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Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the United States, preserving nearly a million acres of alpine mountains, temperate rainforests, and rocky beaches. Located on the remote Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park offers breathtaking sights and experiences that will deepen your appreciation of the natural world.
This three-day itinerary highlights some of the most impressive destinations at Olympic National Park. Because of the park’s size, this three-day itinerary focuses on the park’s northern section, including the Elwha Valley, Hoh Rain Forest, and beaches. Three days in Olympic National Park is a good amount of time in explore this region of the park.
Overview of Olympic National Park
The Olympic Peninsula is an ancient landscape, with old growth forests and human history dating back thousands of years. The park contains the ancestral lands of eight Indigenous Tribes including the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah.
Tribes have reservations bordering the national park and retain special permission to practice cultural traditions on park lands. Visit the tribes’ websites to learn more about their cultures and activities on the reservations that may be open to the public, such as recreation, museums, events, lodging, and shopping. Please remember that reservations are sovereign nations and all visitors must be respectful of the land and people. Please also familiarize yourself with photo, video, and audio recording policies that tribes may have in place to protect their identities and traditions.
Olympic National Park was initially designated a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, and officially became a national park in 1938. Its incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem has also earned the park recognition as an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How Many Days to Spend Olympic National Park
Since Olympic National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the United States, you could easily spend a week in the park and not see and do everything. Three days in Olympic National Park is great if your want to explore the three major ecosystems in the northern region of the park: the beaches, rainforest, and forest. Three days is enough if you want to see the major highlights of the park. If you have more time, great! We’ve listed additional suggestions at the bottom of this post if you have more time to spend in the park.
How to Get to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is roughly a two-hour drive from Seattle whether you’re visiting the northern Region or the southern region. Since our itinerary is focused on the northern part, we drove from Seattle. We opted not to take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island because we were more comfortable will driving. And we didn’t want to worry about getting held up at the ferry port. Instead, we chose to follow our GPS so it bypassed the ferry. If you choose to take the highway without the ferry, there is a toll road, where you can either do bill by mail or pay at the station.
Where to Stay near Olympic National Park
Port Angeles and Forks are the two largest towns along the Northern part of Olympic National Park. In both of these towns, you’ll find hotels, VRBOs, and camping. We opted to stay at a tiny house in Beaver, Washington.
In addition to hotels and home rentals, you can camp in Olympic National Park or stay at one of the lodges within the park.
When to Visit Olympic National Park
The weather in Olympic National Park varies greatly throughout the year. From November to April the winter weather can be harsh with lots of rain and snow, but it is the best time for skiing and snow activities. July to August is considered the “best” time to go in terms of the weather since temperatures start to warm up and you can see lots of wildlife activity and wildflowers. However, this is the when the park will be most crowded. Fall and spring are the shoulder season, where the weather can still be unpredictable.
We opted to go to Olympic National Park in May, where it was still rain and chilly, but not cold where we needed winter hiking gear. We personally wanted to experience Olympic National Park when it was cool, damp, and misty, since that’s the vibe most people think of when they think the Pacific Northwest!
Visiting Olympic National Park: What You Need to Know
- Entry fee: Olympic National Park requires an entry fee. You can also purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to receive admission to all national parks and federal lands.
- Park policies and permits: Please familiarize yourself with park policies and acquire any permits for camping and backpacking.
- NPS App: Download the NPS App and read more about Olympic National Park amenities, activities, and park alerts such as road or trail closures. You can download the park page to access this information through the app offline.
- Visitor Centers: Check out the park’s Visitor Centers, some of which are only open seasonally or on select days.
- Passport Program: Get a National Park Passport and visit ranger stations to collect stamps. Families can also participate in the Junior Ranger Program to collect special stamps and pins.
- Driving: At nearly a million acres, Olympic National Park is a vast wilderness is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Because of its size, be prepared for a lot of driving from one destination to the other along Route 101, the only major highway circling the park. The scenery in Olympic National Park is stunning, so the drive offers exceptional scenic views.
- Maps: Take a look at maps to get a sense of the park areas and how to get around. Be sure to have a physical map in addition to digital maps like AllTrails while traveling. Phone service is limited depending where you are in the park!
