Grab some popcorn, this is going to be a long post!
Olympic national park is so vast, and so beautiful. You could visit every month for a year and still not be done. We’ve made four trips and still have only been able to hit the more popular spots. I’ll try and sum up the highlights but will encourage you to take your time and explore this park in many trips. The park map can be seen as a big C with a few forks in between, and the places below are listed counter clockwise if you started your journey from the Ferry that goes Edmonds to Kingston. If you entered from south through Tacoma, you can do the same things in reverse.
Olympic Game farm
A little north of Sequim, you can take a small detour to Olympic game farm if you are with kids or like to see some of the PNW animals in a drive through sanctuary. I always have mixed feelings about going to a place where Animals are held captive so I have neutral reviews about this place. But the kids were excited to watch elks, bears, bisons, and many more animals walking around and they were able to feed some of them too. This is a good one hour activity in a day, especially if you end up hitting a rainy day because for this one, you don’t have to get out of the car. This will be the first spot you will hit before you get to Port Angeles but you can do it as a day trip of its own any day of the year if you want to head straight to Port Angeles.
Sequim is the lavender capital of Washington. I am not sure if there is much to do all year around (ofcourse you can always find a hike anywhere in washington), but if you’re going in third week of July, then Sequim is a must visit as they get beautiful lavenders and there is a Lavender festival the city hosts in july which is a must see.
As soon as you reach Port Angeles, do grab a bite if you’re hungry because food is scarce once you enter the park and start exploring. Also fill up on gas here because there is not a whole lot of shopping scene going on inside the park. Hurricane ridge is about 18 miles from Port Angeles downtown, and on a sunny day, you can take in breathtaking views from the visitor center. There are two easy to moderate hikes that start from the visitor center. I’d definitely recommend doing at least the Hurricane hill, and/or Cirque rim for some good views. If you’re hiking, reserve a day to Hurricane ridge alone. If you’re not hiking, it might be a half a day activity drive time included.
Coming back down from Hurricane ridge, Lake crescent is another 26 some miles from the center of Port Angeles. You can either plan to stay here in the night or pass by to go further. We stayed at the Lake Crescent lodge on a three day trip and covered area around the lake, and Sol-duc falls, Marymere falls., Neah bay and Cape flattery on this trip. Even though the park is short in miles, the driving speeds are slower than freeways, and driving through an entire park even over a weekend isn’t an optimal way to experience the beauty of the park. Lake crescent is like time stood still. Nothing moves much except your racing mind. The rooms in the lodge fortunately don’t have TVs, and the internet barely works. So this is a forced off-the-grid experience, I think most of the park is that way. The lake offers a cruise that you can book from the lodge reception, and kayaks are available to rent by the hour. Take your time and enjoy this beauty in the time that it deserves. There is a hiking trail that sort of circum-navigates the lodge and it’s called “Moment in time'” trail. This is more like an evening stroll, but certain parts were dark even on the sunny day and I was scared that we will run into jaguars :). We didnt run into any wild life except some deers here and there. Across the street from the lake, is the Marymere falls hike which is a short 1.8 miles RT easy trail. The fall looked like a wine bottle to me, but that might be because I was craving some wine at the lake after a long day of drive and hikes!
Sol Duc Falls
Sol-duc falls is about 23 miles from Crescent lake and a 1.6 miles hike to get to the falls from parking lot. The Sol-duc lodge is one of the four lodges managed by the NPS and you can spend the night here if you wish too. Just like all other NPS lodges, it gets sold out quickly for summer weekends, so advance booking (think of 4-5 months in advance) is highly recommended. There is supposedly also a hot-spring near the fall but we didnt try that. The fall is very beautiful and during summers with good prior winters, the water flow can be very rich. We happened to go on a day when there was a full rainbow on the fall which apparently is very rare. The picture probably don’t do justice to what we saw, but I tried to capture the fall from a few different angles as usual.
Neah Bay and Cape Flattery
Driving west on 101 and then to 112 will take you to Neah bay and eventually to the Cape Flatter lighthouse. This is the wast-most point of US after you take the 1.5 mile hike at the trailhead. Even if you’re not a hiker, as long as you’re healthy, you should definitely do the hike, as the hidden views at the end of the trail are amazing and you would have touched the west-most point of US. The drive on 112 is very scenic and on a clear day, you can have the views of snowy mountains across the water with sea-hawks flying everywhere. It’s a sight to behold.
Shi-shi beach is a little over 2 mile hike from parking lot. The hike itself is not very scenic and most of the time, you’re walking in the woods with some peaking views of the coastline at a few spots. But once you reach the beach, it feels like you’re crossed to the other side of the world. While daytime brings you views of the haystacks against the waves, this beach is also famous for a night camping experience because you can see the milky way on clear summer nights here. I am yet to experience the overnight camping but the daytime views were equally worth the hike. The coastline goes miles and miles towards south and many people backpack in the area for a multi-day hiking experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, try and do the Shi-shi beach to Point of Arches hike which is about 8 miles RT.
Heading back from Shi-shi parking lot, you can make a pitstop atRialto beach. This is a 4 mile hike RT and I’d recommend doing it on different days so you don’t tire your legs or start to feel like everything looks the same. We had to skip the hike because kids started complaining, but one of those things that you do over many trips. So next trip, we might skip Shi-shi beach hike and do this one instead.
Hoh Rainforest (Forks)
Hoh rainforest is a must visit and just like all other places in ONP, this can be experience through a short and sweet walk or a longer hike or backpacking. This is the place where they shot the movie Twilight and you will feel like you’re in the twilight world as soon as you enter forks. The green mossy trees so thick that you start to miss the sky are a good change from the beaches and mountains.
Ruby beach is beautiful but its even more beautiful if you can get here by 7am to experience the live tidepools. We stayed at Kalaloch and drove to ruby beach early morning, and were amazing at the number of star fish and anemones we found on the beach. You almost have to walk with caution so as to not step on some sea-life. Kids had a blast picking sea-sheels and in some cases, they moved after picking up so that was quite a moment! Ruby beach is very beautiful and is a complete package with rocks, haystacks, and abundance of sea-life. It’s a short walk from parking lot.
Kalaloch lodge is located on Beach 1, about 15 miles south of Ruby beach. The beaches around this area are some numbered and some specifically named. We made this our stop when we did the trip clockwise, and were happy to be staying at an ocean-facing room, with no tv or internet, a modest kitchen to cook and a small grocery story to buy the necessities. The lodge boasts of having a tree of life which has its roots exposed and is still living. We found the tidepools at the Kalaloch beach too but even in end of may, the weather was much chillier and water was freezing cold while the east part of the town was warmer. So definitely plan to take layers as weather changes quickly especially in this part of the park.
Lake Quinault is south-east of 101 and also boasts of some nice hikes into the woods. We haven’t covered this lake yet, but plan to visit in our next trip to ONP.
Time Required – 3 Day weekend, Weeklong Vacations
Distance from Seattle – ~100 Miles
Activities – Hiking, Scenic Drives, Rain forest, Coastal Driving, Overnight Camping, Backpacking, Lavender Festival, Hot Springs.
When to go – Summer, Fall, Spring
Food – Pack your sack
Website – https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm