Olympic National Park covers 922,651 acres and protects three distinct ecosystems with unique creatures that exist nowhere else. This is an amazing natural wonder, protected for the ages by Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. However, the sprawling park has no roads that cut completely through it. The road system resembles one of the sea anemones that live in the tidal pools along its coast. A circular road around the outside of the park with a few tentacles jutting into its interior and connecting it to the sliver of coastal land that is like an island separated from the rest of the park. With all this separation it is imperative for first-time visitors to have this Olympic National Park guide to map out your journey.
Olympic National Park Guide
Getting To The Park
We don’t normally give advice on traveling to a park accessed by major roads because the best route will depend on where you are coming from and which part of the park you intend to explore first. However, in Olympic National Park’s case, there are not only roads into the park but also several ferry boats. The ferries traverse the Puget Sound and because of the population commuting to the areas near Seatle, they run every few hours. There is even a ferry boat that travels to and from Port Angeles to Canada’s Vancouver Island. The ferries add a little more adventure to the journey. If you are coming or leaving the park via the west coast make sure you grab fuel and supplies in either Aberdeen or Forks, Washington. There are few amenities between the two towns.
Seasons – Olympic National Park Guide
Olympic National Park remains open year-round but many of the gravel roads are only open during the summer season. The average temperature at sea level for each month of the year never drops below freezing and doesn’t exceed 70° F. The real answer to the question, “What is the best time of year to visit,” will be answered by what you wish to do.
Winter (December – March)
Snow in the high country makes this a great time for skiing in the Hurricane Ridge area of the park. On average 3 out of every 4 days will see rain or snow during this season. It is a little too chilly to explore the rainforest or beaches but they remain open to the public.
Spring (April- June)
Temperatures begin to warm and the snow begins to melt. Many of the gravel roads remain closed but with fewer visitors and less bugs this is a good time to explore the rainforests or hike the beaches. On average 1 out of every 2 days will see rain or snow at high altitudes.
Summer (July – September)
Summer brings warmer days and also less rain to Olympic National Park. The warm days are perfect for exploring the beaches or the mountain peaks. Mid-July to late-August is typically best for snow-free trails into the backcountry. On average it rains 1 out of every 5 days during this season.
Fall (October & November)
The Fall season is a great time to visit the rainforest in Olympic National Park as parts of it change color. The high country begins to receive snow early in the late summer and throughout the fall. The gravel roads are once again closed but Hurricane Ridge remains open. On average 3 out of every 5 days receives rain during these months.
According to the park, Olympic has 611 miles of trails to be explored. While hiking and backpacking are the most obvious activities when visiting Olympic National Park there is a lot more to this park. Because of the diversity in the terrain kayaking, biking, fishing, snow skiing, surfing, and soaking in a natural hot spring are all possible depending on the season.
Check out these Top 10 activities that should not be missed when visiting Olympic National Park.
How Much Time?
How much time can you spare? Did we mention 611 miles of trails crossing over 922,651 acres? Olympic National Park is a sprawling park. To drive the main roads that loop the park takes more than 3 hours. If you are the type of person who likes to cruise the National Parks with the occasional stop and a short stroll or two, the park is probably a two-day adventure. However, if you want to experience the park and delve into several of the Top 10 activities, you should plan about half a week to a full week. If you want to do it all and then some you could easily spend a month in the park and still want more.
According to the parks service, Olympic was the 9th most visited national park in 2020. Some of the best areas in the park can be extremely crowded on summer weekends. Plan on arriving at the most popular places early in the morning to avoid major delays. This is especially true of Hurricane Ridge Road. It is not uncommon for the gate to throttle the number of people in this section of the park. This is done to keep the parking lot at the top from being overrun but has the side effect of creating hours-long lines at the entrance gate.
The best accomodation will be the one closest to your desired exploration spot for the day. The park is massive making commuting from a centralized location very impractical. Luckily, most of the areas inside Olympic National Park have their own dedicated campground. Almost all of which are first-come, first-served and nearly none have any cell service. If you need a hotel room things are going to be harder but not impossible. That being said here are our favorite campground and hotels in the area.