- Park conditions: Leading up to your visit, as well as on the day of your visit, check the current conditions at the park. This includes being aware of weather and other park alerts and conditions.
- Weather: Prepare for cool, rainy weather anytime of the year. Even in the summer, the weather can get cool and rainy. Temperatures and weather conditions vary according to elevation and ecosystems – the summit of Hurricane Ridge could have plenty of snow while it gently rains in the Hoh Rain Forest, and cool wind off the Pacific Ocean can make for a chilly trip to the beach!
- Hiking supplies: Pack lots of food and water for your day trips. Port Angeles and Forks are the only two major towns in the area, so don’t expect to see an abundance of convenience stores or shops where you can buy lunches, snacks, and other necessities. So pack prepared! Check out our what to pack for National Parks guide and what to pack in your hiking day bag for more tips!
What is the National Park Passport Program?
The National Park passport program allows you to get dated stamps anytime you visit a National Park! This collector’s item is a great way to remember and commemorate your trip. We love getting our National Park Passport Book stamped anytime we visit a park!
Download this map courtesy of the National Park Service:
Three Day Olympic National Park Itinerary
Day One – Port Angeles, Hurricane Ridge, Elwha Valley
Drive to Port Angeles
Port Angeles is the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, with about 20,000 residents. It is located along the peninsula’s northern shores. It also borders Olympic National Park and is home to the park’s main visitor center.
Olympic National Park – Main Visitor Center
There are several visitor centers scattered across Olympic National Park, but the main one is located in Port Angeles. This visitor center includes a wonderful exhibit about the natural and cultural history of the Olympic Peninsula, including artifacts like an Indigenous canoe and a taxidermy Roosevelt Elk. There is also a gift shop with lots of books, souvenirs, and a place to get your National Parks passport stamped.
From the visitor center, you can drive up to Hurricane Ridge, or continue west to the Elwha Valley.
Drive to Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge provides easy access to the stunning mountains of Olympic National Park. You can drive a well-maintained road to the summit, gaining significant elevation as you go (the top is 5,242 feet / 1,598 meters). The road offers several pull-offs and scenic vistas, which is great for experiencing the change in elevation and surrounding environment.
At the summit is the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, which is currently closed for renovations funded through the Great American Outdoors Act. Temporary facilities will serve visitors to Hurricane Ridge during this closure. Learn more here. There are also several trails you can explore.
Be sure to check weather conditions before visiting Hurricane Ridge. Talk to rangers at the park’s main visitor center to be safe. If you do take the trip up Hurricane Ridge, plan for cool temperatures at the summit – it’s not uncommon to find snow there year-round!
Visit Madison Falls and the Elwha Valley
Descend Hurricane Ridge and venture into the Elwha Valley. Carved by glacial rivers, the valley is home to beautiful forests and waterfalls. Park near an interpretive sign that explains the history of the Elwha Valley. The neighboring meadow was a family homestead in the late 19th century and is now used as pasture for the park’s horses and mules in the summer, who keep the backcountry trails maintained.
The Elwha Valley is notable for the Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project, in which two dams were removed to restore the river’s natural flow, and the many benefits the river has to animals. This effort is the largest dam removal in American history and is the second-largest ecosystem restoration project in the history of the National Park Service, done in collaboration with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Madison Falls is a short out-and-back trail that is well-maintained and relatively flat. There is a boardwalk at the end for viewing the falls.
Drive to Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent is a pristine glacial lake stretching twelve miles long with a maximum depth of 624 feet / 190 meters. A landslide separated this lake from Lake Sutherland approximately 7,000 years ago, according to both geologists and Klallum legend. This ancient story tells of Mount Storm King, a nearby mountain peak, who was angered by warring tribes and tossed a boulder to cut Lake Sutherland (traditionally named Tsulh-mut) in two.
Lake Crescent offers kayaking, sailing, picnicking, and hiking trails around the lake and up to the surrounding mountains. The Storm King Ranger Station is open in the summer. There are several pull-offs along the lake if you want to stop for a quick visit.
