Green is the overwhelming color on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

From dazzling emerald to muted pine, you’ll detect a hundred different shades of it in the wet, mossy confines of the Lower 48’s most north-westerly national park where 1000-year-old trees guard the finest tract of old growth rainforest in the US. The Olympics is also home to a small ski station, the majestic Roosevelt elk, regular deluges of precipitation and a dark, eerie sylvian environment that has inspired a mini library of vampire books.

Playing a noble supporting act are a muddle of heavily glaciated mountains, a trio of handsome “parkitecture” lodges and a couple of rustic hot springs. In a separate strip of land added in 1953, the Olympics also includes the wildest slice of US coastline outside Alaska.

Come here if you like rock-hopping on stormy beaches, paddling across windy lakes and hiking beneath drippy trees with just bears and rutting elk for company.

A man stands on a mountain peak looking down towards a lake
July is the driest month of the year in Olympic National Park © The Outdoors Dream / Shutterstock

When should I go to Olympic National Park?

Welcome to one of the wettest places in the US! Rain, and its avoidance, is a primary consideration for most visitors. The Hoh Rainforest gets nearly 130in of precipitation a year. Summer, between May and September, is the driest time with July logging an average of only nine rainy days. This is also when most of the park’s facilities are open, from campgrounds to ranger-led hikes.

The winter season usually runs from late-November to late-March with snow activities centered around the small ski station at Hurricane Ridge.

If you hate crowds, January is the quietest (and wettest) month, while August (with over half a million visitors) is the busiest. Prices don’t fluctuate much in the park itself. In the surrounding communities, winter and the spring/fall shoulder seasons work out slightly cheaper.

Planning a trip to Washington State? Here's our seasonal guide

How much time should I spend in Olympic National Park?

You could easily spend four or five days working your way around Hwy 101, the Olympics’ unofficial ring-road with overnight stops in Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, Forks and Lake Quinault. If you’re planning on penetrating the park’s extensive backcountry on longer hikes along the coast or in the roadless interior, bank on putting aside a week – or even two.

Is it easy to get in and around Olympic National Park?

Getting to the park is relatively easy due to its proximity to Seattle. It’s just over 2 hours by car from the “Emerald City” to the eastern park entrance at Staircase and 2.5 hours to Port Angeles in the north. Seatac, 15 miles south of downtown Seattle, is the nearest airport.

It’s relatively easy to travel to Port Angeles direct from Victoria on Vancouver Island in Canada. The Black Ball car ferry runs four times a day in either direction in the summer (and twice in the winter). The journey time is 1.5 hours.

The park is encircled by well-maintained Hwy 101 (a state “Scenic Highway”) with several more paved roads penetrating the interior where they dead-end at Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rainforest, Lake Quinault, Sol Duc hot springs and Staircase.

While public buses exist, they are slow and discontinuous. You’ll need to change buses between the different counties of Clallam, Jefferson, Mason and Gray’s Harbor.

A man stands in rainforest, dwarfed by the tall and wide tree trunks that surround him
Hoh Rainforest is home to the oldest temperate rainforest in North America © Art Wolfe / Getty Images

Top things to do in Olympic National Park

Appreciate ancient trees in the Hoh Rainforest

For one of the most quintessential park experiences, take a deep dive into the greenest, wettest, and oldest temperate rainforest in North America. Hoh with its giant trees draped in spongy moss is what makes the Olympics unique, a temperate “jungle” of geriatric foliage that’s humming with wildlife. The area has its own visitor center and several short interpretive trails, including the 1.25-mile Hall of Moss trail. Rangers arrange nature walks and talks in summer.

Observe the forces of nature on Ruby Beach

First designated in 1938, the Olympics was extended in 1953 to include a narrow coastal strip that stretches from Ozette in the north down to Kalaloch in the south. Of the coast’s stormy collection of beaches, Ruby Beach, characterized by its bruised clouds, eroded sea stacks, and piles of washed-up tree logs, is the easiest to reach from Hwy 101.   

Climb a rugged path up Mt Storm King

Arguably the park’s most rewarding day-hike is the 4.1-mile round-trip climb to the top of Mt Storm King, whose narrow craggy summit towers grandly above the timberline overlooking the blue-green waters of Lake Crescent and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The trail starts from a lakeside ranger station and ascends steeply through forest for just under 2 miles with the last section necessitating a challenging scramble over rough rock with ropes provided for assistance. It’s well worth the sweat.

