Olympic National Park

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Olympic National Park [1] is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Washington State.

Understand[edit]

History[edit]

Olympic National Monument was established in 1909 and upgraded to the status of national park in 1938. It was further designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and became a World Heritage Park in 1981. Currently, nearly 96% the Olympic National Park is incorporated into the Olympic Wilderness.

Landscape[edit]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Enormous Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, hundreds of feet high, in the Hoh and Queets rain forest valleys on the west side of the park. Thick, furry epiphytic moss and other dense, vibrant vegetation create a beautiful almost "Tolkien-esqe" environment in these unique temperate rain forests, which receive 15 feet of rain per year on average from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Climate[edit]

Overall, the Olympic Peninsula has a moderate marine climate with pleasant summers and mild, wet winters. The Olympic Mountains, part of North America's western coast range, rise suddenly from near sea level to ~8000 feet, intercepting Pacific moisture, which is dumped as large amounts of rain. The climate grows wetter from east to west on the Olympic Peninsula. Sunny days are likeliest in July and August. Nearby Sequim is actually in the rain shadow of the Olympics and is known for sunny days and minimal rain.


Summers tend to be fair and warm with high temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. July, August and September are the driest months, with heavier precipitation during the rest of the year.

While winters are mild at lower elevation, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, snowfall can be heavy in the mountains, with accumulations of up to 10 feet common.

Get in[edit]

You will want a car to explore Olympic National Park. Unlike many national parks, there are no roads through the park. In fact, the central part of the park is one of the last great roadless patches in the lower 48 states. There are a number of roads running from US 101 into the park: Hurricane Ridge, Elwha, Sol Doc, Hoh, and Quinault. The park also includes much of the Pacific coast along the peninsula which is accessible from US 101 at Klalaloch, La Push, Cape Alava and Neah Bay. The park is a big park, so think about your trip, and take driving times into account. You don't want to spend all your time on the road.

There are a number of ways of getting to Olympic National Park by car:

  • From Seattle or Seatac - head south to Tacoma and cross the Tacoma Narrows to the peninsula
  • From Seattle - take the Bainbridge Island or Bremerton ferry
  • From north of Seattle - take the Edmonds ferry to Kingston and continue west
  • From Anacortes or Whidbey Island - take the Keystone ferry from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend and continue west
  • From Olympia or points south along the I-5 corridor (including Portland) - take US 101 north along the Hood Canal
  • from points south on the coast, following the coast - take US 101 north through Aberdeen and near Ocean Shores
  • from Vancouver or Victoria, BC - take the Coho ferry from Victoria

Most of the ferries are run by the Washington State Department of Transportation[2], but the Coho ferry [3] and the Victoria Express [4] are run privately.

Be warned that the ferries can be backed up for two or three hours, particularly in the summer when people are heading off or returning from their vacations on the Olympic Peninsula. If you can, avoid heading west on Friday afternoons and east on Sunday evenings. The ferries usually run roughly every 50 minutes and can offer a relaxing way to cross Puget Sound.

I-5, the main road from Seattle to Tacoma can be crowded during rush hour (6-9 AM and 4-7 PM). You can check traffic conditions, and for other travel problems, at the state DOT web site [5].

There are scheduled flights to Port Angeles, so you can approach by air. The views of the Olympics are often fantastic, and you can arrange to rent a car at the airport.

- from Boeing Field (BFI) near Seattle - take a scheduled Kenmore Air [6] flight to Fairchild Airport (CLM)

Another approach is to fly to Victoria, BC (YYJ), then take the Coho ferry or the Victoria Express to Port Angeles and rent a car there.

- from Victoria, BC - fly to Victoria, rent a car there, or take the ferry across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and rent a car in the U.S.

Fees/Permits[edit]

Vehicle: $25 Motorcycle: $15 Individual: $10 (each pass is valid for 7 consecutive days)

Get Around[edit]

By car is really the only way in or out. US-101 makes a loop of the Olympic Peninsula, but only some spur roads actually lead into the park. The interior is roadless and is only accesible to backpackers. Most people visit either the park's beach section, which is accessible only on US-101 between Forks and Aberdeen, or Hurricane Ridge, which is accessed from a road out of Port Angeles.

Access points from the more remote east side are Staircase (turn west off 101 in Hoodsport) or Quilcene (closer to the Hood Canal Bridge).

