Best time to visit: Summer
Recommended Hikes: Seven Lakes Basin, Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rainforest
Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Backpacking, Auto-Touring, Boating
Where to stay: North or West side of the park
Olympic is a big, mountainous national park, covering most of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It is very diverse with mountains and rainforests and sections of the Pacific coastline. The park receives a lot of rain and snow - summer months offer the best chance of good weather along with open hiking routes and roads.
Must See Attractions:
Hurricane Ridge - This is the only place accessible by car where you can see the mountains in the heart of Olympic, including Mt Olympus. It's located on the north side of the park and the road is open most of the year, except on winter weekdays when there is snow. There is a visitor center at the peak and numerous hiking routes from there.
Lake Crescent - An impressive lake surrounded by rising mountains. The Lake Crescent Lodge is right on its shoreline and it’s a great place to stay, eat, or watch the sun set. Lake Crescent is located on the northern boundary of the park.
Sul Doc - This a cool area with a lodge, restaurant, and hot spring heated pools. Sul Doc Falls is really pretty and it’s just a short hike from the lodge. A longer trail to Seven Lakes Basin is also in this area and it’s a great hike - read more about it in the hiking section below.
Coastline - The park includes 73 miles of rugged coastline. I have only visited Rialto Beach, and I can say that it is awesome with impressive rock formations. Other sections of coastline here that I am sure are worth visiting but that I haven't personally seen are Ruby Beach and Ozette.
Rainforests - The Hoh and Quinault rainforests sit in the western and southern sections of the park. They are worth seeing, but if you just have a few days, I recommend focusing on the coastline and mountains instead.
Olympic NP is deceptively large - It will take about 3 hours to drive from its East side to the coast. It's best to devote a full day to one area; for example, spend one day exploring the coastline, and another day in the northern mountain regions of Hurricane Ridge and Sul Doc.
Be prepared for weather, including rain during summer. The park service does snow plowing during winter, but only for weekends.
The vegetation in Olympic is dense which makes for a complete lack of viewpoints at low elevations. In order to see the mountains, you will have to drive to Hurricane Ridge or do one of the longer hikes.
Drinking water is available at most developed areas of the park, bring your water bottle to fill up.
Where to Stay:
In general, try to stay somewhere on the north or west boundaries of the park. Lake Crescent and Sul Doc are good central locations on the north side that have campgrounds and lodging. There are also options along the coast if you want to make the ocean the focus of your trip.
Avoid staying on the south or east sides of the park to reduce drive times.
Hiking in Olympic
Olympic makes you work for it when it comes to hiking, but the rewards are worth the effort. Hiking at easier, lower elevations is exclusively through dense forests with tall trees and zero distant views. If you are capable of hiking in the 10-15 mile range with significant elevation gains, you can get above the tree-line for views of lakes, repeating ridge lines, and Mount Olympus.
Seven Lakes Basin - This is a strenuous hike that continues on from Sul Doc Falls, roughly 15 miles roundtrip. It can be done as a loop or an out and back (via Deer Lake), and it is also great overnight backpacking destination (permit required). I highly, highly recommend this hike, it will not disappoint! Read more about it on the park's website here.
Hurricane Ridge - There are multiple trails that take off from Hurricane Ridge. This a beautiful area high above the treeline which offers great views no matter how far you hike. Read more about the area’s hiking options here.
Rialto Beach - An awesome beach hike at Rialto goes to the "Hole-in-the-Wall" natural arch, about 2 miles one way. There are several impressive rock formations along the way. The sand is coarse and abrasive so be sure to wear solid shoes. Read more about the hike here.
Also consider researching:
Deer Park and Obstruction Point - these are both accessible via dirt roads, near the Hurricane Ridge area. From what I've read, the roads are narrow and steep, but the reviews are good. Deer Park has a first-come-first-served campground which is highly reviewed as well.
Ruby Beach and Ozette - I only made it to Rialto, but these two are really popular as well. Ruby Beach is the most famous of the Olympic beaches.