Feel the wind in your hair at Hurricane Ridge

The most-visited park enclave is, not coincidentally, the nearest to the urban hub of Port Angeles. Hurricane Ridge is home to a small family-orientated ski station (a rarity in US national parks), windy roadside lookouts, flower meadows, mountain goats and superb views into the park’s uninhabited interior. Trails, both short and long, penetrate the subalpine surroundings.

Soak in hot springs at Sol Duc

The most accessible and developed of the park’s hot springs, Sol Duc sits at the end of a 14-mile-long approach road and funnels its recuperative waters into a quartet of tiled outdoor pools. Massage is also available and, if you’re truly besotted, there’s a rustic cabin resort, campground and restaurant dabbling in Northwest cuisine. A handful of trails embellish the area incorporating bubbling creeks, a pretty lake and a waterfall.

Want more national parks? Here's our guide to Washington's very best

My favorite thing to do in Olympic National Park

The Quinault Valley is one of several road accessible enclaves in the park’s interior and one of my favorite places to linger for a day or three. The area is anchored by a rippling lake upon whose shores stands the handsome Quinault lodge, a historic hotel built in rustic “parkitecture” style in the 1920s, a good decade before the national park was created.

I like Quinault because it offers a litany of indoor and outdoor things to do depending on your mood and how energetic or lazy you feel. This is an ideal base for embarking on long- and short-distance hikes, admiring giant trees, kayaking on the adjacent lake or merely relaxing in a well-worn leather armchair beside the lodge’s spirit-reviving fire.

A man jumps from a bridge into a lake
Many of the best activities in Olympic National Park are completely free of charge © Getty Images

How much money do I need for Olympic National Park?

In common with many national parks, you can expect the prices for items such as food to be a little more expensive than the surrounding towns, plus there are fewer options to find cheap substitutes. Balancing things out, many of the park’s outdoor activities – including hiking, wild swimming and wildlife-watching – are free or almost free.

A guide to daily costs

  • Park entrance fee: $15–30
  • Campground per night: $15–24
  • Basic room for two: $150–250
  • Kayak rental (4 hours): $45
  • Hot springs entrance fee: $18
  • Public transport ticket: free–$10 (70-mile journey)
  • Coffee: $3–4
  • Dinner entrée at Lake Quinault Lodge: $26–48

Frequently asked questions

How unpredictable is the weather?

The weather is always fickle in this neck of the woods. Dress in layers, particularly in the mountains and bring a waterproof jacket and leggings.

Are there any rainy-day activities in the area?

Located just outside the national park boundary in Neah Bay, the Makah Museum is well worth an hour or two of your time, offering an unparalleled glimpse into one of the oldest and best studied Native American archaeological sites in the US.

Is there a park visitor center?

The park’s main visitor center is situated on the southern edge of Port Angeles and is open daily year-round. There’s a Wilderness Information Center next door. There’s another visitor center in the Hoh Rainforest with more limited off-season hours. The visitor center at Hurricane Ridge burned down in 2023.

Where is the main park entrance?

The park has numerous entry points. The most popular and convenient is the “Heart O’ the Hills” entrance 5 miles south of the main Port Angeles visitor center on Hurricane Ridge Road.  

Other entrances to the park’s interior are located at Sol Duc, the Hoh Rainforest and Lake Quinault. All these places have ranger stations and lodge/cabin accommodations. Staircase is the main entrance to the park from the east and has its own ranger station.

There are three entrances to the park’s separated coastal strip, namely at Ozette, Mora and (the most popular) Kalaloch. All have ranger stations. Kalaloch also has a lodge.

What’s the deal with camping?

There are 14 front-country campgrounds in the park; half take reservations, the other half are first-come-first-served. Five campgrounds are suitable for tents only, and two have electrical hook-ups and water. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.   

Backcountry campers must purchase a permit for $6 and subsequently pay $8 per person per night. Sites must be booked in advance on recreation.gov. There are 120 backcountry campgrounds in the park, each able to accommodate between six and 12 people.

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