The best way to see the park is to drive from Aberdeen on northbound US-101 and "do the loop", ending in Olympia, taking three or four days to visit the coastal section (Kalaloch Campground or Lodge are great places to stay), the rainforest (Hoh), Ozette (an easy three mile hike in, or do the easy nine mile loop, tides permitting), Lake Cresent, Hurricane Ridge, and Staircase.

Campground reservations are recommended in the summer.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Hoh Rainforest. 12 miles or so on Upper Hoh road heading east from US101 on the west coast of the Olympic peninsula. There are several small, presumably dirt roads heading into the area. They are probably old logging roads, and might not be kept up at all. Considering the amount of rainfall in the area, these roads might only be passable with a high clearance off-highway vehicle. There is one stop for gas and snack food, film, etc. on Upper Hoh before the park entrance. 6 miles from the parking lot is the gate house which is unstaffed in the winter and the entrance fee can be donated in the unstaffed visitor center. Watch for herds of elk in the area, roll down the window (even if it is raining) and take in the smell of what seems a recently drained underwater world. Grab a map at the visitor's center or just head straight to the 2 trails.

It is an 18-mile hike from the Hoh Visitor Center to the summit of Mt. Olympus with its glacier fields (the last five miles being steepest). Trails are well-maintained but good hiking boots and gear are recommended.

  • Hurricane Ridge is an area in the Olympic mountain range that features several trails, including a popular paved foot road known for its views of the surrounding mountains and wildflowers in the summer. Visiting is limited to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until sunset in the winter. Incoming vehicles are required to have snow chains during this time.
  • Lake Crescent is a deep glacial lake fed by several creeks and drained by the Lyre River. It is known for its vibrant blue color and otherwise very clear waters. The lake features several surrounding trails and has a small “highway” which runs along a stretch of the shore, so even if you don’t have time to properly visit, you can still see the lake. On the opposite side of the highway there is an old rail bed which can be seen by taking one of the many trails or kayaking across the water.
  • The Coastal Strip Accessed from Kalaloch, La Push, Ozette or Neah Bay, this strech of mostly wilderness coastline is extremely spectacular.
  • Lake Quinault is a glacial lake fed and drained by Quinault River. The lake is surrounded by the Quinault Rainforest and is owned by a native American tribe of the same name.
  • Cape Flattery is technically just outside of the park and is the northwestern most part of the contiguous United States. The Cape, located on the Makah Indian Reservation, is elevated and surrounded by bluffs that are dotted with sea caves formed as the land is eaten away by the ocean. The acutely photogenic caves are very clearly visible from the main trail following the coast of the Cape.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Hall of Moss Trail. This mile and a half stroll crosses a small creek and up to an older grove of trees. Western Hemlock, Douglas Firs, bigleaf maple, western cedar, red alder, vine maple, black cottonwood, and the sitka Spruce live together with a slew of different Epiphytes-- plants which live on other plants.
  • Beaches. There are numerous beaches that can be visited, most are simply numbered, i.e. Beach trail 3. Ruby beach is one exception, which also happens to be very hard to get to. This makes Ruby beach one of many ideal locations to visit if you are seeking solitude while you enjoy nature. Despite the small populations in this part of the state, some of the beaches can be quite crowded during a small period in the summer months (usually 3 weeks or so in late June and early July), with fishermen, clamers, and screaming children.
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs The Sol Duc hot springs are a group of mineral hot springs maintained by the Sol Duc Lodge. The site also features a swimming pool.
    • The Sol Duc Hot Springs are located near the undeveloped Olympic Hot Springs. While it may be fun to go see the hot springs in their natural state, the waters are not maintained by public health officials and may contain dangerous bacteria. Bathing is discouraged, especially when done in the nude.
    • Trails The hot springs are planted right by several scenic trails which go through old growth forest, by nearby lakes (Deer Lake and Mink Lake specifically), and a shorter path to the unique Sol Duc Falls, where the Sol Duc river splits into three waterfalls (occasionally a fourth, much smaller one during flooding) which pour into a small chasm that funnels to the river below.
  • Kayaking on Lake Crescent. The Lake Crescent Lodge offers rentable kayaks to take out onto the lake. Because of the deep blue quality of the water, kayaking to the middle can be uniquely serene. If you have the dedication, you can kayak to the shore opposite of the lodge grounds and you will find some trails and an old, abandoned rail bed nearby amongst the uniformly gorgeous pacific northwest foliage.
  • Hiking and Backpacking The Olympic National Park has a very extensive trail system, both through the interior and along the coast. Much of the interior and the coast is wilderness and can only be seen from the trails.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Considering the whole "national park" thing, you aren’t going to find much in the way of shopping centers. Most lodges have gift shops where you can buy fun little trinkets, clothes (usually shirts), scenic postcards, candy/junk food, and some other quirky items depending on the shop. The convenience store near the Kalaloch lodge has a variety of foods and some other things of interest, such as kites for the windy beach below.

