One of America’s most fascinating nature reserves, Olympic National Park is marked by unparalleled diversity. Visitors are free to enjoy incredible contrasting ecosystems, including 70 miles of untamed coastline, ancient temperate rainforests, and snow-covered mountains and glaciers, all due to the park’s location and the amazing range of elevation and precipitation in the 922,000-acre park. Equally popular with hikers, climbers, and backpackers, the park is permeated by a magical sense of peace and tranquility, as if the wilderness itself is both alive and resting as time goes on and new eyes come to gaze in wonder upon its inviting beauty.
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1. WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK?
2. A FEW FACTS ABOUT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
3. ONE DAY IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY
3.1. Start Your Trip in Port Angeles
3.2. Visit the Olympic National Park Visitor Center
3.3. Get an Idea of the Park’s Four Regions
3.4. Drive out to Hurricane Ridge
3.5. Go for a Hike on Hurricane Trail
3.6. Take in the Sights Along Olympic Highway
3.7. Explore Lake Crescent and Visit Marymere Falls
3.8. Stop for Lunch in Forks
3.9. Visit the Hoh Rainforest
4.0. Explore the Hall of Mosses
4.1. Drive to the Coast to See Ruby Beach
4.2. Go Back to Port Angeles for Dinner
5. WHERE TO STAY IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK?
6. EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Most visitors agree that springtime is the best time for visiting Olympic National Park. While weather in the park is drier and warmer during the summer months, the period between June and September also brings the most visitors. When it comes to wildlife viewing, Roosevelt Elk are abundant in early spring (March-April), while May and June are the best time to visit in case you want to view black bears.
Located on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington, Olympic National Park got its name after the Olympic Mountains and their glacier-clad summit, Mt. Olympus. A passing British mariner thought that the majestic mountains look like the mythical home of the Greek gods. Much like its slightly higher Greek namesake, Mount Olympus is a place of exceptional beauty and biodiversity. The Olympic National Park rainforest is home to the Roosevelt Elk, which almost went extinct in the late 1800s due to over-hunting. Olympic Marmot, a cute animal weighing between 8 and 20 pounds, is endemic to the area.
There are 15 other endemic animal species among the 20 reptile and amphibian species, 37 native fish species, and 300 bird species inhabiting the park. When it comes to flora, the Hoh, Quinault, Queets, and Sitka Spruce, as well as various mosses, rank among the park’s most prominent features. In sheer numbers, Olympic National Park is home to more than 1,200 native plant species, 8 of which are endemic.
In the past, the area was known as Mount Olympus National Monument, then Olympic Forest Reserve, and Olympic National Forest after 1907. The National Park as we know it today was established in 1938. The majority of visitors come to Olympic National Park from Seattle. If you plan on spending a day in Seattle as well, make sure to check out our One Day in Seattle Itinerary.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Olympic National Park.
When you are coming from Olympia or Seattle to Olympic National Park, the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles should be your natural starting point. Since the Visitor Center is closed before 9, take the time to grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat before it opens. For example, The Empossible Eden Cafe is a nice breakfast restaurant on Marine Drive near the Port Angeles Boat Yard. It opens at 6 AM, 7 days a week, and boasts friendly service with amazing food (try the omelets, toast, or cinnamon pancakes) and big servings.
Port Angeles itself is the largest city and county seat of Clallam County, Washington, located on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Since the city is shielded by the Olympic Mountains, it receives significantly less rain compared to the rest of western Washington. The temperate climate, picturesque streets, and beautiful harbor make it worth your while to spend some time there and enjoy the sights before moving on.
With friendly staff, nature exhibits, a bookstore, a Discovery Room for children, and a theatre with a free movie about the park, the Visitor Center has everything you need to kick off your visit on the right foot. You can get plenty of information about camping and hiking at the Wilderness Information Center, located on the same premises. The Visitor Center opens at 9, so be there as soon as it opens, get the info you need, and start your Olympic National Park itinerary.
Before you foray out into the park, you should keep in mind that Olympic National Park consists of four distinct ecological zones: the glaciated mountains (Olympic Mountains and Mount Olympus with ancient glaciers), subalpine forests and meadows (primarily Hurricane Ridge), temperate rainforests (Quinault Rainforest and Hoh Rainforest), and rugged, sandy coastline bordered by ancient forests.
So, there are plenty of things to do in Olympic National Park, but since the regions are so distinct and relatively far apart, if you only visit one or two regions, you will miss out on something completely different. That said, don’t be afraid to spend some extra time exploring an area that you absolutely fall in love with. That’s kind of the point, after all.
