With nearly one million acres to explore, Olympic National Park provides visitors with endless options to consider. Located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, the park encompasses a variety of ecosystems begging to be explored by adventurous travelers! From beaches to rainforests, all containing an impressive collection of wildlife, there is certainly no shortage of things to see, do, and photograph in this glorious region of the Pacific Northwest! We spent an entire week on the peninsula and felt as if we could’ve used a few more days! Come along with us as we explore the beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Getting to the Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic Peninsula is easily reachable by car from Seattle. We flew into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Alaska Airlines and picked up a car from Sixt Rent-A-Car. The 3.5 hour drive from the airport to our first stop, Hurricane Ridge, was scenic and pleasant. (Note that some driving routes may require a ferry, though it is not necessary.) Once on the peninsula, Highway 101 takes you on a circular route in either direction to get to the many attractions within the Olympic National Park.
Places to Visit on the Olympic Peninsula
(All headings lead to individual posts about these particular regions of the peninsula. Click the link if you’re interested in learning more!)
Hurricane Hill is a great hike for people of all ages and fitness levels. Hikers follow a paved 1.5 mile path to a 5,757 foot pinnacle. (The trail has an elevation gain of 950 feet, making it a little steep in a few places.) We saw an abundance of wildlife along the trail including deer, chipmunks, and Olympic marmots. These marmots are endemic to the peninsula, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.
A drive around the Olympic Peninsula on the famed Highway 101 will no doubt take you past beautiful Lake Crescent. Even if you’re not staying at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, it’s definitely worth a stop to explore the grounds, take in the scenery, and enjoy a comforting meal. The lodge property is perfectly designed with a dock and Adirondack chairs overlooking the calm blue waters of the lake; colorful canoes and kayaks dot the shoreline. It’s a wonderful place to watch the sunset following a day of hiking at Hurricane Ridge!
A short and casual 0.8-mile hike takes you through towering trees, over small babbling streams, and to the gushing Sol Duc Falls. Because the hike to the falls is so easy and short, we recommend it for anyone and everyone visiting the park (though it is not wheelchair accessible). On the drive to the trailhead, you’ll follow along the Sol Duc River. If you visit in the months of October and (early) November, be sure to stop off at the Salmon Cascades Overlook (located about 5 miles down Sol Duc Road). Here, you might be lucky enough to see coho salmon leap over the falls on their way to spawn upstream in the Sol Duc River.
Very few rainforests exist in the United States, so this is your chance to explore one of Washington state’s most luscious attractions. The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the surrounding ecology and how rainforests are formed. Here you can also tag along on one of the two ranger-led guided walks (summer months). There are two loop trails that commence near the Visitor Center. The Hall of Mosses Trail (.8 miles) and the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles). Since they are so short, we encourage you to explore them both! 140 to 170 inches (12 to 14 feet) of precipitation fall in this region each year, contributing to the luscious landscape!
The Beaches of the Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic Peninsula has over 73 miles of coastline and no two miles are alike. Gaze upon massive sea stacks, climb over piles of driftwood, and enjoy the rugged coastline that is a quintessential example of the Pacific Northwest. Time your visit right and you can experience some of the most spectacular tidepools in the world! Be sure to check and understand the tide charts, so you don’t get stranded… or soaked!
To get to Second Beach, visitors must hike a 0.7 mile trail through a luscious and lofty seaside forest! Upon passing through the clearing of trees, you will lay eyes on towering sea stacks and endless miles of beach. Bald eagles, seals, and bird life can be spotted on the off-shore sea stacks. Mussels cling to rocks, and a variety of sea stars and urchins slowly move about in the shallow waters near the shoreline.
Rialto Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Olympic Peninsula, and for good reason: it is gorgeous! It’s also one of the easiest beaches to access. Walk through the piles of drift wood and gaze upon majestic sea stacks as the salty breeze greets you. Time your trip to Rialto Beach right and you will get to experience some of the most beautiful tidepools in the world! Also, keep your eyes peeled, as bald eagles frequent this area.
The crashing waves create an ever-present haze that constantly hugs the jagged coastline. Purple and orange starfish cling to the rough rocks, presenting a colorful collection of sea life near the base of the monumental sea stacks. It’s hard to comprehend the enormity of the sea stacks until you’re standing right next to them. Ruby Beach also boasts a neat collection of wildlife including bald eagles, sea otters, and tidepools teeming with starfish and mussels. In addition to the incredible sea stacks and amazing wildlife, the abundance of stacked rocks makes Ruby Beach one of the best beaches in the Pacific Northwest!
Where to Stay
Highway 101 pretty much runs the perimeter of the peninsula, and is the main access route for most of the park’s main attractions. As such, you should strategically choose lodging somewhere in the middle of the main route to avoid spending an abundance of time in the car each day. For this reason, we selected the town of Forks as our home base for the week. Not only was the city made famous for its mention in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, but it was the perfect location for exploring the peninsula.
We secured a two-bedroom unit at the Olympic Suites Inn. We considered it a great value as the unit included a living area and a full kitchen, allowing us to eat many meals at ‘home’ (following a visit to the local grocery store).
We had the upper corner unit (room 208) in one of the buildings toward the back of the property. It was the perfect size and level of comfort for our traveling family of four (Sam’s parents joined us on this trip).
Our balcony looked onto beautiful pine trees and was a relaxing place to unwind following a full day of exploring the peninsula.
If the pictures above haven’t convinced you to pack your bags and board the next flight to Seattle (the closest airport to the peninsula), watch the following short video of our week on the visually stunning Olympic Peninsula!