Olympic National Park is often described as three parks in one and that is a well-deserved title. The beaches are beautiful with towering rock monoliths rising out of the surf. The rainforest is lush with massive ferns and towering moss-covered trees. The glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range rise into the clouds. Each type of environment brings its own unique beauty and life to the Olympic landscape. With so much diversity visitors are left wondering, what are the best trails to see all that this scenic wonderland has to offer? If you are planning a trip we have got the top 12 trails for day hiking Olympic National Park.
If you are interested in more than just day hiking when visiting Olympic National Park, check out our post about the top 10 activities in the park. It also has great information about campgrounds, hotels, and food when exploring the sprawling park.
There are three sections of coastline in Olympic National Park. These are often referred to as the North Wilderness (Shi Shi Beach to Quillayute River), South Wilderness (Quillayute to Hoh River), and Kalaloch (aka, the coastal drive). All three are located on the west side of the park in a small strip of land that is separated from the main mass of the park. The seaside hikes within the park vary from easy strolls along sandy beaches to the slippery, rocky, tidal-pool-laden shorelines. Many sections of the beach become inaccessible during high tide. Low tide is not only the safest time to explore these places it is also the best time of day to search for sea life in the tidal pools. It is vital to know when the high and low tides occur each day while hiking these seaside trails.
1) Rialto Beach to Hole in the Wall
Total Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 20′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead: Rialto Beach Parking Lot
Rialto Beach is one of the best sand beaches in Olympic National Park. It is also considered a great surfing beach. However, if you turn north and hike a mile and a half along the grainy sand you will reach a beautiful section of shoreline. It has large rocky sea stacks rising out of the surf and a rock arch known as the Hole in the Wall that can be walked through during low tide. Along the way, watch for bald eagles swooping down out of the tall trees lining the beach. The rocky area surrounding the Hole in the Wall is also one of the best places to look for sea life in the low tide tidal pools. We even managed to spot a seal plying the waters of Rialto Beach.
Arrive early to the parking area. This is a very popular beach and the small lot fills up quickly. Within an hour of sunrise on a weekend, the nearest parking can often be over a mile down the road. Wear water shoes on this hike. Ellen Creek flows across the beach about halfway along the beach and while taller people can hop over the channel it is much easier to just walk through the creek. We watched a kid try to jump over the creek and faceplant in the sand after catching his foot on the adjacent creek bank.
2) Third Beach
Total Distance: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 298′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead: Third Beach Trailhead
Third Beach is another beautiful sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean but it has one unique scene that elevates it above many of the other beaches in the area. It has a 119′ tall waterfall that plummets directly into the water during high tide and crashes onto the beach during low tide. Often referred to as the Strawberry Bay Waterfall (aka, Third Beach Falls), it is entirely fulled by rainwater which in Olympic National Park means it rarely goes dry. That being said, the best time to visit this beautiful beach is after one of the park’s heavy rains. While the beach and waterfall are why the Third Beach is a must-do when hiking Olympic National Park, the 1.7-mile long trail (one-way) could just as easily be put into the rainforest category. The first mile of the journey is through the lush forest hugging the coastline.
We suggest hiking shoes for this trail because of the uneven terrain of the forest section of the trail. However, there is a creek crossing once you arrive at Third Beach so bring watershoes or be prepared to go barefoot. During high tide, Strawberry Bay Waterfalls plummets into the ocean but it isn’t possible to get very close without a swim. During low tide, it is possible to walk right up to the base of the falls.
3) Beach 1 (Not First Beach)
Total Distance: 1/2 mile
Elevation Gain: 42′
Trailhead: Beach 1 Pull-out
Beach 1 is our favorite driftwood beach in Olympic National Park. The shoreline here is covered in massive bleached logs that have been rolled up on the coastline and out of the surf during large storm surges. The plethora of driftwood on the beach is so dense that hikers must crawl over the logs to reach the sand. The trail is a short jaunt through the woods from a small pull-out just to the north of the South Beach Campground. (Which is our favorite place to camp in Olympic National Park.) The forest section of the trail is also one of the best places in the park to see massive Spruce Burls which are large growths or knots on the trunks of the trees that are highly sought after by wood craftsmen. (Logging in National Parks is prohibited.)
Don’t confuse First Beach with Beach 1 further to the north. Whoever named the beaches in Olympic National Park wasn’t the most creative person.
4) Ruby Beach
Total Distance: 1/4 of a mile to 3 miles (one way)
Elevation Gain: 67′
Trailhead: Ruby Beach Parking Lot
Ruby Beach is located on the North end of the Kalaloch section. It is a very popular beach with easy access. Ruby beach is a great spot to watch the sunset behind tiny islands and sea stacks. The beach has a lot of driftwood scattered about it. Following the trail down to the beach requires hikes to make their way through the driftwood although it is typically easier than finding the path through the driftwood at Beach 1. Ruby Beach is also a sand beach at low tide and a pebble beach a high tide giving it a lot of variety. Once on the beach, head north across Cedar Creek. You can hike the beach for 3 miles all the way to where the Hoh River meets the Pacific Ocean. The Hoh River’s headwaters are the Hoh Glacier on the east face of Mount Olympus 56 miles away.