Eat[edit][add listing]

Because of the all-encompassing size of the park within the peninsula, your best bet for restaurants is at the various lodges/hotels themselves, all of which are open to guests as well as the public.

  • Salmon House Restaurant and Lounge The Salmon House, part of the Rain Forest Resort Village, sits on a large lawn that stretches out to the edge of Lake Quinault, which is a perfect space for kids to run around and play if they’re getting antsy in the restaurant or from driving around too long. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and features a good variety of options (though no part of the menu suffers from this), including seafood, pasta dishes, steaks, soups, and a salad bar. The restaurant also has desserts and a kid’s menu. Prices can be moderately expensive but are generally fair. The interior space is cozy and comfortable but is sizable enough to fit a good amount of people.
  • Kalaloch’s Creekside Restaurant The Creekside Restaurant is a part of the main Kalaloch Lodge building and features an excellent view of the beach and water below, and the space is designed to focus on that. While the restaurant is very open and has an interesting layout to accommodate for this, it is remains cozy and in line with the design of the rest of the lodge. The restaurant’s menu is fairly small, but does breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and manages a kid’s menu. The menu can get moderately expensive, but for the most part is fairly priced.
  • Lake Crescent Lodge Dining Room The lodge has a couple options right inside the main building—there’s an actual sit down restaurant and there’s a bar where you can get burgers, soft drinks, alcohol, and related items. The main restaurant does breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs Restaurant The Sol Duc Hot Springs Restaurant serves breakfast, dinner, and desert (lunch is done outside at their Poolside Deli), and has a kids’ menu. Prices start mostly cheap at breakfast and get progressively more expensive as the day goes along, with dinner being somewhat pricey ($13-29 for entrees, $7.50-19 for salads, soups, and other starters). Menu is fairly small.
  • Roosevelt Dining Room The Roosevelt Dining Room is located within the Lodge at Lake Quinault and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu is moderately expensive, with breakfast ranging from 8 to 15 dollars, lunch from 7 to 21, and dinner entrees ranging from 18 to 34 dollars. The main room is decorated sparsely, making the room feel open and pushing the focus on the expansive view of the lake.

Drink[edit][add listing]

The only bar in the park is in the main building at Lake Crescent Lodge. Other than that, you can get drinks at pretty much any of the restaurants in the area. If you really want to get a drink, you'll probably want to get out of the park to one of the nearby cities.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Lodging[edit]

There are four lodging options located within the park borders. Outside of the park the following communities have lodging options:

  • North Olympic Peninsula: Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend, Forks, Sekiu and Clallam Bay.
  • Hood Canal Area: Hoodsport, Lake Cushman, Belfair and Shelton.
  • Lake Quinault: Lake Quinault and Amanda Park.
    • Lake Quinault Lodge is a large lodge building on the southern shore of the lake with a capacity of 91 rooms and one suite. The lodge sits on an expansive lawn that follows a shallow slope down to the lake, with numerous places to sit, a gazebo, and a large outdoor fireplace. There are trails nearby, swimming, and boat rentals facilitated by the Lodge.
    • Lake Quinault Resort is a small, scenic motel located on the north shore opposite the Lake Quinault Lodge and features two storied rooms and a restaurant for guests and visitors. The motel sits on an expansive lawn with three levels and it weaves it’s way down to the shore line. This creates an excellent view of the lake below and makes the resort a dynamic and popular space for weddings and similar events.