South Beach Campground is a beautiful small seaside campground with picnic tables and flushing toilets. The campground sits on an exposed seaside cliff above the Pacific Ocean and is one of the best spots to watch the sunset in the park. The Kalaloch Campground is located just to the north with more services and is reservable but the views aren’t as good.
Mora Campground is popular for three reasons. Firstly, it is the closest campground to the popular Rialto Beach. Second, it is one of the two reservable campsites in the park with good amenities (still no showers). Lastly, and most nerdly, it is located in the woods relatively close to the area popularized by the Twilight Saga.
Hoh Campground is located in the gorgeous Hoh rainforest. Location, location, location. It also has potable water and flushing toilets which is pretty nice. Did we mention the location though?
Minnie Peterson Campground is a great option if the Hoh Campground is full. It is located about halfway up the Upper Hoh Road and has a similar rainforest vibe but with pit toilets. It is a DNR site so it is free with a Washington Discover Pass. This is one of the only campgrounds near the park with good Verizon cell coverage.
Heart O’ the Hills Campground is the closest campground to the most popular attraction in the park, Hurricane Ridge. It is nice to camp here to have a jump on the crowds heading to the top in the early morning. The campground is big with 105 campsites. It has clean bathrooms with flush toilets.
Campgrounds with Showers
Salt Creek Recreational Campground is by far our favorite campground near the park. It is not located in the park but on the north side of the peninsula directly on the Straight of Juan De Fuca. The campsites are reservable and the park has nice amenities including coin-operated showers. Many of the campsites sit directly on the bluffs overlooking the water and the campground has decent Verizon coverage.
Dungeness Recreation Area Campground is a close runner-up for our favorite campground in the area. It has similar amenities to the Salt Creek Campground with good Verizon coverage. The campground is in the trees but there is a short walking trail to overlook the Straight of Juan De Fuca. This campground is the perfect spot to camp when hiking the Dungeness Spit—Number 10 on our list of the best activities to do while in the park.
Often the closest campsite to your desired destination is a backcountry site. In order to enjoy the backcountry in Olympic National Park, you need to obtain a wilderness permit for the desired site. It is highly recommended to acquire a reservation when they become available for the more popular backcountry sites. The park releases the campsites for reservation on a 6-month rolling window.
The Kalaloch Lodge sits on the Pacific bluffs near the South Beach Campground. This is a good alternative for those wanting to watch the sunset while having the creature comforts of home when visiting Olympic National Park.
If soaking your aching, tired muscles in a natural hot spring at the end of a long day of exploration is your kind of vacation then the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort should be your base for the central north part of the park.
The Quality Inn & Suites in Sequim is one of the nicer chain hotels in the Olympic area. It is fairly well situated to explore the north side of the park.
When visiting Olympic National Park it is best to stock up on food at the local supermarket before spending a few days exploring the park. However, Port Angeles is a big town with lots of tasty restaurants.
Gordy’s Pizza & Pasta makes pies loaded with toppings. They are so good you may not want to try anything else while you are in Port Angeles.
The Next Door Gastropub is a high-end bar that lives up to its name. Tasty brews and artfully crafted dishes make this one of the most popular eateries in Port Angeles.
The small town of Forks, Washington is about the only place to find grub on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. While there isn’t anything fancy about it, Sully’s Burgers makes a good meal after a long day of hiking.
Olympic National Park Guide
We hope this Olympic National Park Guide helps you map out an amazing journey to this sprawling wonderland. This park, encompassing three distinct ecosystems, is like no other place in the United States. To our knowledge, the only terrain that is comparable is the beautiful west coast of the southern island of New Zealand which goes from glaciers to rainforests to beaches in a similar distance. However, while Olympic National Park takes some effort to explore, it’s easier than flying across the Pacific Ocean.