families. The beaches are generally not safe or warm for swimming, but they are fun places for families to play.
Where to Stay
It's tricky to choose just one home base for an Olympic National Park trip. It's a three-hour drive from Hurricane Ridge on the north end to Quinault Lake on the south end of the park.
We chose two different places – Fairholme Campground at Crescent Lake and Three Rivers Resort near La Push – for our weeklong trip. This made it easier to enjoy different sections of the park with less driving.
If you want to book one place, consider any of the park lodges or campgrounds. Or look for lodging in Forks, Port Angeles, Sequim, or Lake Quinault. There are lots of little places on/near Highway 101.
Where to Eat
I often recommend packing a picnic, and Olympic National Park is one of the best places to use this advice.
There are restaurants in the park lodges, and there are more restaurants in towns like Forks, Port Angeles, and Sequim. Personally, I enjoyed Sully's – a fast-food burger place in Forks. It's mentioned in the Twilight books, so fans won't want to miss it.
Otherwise, there aren't a lot of dining options in this area and it was lots of fun to eat picnic lunches on the beach most days. We ate simple dinners and breakfasts at our campsite or cabin.
There are two Walmarts and other grocery stores in the Port Angeles/Sequim area. Forks Outfitters is also well-stocked.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the closest major airport to Olympic National Park.
From there, driving your own car or renting a car is the best way to get around Olympic National Park. It takes three hours, give or take, to drive from the airport to popular destinations in Olympic National Park
There are no sightseeing shuttles inside the park. Public transportation outside the park is limited.
I recommend 3-5 full days at Olympic National Park. If you have less time, it's still worthwhile to pick a highlight or two like Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rainforest.
On my first two visits to Olympic, we were already in the region for a family reunion. We just picked one thing and took a few hours to drive out and enjoy it.
On my most recent trip with my sisters, we spent five full days exploring Olympic National Park. We wanted to see it slowly, so we didn't see everything, but that gave us plenty of time to really enjoy the mountains, beaches, lakes, forests, and waterfalls that fill this breathtaking park.
When to Go
Summer is the best time to visit Olympic National Park because high temperatures are usually 60-80 degrees (F) and it's less rainy than other times of the year.
Summer is also the most crowded season. Aim for weekdays or after Labor Day to avoid peak crowds.
Olympic National Park is open year-round, and it's spectacular any time of year. Pack layers and rain gear no matter when you go.
Currently, the fee to enter Olympic National Park is $30 per vehicle. This fee is good for seven consecutive days.
I had my America the Beautiful annual parks pass, so we didn't have to pay the fee. It cost $80 and I've used it to visit Olympic, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Denali National Parks this year. Without the pass, we would have paid $140 (so far).
Related: 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees
Expect mobile phone service and Wifi to be spotty or non-existent in Olympic National Park. Service is more reliable in towns like Fork and Port Angeles, but in general, I'd go with low expectations.
Between my phone (T-Mobile) and my sister's (Verizon), I was able to call my husband and kids at least once a day. Texts always got through sooner or later. But mostly, I just stopped worrying about my phone because connectivity was so unreliable. And I had a better vacation for it.
There are SO MANY fun things to do at Olympic National Park. But one of my favorite things about my recent trip to Olympic with my sisters is that we didn't try to cram in too many of them.
Instead, we carried sandwiches and stadium cushions and made ourselves comfortable at whatever gorgeous spot we visited. And personally, I couldn't get enough beach time.
I hope that our experience will help your family plan a fantastic trip to Olympic National Park.