Day Two – Hoh Rain Forest and Beaches
Drive to the Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is an old growth temperate rainforest, one of the most unique ecosystems on the Olympic Peninsula. The forest receives about 12 feet of precipitation annually, supporting the growth of towering conifer trees. Moisture in the air and soil allows epiphytes (plants growing on other plants, like mosses and lichen) to blanket tree branches and the forest floor. Downed trees also serve as “nurse logs” to support the growth of the next generation of plants and trees.
The Hoh Rain Forest is a popular destination, so plan to arrive early and be flexible with when you plan to hike.
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center
The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center is open daily in the summer and Friday-Sunday in the off-season, and closed in January and February (exact hours vary seasonally).
This visitor center is located at the end of the Upper Hoh Road and near entrances to hiking trails. The visitor center has a beautiful exhibit about the rainforest’s trees, understory plants, and animals. There is also a gift shop and a passport stamp station.
Next to the visitor center is a trail that leads you into the forest.
Hall of Mosses
Trail info: 0.8 miles / 1.2 km
The Hall of Mosses is an iconic section of the Hoh Rain Forest. It is best known for a towering grove of maple trees covered in club mosses and delicate lichens that seem like they are from another world. This trail is short but incredibly beautiful, so be sure to set aside at least an hour to make your way through.
Spruce Nature Trail
Trail info: 1.2 miles/ 1.9 km
The Spruce Nature Trail meanders through old and new growth forest and other diverse habitats. Portions of the trail pass the Taft Creek and Hoh River. There are also interpretive signs along the trail that explain points of interest, such as the types of trees and nurse logs.
Hoh River Trail
Trail info: 18.5 miles / 30 km total
The Hoh River Trail is an out-and-back trail that goes all the way to Glacier Meadows and Blue Glacier moraine near Mount Olympus. You can hike as much of the trail as you’d like. The National Park Service recommends a few turnaround points for day hiking:
- First River access (0.9 miles/ 2.9 km one way)
- Mineral Creek Falls (2.7 miles/ 4.3 one way)
- Cedar Grove (4.0 miles/ 6.4 km one way)
- 5 mile Island (5.0 miles/ 8.0 km one way)
Drive toward Forks
Drive west toward the town of Forks, named for the meeting of four rivers in the area. There are a few restaurants and shops in town, along with a timber museum and destinations for fans of the Twilight Saga, which is set in Forks.
Visit the Beaches
Olympic National Park has about 73 miles of rugged coastline, some with sandy or rocky beaches, with gentle hills or steep cliffs. Plan your visit to the beach by first checking a tide chart and the weather. Some hikes are only accessible at low tide, and stormy seas can make visiting the shore dangerous. Learn more about tide safety here.
There are several publicly accessible beaches including Mora, Rialto, Kalaloch, and Ozette, and several beaches at La Push, the first of which is part of the Quileute Reservation. Check the National Park Service’s website for any closures.
Take Mora Road toward Rialto Beach, following the Quillayute River which divides Rialto Beach from the First, Second, and Third Beaches of La Push.
Rialto Beach is a popular spot for day visitors. There is a parking lot and you can take a trail at the far end of the lot to the beach. This beach is covered in pebbles with some sandy areas, so you will need proper shoes. Large driftwood trees are deposited at the top of the beach near the forest, where bald eagles like to perch. Sea stack rock formations rise from the water.
From Rialto Beach, you can take about a 40 minute walk north to the Hole in the Wall formation.
Hike to the Hole in the Wall
Walk info: about 1.5 miles north of Rialto Beach (about a 40 minute walk). Round-trip is about 3 miles.
The Hole in the Wall is an arch formation carved by the ocean. It is important to check the tides before visiting. It is recommended you visit at low tide, so you can enjoy the tide pools teeming with life.
Be sure to check tide information before and during your visit to Hole in the Wall. You can get stuck on the other side of the Hole in the Wall formation if the tide begins to rise and would have to wait until it recedes. The National Park Service recommends not crossing the Hole in the Wall when the tide begins to cover the floor of the arch. Also be aware of falling rocks.
Explore the Tide pools
The area around Hole in the Wall is notable for its incredible tide pools, a type of rocky outcropping that is exposed to varying degrees at low tide, revealing a variety of unique animals including anemones, starfish, barnacles, and crustaceans. This is a fascinating and delicate ecosystem of animals as well as plants, so it is important to be careful and respectful.