After getting all the information at the Visitor Center, go for a 36-minute drive south past Mt. Angeles until you reach Hurricane Ridge. Mt. Angeles, which can be accessed from the Klahane Ridge trail, is actually the highest peak in the area of Hurricane Ridge. If you decide to climb the summit, you will be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. However, the ascent is very steep and challenging (class 3 ascent), and you will have to walk more than 6 miles (roundtrip).
Hurricane ridge, which is open year-round, is a much more family-oriented destination, with hiking trails during the summer, and skiing & snowboarding facilities in wintertime. The conveniently-located Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center also has an information desk, plus restrooms and a snack bar.
There are several trails that can be accessed from the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, such as the relatively small Big Meadow Trail and Cirque Rim Trail, the High Ridge Trail, and others. The Hurricane Hill Trailhead is located west of the visitor center. The Hurricane Hill Trail offers exceptional views with plenty of wildlife, and is generally seen as one of the best trails in Olympic National Park. While moderately difficult, it is definitely significantly friendlier compared to Mt. Angeles. Just make sure to bring all the necessary equipment (especially shoes for hiking) and water, and keep in mind that parking may be a little tight.
Apart from Hurricane Ridge hikes, most other attractions, including the Olympic rainforest and the Olympic National Park lakes, are located further to the west and south, and cannot be reached via the Hurricane Ridge Road. For the rest of the Olympic National Park itinerary, go back to Port Angeles, and then drive west on Olympic Highway towards the town of Forks. On your way there, you should definitely stop to admire the Elwha River from the Elwha River Observation Area.
The area changes with the seasons, but the sense of unrestrained natural beauty and tranquility is an unvarying constant. Only 6 miles further down the road, you will reach the shores of Lake Sutherland. The lake is very calm and pristine, with a dock for jumping off and swimming. Fishing is also possible, and there are several places where you can rent boats and other equipment. The view from the shore is breathtaking, with trees and hills surrounding the crystal-clear, mirror-like surface of the lake.
Lake Crescent, further down the road, is not only larger, but also deeper than Lake Sutherland. In fact, it is the deepest lake in the state of Washington, carved over millennia by glaciers descending from the mountains. The Marymere Falls Trail starts across the road from the Storm King Ranger Station parking lot, near the Lake Crescent Pier. Take the trail to Marymere Falls, a 90-foot waterfall surrounded by lush and peaceful old-growth forest of conifers and ferns. The trail that leads there is short and accessible, although it can get somewhat busy (but not crowded) due to the site’s popularity.
The last part of the hike can be a bit harder, seeing as there are stairs at the very end, and they can sometimes get slippery. Even so, the enormous cedar trees and the breathtaking waterfalls that can be enjoyed from lower or upper viewing areas are well worth the 1.5 miles round trip hike.
After Marymere Falls, continue on Olympic Highway (Route 101) for approximately 45 minutes (36 miles) until you reach Forks, a small city popular for its fishing, and, more recently, known as the somber setting for the Twilight novels/films. It is a great place to have lunch, with several options to choose from. The Parlor, located on the city’s main thoroughfare (Forks Avenue) is certainly one of the better ones, with friendly waitstaff and great food such as the delicious home fries, grilled cheese, and tasty chanterelle mushroom burgers.
Blakeslee Bar and Grill, located further down the road past the strip mall, is also a good choice in case you like pubs with a local feel. In addition to delicious food (burgers, chicken wings, biscuits and gravy, crispy potatoes, and fish), Blakeslee’s also boasts an impressive beer selection. The place is apparently a local favorite, which is quite telling.
After lunch, you shouldn’t fritter away too much time in Forks, unless you are a die-hard Twilight fan. Instead, continue down south on 101 for 12 miles, and then turn east onto Upper Hoh Road, which mostly runs parallel to the majestic Hoh River. After another 20 miles (45 minutes from Forks total), you should arrive at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, filled with maps, visitor info, and exhibits focusing on the famous Olympic National Park rainforest, ranked among the largest temperate rainforests in the country.
While a large part of the forest has been logged over the past century, the pockets that remain are absolutely breathtaking, with more than a day’s worth of sights to explore and admire.
Right next to the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, there are three trails to choose from: the Spruce Nature Trail, the Hoh River Trail, and the Hall of Mosses. The latter, which is the most popular one, runs through a luscious, atmospheric forest of trees covered in moss and surrounded by thick fern overgrowth. Long drapes of green, brown, and yellow moss hang over the 0.8-mile loop trail on each side, with elk, deer, and black bears inhabiting the area. If you’ve got the time, you should also check out the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail, which is equally breathtaking, especially by the river.