5) Cape Alava Trail
Total Distance: 7 miles
Type: Out-n-Back (9.4-mile loop option)
Elevation Gain: 334′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead: Ozette Ranger Station
The Cape Alava Trail leads hikers to the westernmost point in the Continental United States. It is a must-do trail when hiking Olympic National Park. The trail passes over the Ozette River and through the woods to the secluded geologic point. It has several sections of beautiful boardwalk draped in moss which can be a bit slippery so watch your footing. The beach itself is a rocky one that often teems with life. It is not uncommon to spot seals, otters, and sea lions as well as bald eagles at Cape Alava. We counted thirteen bald eagles during our visit. While you are not allowed to deface or typically remove anything from the National Parks, the parks service encourages hikers to pickup buoys on Cape Alava. The park considers them trash but they make a great souvenir when visiting the westernmost point.
Plan on exploring the cape during low tide and continue your hike 1.25-miles south along the shoreline where you can find ancient petroglyphs etched into stone at the Wedding Rocks formation. If you are up for a longer hike you can continue south to the Sandy Point Trail and make the journey into a 9.4-mile long loop. While this is a mostly flat traverse the uneven rocky coastline can be more challenging than most people think. There are also sections that are impassable during high tide. For these reasons, the full loop is best done as a backpacking trip but you will need to reserve a backcountry camping permit ahead of time.
Hiking Olympic National Park’s Mountain Trails
There are very few roads in Olympic National Park that pierce the heart of the mountainous high country and none that completely traverse it. This makes most of the mountain trails in the alpine region into long multi-day backpacking adventures. However, there are a select few trails that are not only short enough for day trekkers but they are some of the best trails in the entire park. The following four trails should not be overlooked when hiking Olympic National Park.
6) Hurricane Hill
Total Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 650′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead: Hurricane Hill Parking Lot (1.5 miles past Hurricane Ridge)
Driving Hurricane Ridge Road is one of the must-do activities when visiting Olympic National Park. The visitor center at the top is the only viewpoint of Mount Olympus in the entire park that is accessible by a paved road. However, a mile and a half further into the mountains on Hurricane Hill Road there is a trail that takes hikers to the precipice of the 5,757′ Hurrican Hill. From the summit of the windy point, hikers are rewarded with not only some amazing views of Mount Olympus but also Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Canada’s Vancouver Island.
This is a very popular hike so plan on arriving in this area of the park very early in the morning. It is not uncommon for the park service to limit access to Hurricane Ridge Road once the parking area at Hurricane Ridge is full. The wait to get into the park on summer weekends can be over an hour-long by mid-day.
7) Grand Basin Overlook
Total Distance: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 505′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead: Obstruction Point
The trail from Obstruction Point (6,150′) to the Grand Lake Overlook (not signed) is one of the highest maintained trails in Olympic National Park. It is a beautiful trail that crosses over the alpine terrain. It provides unobstructed views over the Lillian River Valley and many of the high peaks in the core of the Olympic Mountain Range. We suggest day hikers turn back once they reach the point at 1.7-miles along the trail where it splits with an unmaintained path heading to the right and the maintained trail descending quickly into the Grand Basin. While the Grand Basin with Grand Lake, Moose Lake, and Gladys Lake is an alluring destination, it descends over 2,500′ in two miles. This is a journey best done with a backpack to make the most of the journey into the backcountry.
Finding the Trail
Getting to Obstruction Point is an adventure in itself. It requires an 8-mile gravel road drive (one way) along a mountain ridgeline with no guard rails. It isn’t for the faint of heart but in good conditions, almost any normal-sized vehicle can make the traverse. Once in the small parking lot, there are two trails. The Obstruction Point Trail on the left leads to Deer Park 7.5-miles away and is a beautiful hike as well but much longer. The Grand Basin Overlook (aka, Grand Pass Trail) is the one that climbs up the small hill to the right toward Grand Lake.
Some adventurous souls like us will attempt a loop hike through Grand Basin via the before-mentioned unmaintained trail known as the Lillian Ridge Trail. This is a journey fraught with loose scree, steep drop-offs, and often covered with snow until well into the late summer. It is not recommended.
8) Rainshadow Trail (aka, Blue Mountain)
Total Distance: Half-mile
Elevation Gain: 155′
Trailhead: Blue mountain Parking Lot above Deer Park
The hardest thing about getting to the 6,000′ high summit of Blue Mountain is the steep white-knuckle drive up and the first gear descent back down. The parking area is accessed via a steep and extremely curvy 9-mile gravel road with lots of blind turns. It is only open during the summer but is well-maintained during that time so smaller vehicles can make the journey. The Blue Mountain summit is one of the best vantage points in the park to watch the sunset over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It also has a commanding view of one of the most unique features of the Olympic Peninsula, the more than 5.5-mile long Dungeness Spit (also a great hike but located outside the park).