To plan for your visit, familiarize yourself with tide pool etiquette, nicely explained here by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary website.
- Watch closely for the returning tide and “sneaker waves.”
- Algae and seaweed make the surface rocks extremely slippery. Use caution and test rocks before committing to stepping on new surfaces.
- Wear sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.
- Keep children close as rocks and waves can be unpredictable, and falling hazards may lead to severe injury.
- Do not bring dogs onto tidal rocks as the sharp stone, along with barnacles and mussels, can cut their paws and lead to infection.
- Do not leap from rock to rock. Always keep at least one foot on the ground.
Day Three – Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc is a beautiful area of Olympic National Park known for its rushing river, hilly forests, cascading waterfall, and hot springs. It is no surprise that the name “Sol Duc” comes from a Quileute word roughly translating to “sparkling waters.”
Visit interpretive Exhibit at Sol Duc
Near the entrance of the Sol Duc area along Sol Duc Hot Springs Road on the righthand side is an outdoor interpretive exhibit explaining its natural and cultural history. The signs provide a great overview of the Sol Duc River and notable plants and animals.
Hike to Sol Duc Falls
Trail info: 1.6 miles out-and-back (waterfall is about 0.8 miles in).
The Sol Duc Falls Trail travels through old growth forest. The trail is well maintained with varied terrain, including steps, flat or inclined areas, and bridges.
The highlight of the trail is the incredible Sol Duc Falls. This powerful waterfall plunges 48 feet into a steep gorge flanked by towering old growth trees. We visited in the spring, so there was plenty of water flowing through the river. You can hear the sound of the falls from a distance, and the air around the falls is misty, so be prepared to get wet. You can walk across a bridge spanning the gorge and over to a boardwalk to get different views of the falls.
Hike the Ancient Groves
Trail info: 0.5 miles
As you descend Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, you can stop by the Ancient Groves. This meandering half-mile loop goes through old growth forest and wetlands. We visited in the afternoon and were treated to beautiful sunshine through the trees.
Bonus: Look for Salmon in the Fall
In the fall, salmon migrate up the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula, and the Sol Duc River is one of the best places to spot them. The Salmon Cascades located off the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road provides a viewing platform of waterfalls where salmon can be easily seen. Visitors can also traverse down the rocks to get a closer look. Learn more here.
Olympic National Park Suggested Guidebooks
Learn more about hiking opportunities with these suggested guidebooks:
Additional Olympic National Park Suggestions
If you find yourself having more spare time during your three days in Olympic National Park, considering adding one of these other suggestions to your itinerary! These are also great options if you’re spending more than three days in the park.
Marymere Falls – Lake Crescent
Marymere Falls is another one of the most scenic waterfalls at Olympic National Park. If you have more time when exploring around Lake Crescent , consider visiting this waterfall! Marymere Falls Trail is an easy 1.7-mile out-and-back trail that takes you to a 90-ft.-high waterfall! As you hike, take in the beauty of the surrounding old growth forests.
Devil’s Punchbowl – Lake Crescent
Devil’s Punchbowl is one of the coolest hikes around Lake Crescent. This trail runs along the lake offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The “punchbowl” and highlight of the hike is famous for its extremely blue water!
Mount Storm King – Lake Crescent
Mount Storm King is one of the epic hikes in Olympic National Park. This strenuous, 3.8 mile round trip day hike features 1,700 feet of elevation gain, but offers a stunning view of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains.
Obstruction Point Road – Hurricane Ridge
Obstruction Point Road is considered the scariest road in Washington! It is Olympic National Park’s highest elevation road and is narrow with steep drop-offs. It becomes single-lane at points, which can be a little sketchy to maneuver. Always call ahead for road conditions (360-565-3131 recording). Throughout the 8-mile drive, you’ll get amazing remote views of the park. Once at the end of the road, you can access several trails.
Cape Flattery – Coast
While Cape Flattery is not technically part of Olympic National Park, it deserves to be on this itinerary because it’s the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States. It is in the Makah Reservation, where the Strait of Juan de Fuca joins the Pacific Ocean. Here you can amazing views of the ocean and hike.