Lodging located within the park includes:

  • Kalaloch Lodge [7]. Offers cabins, motel and lodge rooms, along with a dining room and grocery store. Kalaloch is a lodge located on a bluff, just above a beach. The lodge has been in existence for many years, but has recently undergone renovations and become much more tourist friendly. This being said, the view from the lodge is still one of the best in the area, overlooking the pacific ocean. There are cabins available for rent, which are quite expensive, but are the only places to sleep indoors in the area. These cabins are very nice, and well maintained. If a large group of people are traveling together, then it may be a fun thing to do to rent one.
  • Log Cabin Resort. Offers a variety of lodging options, along with a camping area for RVs and tents. A dining room, soda fountain, boat rentals, a grocery and gift shop and is located on the north shore of Lake Crescent, about 20 miles west of Port Angeles.
  • Lake Crescent Lodge. The lodge has cabins—both smaller ones laid out almost as a neighborhood and 3 larger, “Roosevelt Cabins,” which are much more isolated and sit together at the far end of the grounds, motel rooms, and rooms in the historic lodge building, along with a dining room, lounge and coffee bar, gift shop and boat rentals. The grounds feature a small rock beach on the water and a large dock for visitors to walk out and look at the clear, blue water. The water is very clean and swimming is possible, but it’s ill-advised any time of the year outside of summer, as it is extremely cold.
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. The resort offers fairly simple, small cabins, a dining room and restaurant, poolside deli, and a grocery store. All and all, a fairly sustainable place to vacation. If you wish to stay at the resort, you’re going to want to make a reservation some time in advance, as the resort is often to capacity. However, you can make pay to make use of the services without staying there just as easily if you can’t get in or would just like to make a day trip. An RV park with hookups is also available. The resort is located 40 miles west of Port Angeles.

Camping[edit]

Backcountry[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

The most dangerous thing around this area are drunk drivers. The roads are small, perpetually wet, winding, and not banked, so driving too fast can be incredibly dangerous.

The wildlife can also be somewhat hazardous, although with a bit of common sense, most danger can be avoided. This is bear country, so make noise if you are travelling in an area with limited visibility (most of this area has very poor visibility, due to the extreme amounts of vegetation.) Also, cougars do live in Olympic National park, and are much more aggressive and dangerous than bears. That being said, the number of incidents involving mountain lions is very small, so there isn't too much to worry about. Another animal that needs to be watched out for are the elk. Although elk are herd animals, and not aggressive like their moose cousins, they can be extremely dangerous if they feel threatened. Most people do not see bears or cougars, but you need to be prepared.

On the coast you need to be in good shape, in many places the coast is extremely rugged and you need to have good reflexes as you go across the headlands for when you slip. You will need to pack everything with you when you go in, and pack almost everything as you go out. Basic backpacking rules must be followed by the park's rules.

Get out[edit]

  • Forks Forks is a cutesy little lumber town in the northwestern section of the peninsula, just outside of the park itself. More likely than not, you know of it from ‘Twilight’, and if you’re a fan, you might want to stop by. Otherwise, it’s a good place to stay if you’re looking to make a day trip to the Hoh Rain Forest or one of the beaches and don’t want to pay the price to stay in the peninsula.
  • Port Angeles is the biggest city in the peninsula and the start of your journey if you took the ferry here from Seattle. Otherwise, if you want a wide variety of restaurants or other important services a city might offer, you’ll want to go here. It’s just north of the eastern end of the park.
  • Sequim is a small, sunny town known for its annual Lavender Festival. Fans of art might also be interested in the Northwest Native Expression Art Gallery, where you can see intricate Native American wooden sculptures and paintings.
  • Seattle As great as the peninsula is, it’s more likely that this was your “Get Out” destination from Seattle. But, if otherwise, Seattle is a gorgeous city with the same offerings as just about any other major city while still feeling almost like a smaller city in some of the nicer areas. Seattle does a good job of integrating foliage into its concrete machine and has a unique respect towards nature throughout the city.
  • Aberdeen While just slightly too south to be considered part of the peninsula, Aberdeen is one of the bigger cities in the general peninsula area. Fans of Nirvana will know that Aberdeen is the hometown of front man Kurt Cobain, something the town does not shy away from—the phrase “Come As You Are” is included on the welcome sign seen as you drive into the city. In terms of your trip, it’s probably best as a stop on your way to the peninsula, but Nirvana die-hards or people in the southern end of the peninsula looking to buy something that might not be available in one of the smaller towns might want to stop here.
    • Hoaquiam sits next to Aberdeen and is nearly attached to the city, but maintains its own identity. If you’re looking for a certain type of store in particular and you can’t find it in Aberdeen, you might be able to get it from Hoaquiam.
  • Victoria With a ferry connecting it from Port Angeles, this city famous for its British charm can easily be done as a day-trip from Olympic National Park.


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