Arrive at Deer Park below Blue Mountain a few hours before sunset to secure one of the 14 first-come, first-served tent-only campsites. This is a great spot to camp out and makes staying until after the sun sets much easier. The road is difficult enough in the light of day.
9) Mount Storm King
Total Distance: 5.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,132′
Trailhead: Storm King Ranger Station Parking Lot
Of the few mountain trails that make the top 12 hikes in Olympic National Park, Storm King is by far the most challenging. The other three mountain trails could be undertaken by almost anyone at any skill level but that is not true of Storm King. If you have issues with vertigo you are best to sit this one out. Not only does it climb over 2,200′ in less than 2 miles it does so via an infamous rope section. However, for those who venture up this mountainside, an iconic view of Lake Crescent awaits.
Bring some gloves for the rope sections and arrive at the trailhead very early. A long line tends to form at the rope section and it can get unbearably long especially on weekends. Add in Marymere Falls (#12) during the return.
Hiking Olympic National Park’s Rainforest Trails
The United States has no shortage of beautiful beaches and sky-high mountain ranges. However, the country has very few rainforests. The few found on the west side of Olympic National Park are accessible, beautiful, and complete the trio of environments that this park is famous for. This is a land of varying shades of green fed by glacial snowmelt and an abundance of rainfall. While there are a lot of trails that cut through this land of gorgeous green these are the three best.
10) Sol Duc Falls
Total Distance: 1.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 56′
Trailhead: Sol Duc Parking Lot
The west side of Olympic National Park gets a lot of rain and, as a result, the park has an abundance of beautiful waterfalls. On paper, the 37′ tall Sol Duc Falls doesn’t look very impressive but it is the coolest waterfall in the park. It is best because it is unique. This waterfall is actually three waterfalls in one and at times of high flow, it has even been known to add a fourth column. The Sol Duc River is divided into three columns by two large granite protrusions as the river is turned 90 degrees and plummets into a small gorge. It is a beautiful scene only made better by the overwhelming amount of greenery provided by the dense rainforest. The trail itself is an easy and beautiful stroll through the dense forest culminating in a wooden bridge crossing over the gorge just below the falls.
While this is a very popular hiking area we actually recommend arriving in the afternoon. The river flows west allowing for the best light on the falls in the late afternoon. It is not uncommon to catch a rainbow in the myst of the falls later in the day. Parking will most likely be an issue especially on weekends so be prepared. Many guides to hiking Olympic National Park would recommend adding Deer Lake. The lake adds 3,500′ of elevation gain and isn’t overly special.
11) Hoh Rainforest (Spruce Nature Trail and Hall of Mosses)
Total Distance: 2 miles
Type: 2 Loops
Combined Elevation Gain: 510′
Rating: Moderately easy
Trailhead:Hoh Rainforest Parking Lot
Exploring the Hoh area of Olympic National Park is the quintessential rainforest experience. It is a land of massive trees covered in layers of moss and vines. Sunlight trickles through the dense canopy as moisture permeates the air. The Spruce Nature Trail and the Hall of Mosses trails are two small relatively easy loops that beacon visitors to stroll peacefully amongst nature. The sound of the forest can be overwhelming as the birds and insects go about their daily lives and the moisture drips from every surface. If after completing the two miles on the forested loops, you long for more, head down the Hoh River Trail for a few miles. It is 18.5-miles long (one-way) so don’t attempt the entire thing unless you are carrying a backpack and have secured a camping permit.
Like most of the places on this list, the Hoh Rainforest is a popular area. We recommend arriving early to enjoy the stillness of the rainforest before the crowds arrive. If you really want to experience nature, camp out at the Hoh Campground and venture out on the trails at twilight.
12) Marymere Falls
Total Distance: 2 miles
Type: Out-n-Back (w/small loop at the end)
Elevation Gain: 213′
Trailhead: Storm King Ranger Station & Parking Lot
Marymere Falls is a beautiful 90′ waterfall that slides down a sheer wall of stone covered in green moss. Not only is the waterfall beautiful but the short hike is as well. It starts on the shores of Crescent Lake, passes through a tunnel under the road, and proceeds to cut through the dense moss-covered forest. It follows the flow of Barnes Creek for a short distance before crossing over it and then Falls creek on two picturesque bridges. The trail on the other side of the second bridge steepens as it climbs through a small loop the full 200′ of elevation. It is steep but quick. The loop provides two beautiful viewing areas for the waterfall.
Hiking Olympic National Park – Top 12 Trails
Olympic National Park is a massive wonderland encompassing three distinct ecosystems. If you long for the quintessential mountaintop experience, a secluded hike in the woods, or a relaxing stroll on the beach this park has you covered. The only real issue with hiking Olympic National Park is finding the time to do it all and we have not yet even touched on the countless backcountry miles to be explored with a backpack.