While it is certainly not the only Olympic National Park beach worth seeing, Ruby Beach makes the cut both for its incredible coastal views and ease of access. To get there, return to Route 101, and then head south until you cross the narrow Cedar Creek where the highway approaches the Pacific coastline, 27 miles south of Forks. The beach got its name after red crystals in the sand resembling rubies. Its distinguishing features include an unusually high number of sea stacks, as well as a large amount of driftwood, which is also commonly encountered on other Olympic National Park beaches.
Getting to the beach is easy, with only half a mile for the round trip. You should take some time to appreciate the stunning coastal views and geological formations. If you are lucky, you may see some wildlife, such as eagles and otters. If you time it right (depending on the time of year), you may get the chance to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets in the country – an unforgettable highlight and a perfect way to conclude your stay in Olympic National Park.
After Ruby Beach, return to highway 101 and head back to Port Angeles. The 80-mile ride is a perfect chance to appreciate the beauty of Olympic National Park one more time. Back in Port Angeles, you’ll need to find a place to replenish your energy after a long day. For Italian food, great wine, and fresh, locally sourced seafood, there’s no better place than Bella Italia. While the restaurant is small, their attention to detail and top-notch service make it a cozy, friendly place you will absolutely fall in love with.
If you prefer burgers, bar bites, and excellent craft beer, then Next Door Gastropub is the right place for you. Try the garlic parmesan fries, cod fish and chips, or a burger with blue cheese fries. When it comes to dive bars for later in the evening, consider The New Moon Craft Tavern, with a great selection of beer (twenty taps!), bar games, and live music played by local bands – mostly on Tuesdays and the weekend.
140 Del Guzzi Drive, Port Angeles, WA 98682
With a convenient location at the base of the Olympic Mountains, Olympic Lodge is the perfect place to rest before spending a day (or more) hiking, fishing, water skiing, and discovering all the other things to do in Olympic National Park. The hotel comes with an outdoor pool, a bistro, a fitness room, a business center, and an on-site restaurant, The Whistling Frog, located under a hill. All guests have unrestricted access to the hotel’s amenities. The property is perched atop a winding road, providing great views, and is generally well-maintained, with comfortable rooms, plenty of seating, and a big fireplace, giving the lodge-style hotel a very homey feeling of coziness.
Quality Inn Uptown
101 East 2nd Street, Port Angeles, WA 98362
A bit closer to the Port Angeles city center, you will find Quality Inn Uptown, overlooking the harbor, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Canada in the distance. The hotel’s central location means that there are numerous shops, restaurants and galleries within easy walking distance. When it comes to amenities, you will love the complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, especially the hot Belgian waffles and biscuits and gravy, while all the modern conveniences, such as free wireless internet, are also available. The rooms offer great views of the Port Angeles Harbor to the north and the Olympic Mountains to the south, giving its guests an appetizing preview of the natural wonders they have yet to discover, or a warm reminder that the places they’ve visited are indeed real.
Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast
654 East Division Street, Forks, WA 98331
While the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast is a historical home, set in a traditional farm dating back to 1916, it being designated as the Cullen House from the Twilight novels has gained this comfortable property quite a bit of popularity in recent years. Naturally, if you are a Twilight fan, you simply must stay here, with the additional benefit of all the major Olympic National Park attractions being within 30-40 minutes by car. The bedrooms are comfortable and well-equipped, with private bathrooms and free toiletries. When they are not exploring the national park or some of the numerous Twilight locations, guests can spend time at the garden or the spacious main room at the property.
Best Western Plus Pioneer Square Hotel
77 Yesler Way, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA 98104
If you plan on coming from Seattle to Olympic National Park, your best bet is staying somewhere near the ferry dock, to make it easier to leave the city without getting stuck in traffic. The Best Western Plus Pioneer Square Hotel has an unbeatable location in that regard, seeing as it is situated right next to Colman Dock, where the Seattle-Bainbridge Ferry docks (the shortest way to Olympic National Park from Seattle). Additionally, the hotel is less than half a mile from the Seattle city center, and the city’s football and baseball stadiums are only 10 minutes away on foot. The hotel is charming and tasteful, in an old historic property, with friendly staff, comfortable rooms, and a delicious complimentary continental breakfast.
-Due to its sheer size and beauty, you can write and rewrite your Olympic National Park itinerary many times over, and you will always be forced to leave something out. The Olympic Peninsula is very hard to cross off a list since there are always new trails, new lakes, new beaches, new creeks, and new viewpoints to discover.
-While Highway 101 circumnavigates the entire Olympic National Park, keep in mind that getting from one attraction to another may take more time than initially estimated. This can happen because some parts of the road get very windy, and also due to crowds during the summer.
-Since a large part of the park is very muddy, you should always bring waterproof hiking boots instead of regular footwear when visiting Olympic National Park. It’s always a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks as well.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).