Olympic National Park spans over 1,440 square miles in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and sees over three million visitors each year. The park sprawls across various ecosystems from old growth forests where the saga series “Twilight” was filmed, to glacier-capped mountain peaks and sandy beaches with rugged rock formations that appear to be straight out of a sci-fi movie. And the best part? It’s only a three-hour jaunt from Seattle, and part of the journey includes a ferry across Puget Sound; a must-do for any Washington visitor or local.
*PIN THIS POST!*
In this post you will find some of the best things to see and do in the Olympic Peninsula including where to hike and camp in Olympic National Park, and the best eateries in Port Angeles, which is the closest town to Olympic National Park where you can find accommodation if you prefer a real bed and a kitchen over a sleeping pad and a tent.
Read related: Hiking in Mount Baker
Where to Camp in the Olympic Peninsula
There are many places to camp in Olympic National Park, but we camped in Heart ‘O The Hills Campground for its proximity to hikes in the Hurricane Ridge area. We awoke each morning with the sounds of wolves howling in the distance and birds chirping.
Best Hikes in the Olympic Peninsula
Here are some of our favorite hikes in the Olympic Peninsula:
1) Hoh Rainforest
2) Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center (many hikes begin from here)
3) Cape Alava (Ozette Triangle Loop)
4) Mount Angeles
5) Mount Storm King (overlooks Lake Crescent)
6) Rialto Beach
I’ll detail more information on each of these below.
There’s the Amazon rainforest, Hawaii’s tropical rainforest, and then there’s the Hoh (pronounced “ho” as in “Merry Christmas”) Rainforest. Covered in dense shades of neon greens, trees extend up to the skies as far as the eye can follow. Mossy-covered branches drape over walkways blanketed with thick ferns in every hue of green, their verdant leaves curling and crawling their way through moist earth.
Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center
Hurricane Ridge sits at 5,242′ elevation, just around the same altitude as Boulder, Colorado. It is not uncommon to see deer and their babies roaming free, seemingly unbothered by the droves of people snapping photos of them and referring to them as “Bambi”. In fact, they seem to relish in the spotlight. Below a mamma offers milk to her fawn with a beautiful mountain backdrop.
Baby deer: “human, let me follow you”
Me: “baby deer, let me follow you”
We also saw a marmot! (Having spent a decent part of my life in Hawaii where the closest thing we have to a marmot is probably a mongoose, this was a VERY cool animal for me to see up close.) It even got on its hind legs and smiled for us!
Cape Alava (Ozette Triangle Loop Trail)
Length: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 100′
Highest Point: 350′
Pass Required: National Park Pass
This hike begins on a wooden plank walkway for three miles through the forest and leads out to the beach, where you walk for another three miles, then head back into a drier section of the forest through another wooden plank walkway for the last three miles, making a 9-mile triangular loop. I loved this hike because it provided such diverse views and something interesting around every corner. It wasn’t difficult because the trail is virtually flat the entire time, and walking along the beach was really fun.
After three miles of forest, you emerge right in front of the Pacific Ocean and are immediately met with the fresh smells of ocean spray and seaweed.
We saw a very sad sight; a sea lion carcass. 🙁
There are a few sections along the trail that go up and over large boulders, providing ropes to help guide the way. Therefore, in order to complete this entire loop trail, you’ll need to be in good physical shape and able to climb with the assistance of a rope. You’ll want to keep an eye out for a large circular sign with red and black diamonds. These are the trail markers and how you know you’re on the right path.
Once we arrived to the beach, it felt as though we were on an Indiana Jones mission to align ourselves to find the treasure (or in our case, the trail back to our car.) We had a hiking pocket book that we borrowed from our Airbnb, which proved to be very helpful. I recommend keeping this handy for the hike, as the three miles along the beach felt like forever and we kept second-guessing ourselves if we were in the right place, looking for clues to make sure we hadn’t gone too far.
You’ll find lots of fallen trees with huge roots as well as driftwood, which makes for great benches or scenic backdrops for dancers pose with your sister-in-law. 🙂
The seaweed is really smelly (like sulfur) but looks so neat with their natural patterns. There are also little black crabs everywhere.
Once you locate the path leading back into the forest, you’ll be relieved to empty the sand out of your shoes before getting back on the planks, but then a new threat arises; there were signs posted at the trailhead that said “beware: you are entering bear and cougar areas.” That’s one bummer about hiking in the PNW: you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings with a little paranoia thinking about worst-case scenario cases. I recommend doing this hike with a buddy, or even better, a small group as you’re less likely to be attacked. Also, no animals are allowed on this trail. Families, keep your children close by at all times, and do not go off the trail.
Length: 6.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,254′
Highest Point: 6,454′
Pass Required: National Park Pass
This strenuous hike begins at Hurricane Ridge and culminates with a pretty dodgy scramble up the side of a huge rock face. The views once you reach the top are worth it, as you’ll look out to the Straight of Juan De Fuca and Victoria, Canada.
Mount Storm King and Lake Crescent
Length: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,065′
Highest Point: 2,600′
Pass Required: None (free)
This is one of the most rewarding hikes in the area if you don’t mind a steep incline for the entire trail, and a serious thigh-burner. The views from the top overlook the sapphire Lake Crescent, one of the deepest lakes in the State of Washington. On a hot day, your motivation can be a refreshing swim in the lake once you’re back down.
There is a sign where the hike officially ends, but if you’re brave enough and not afraid of heights, you can continue to the top where the panoramic views of the lake will take your breath away.
This is part of a 13-mile trail that you can explore a single portion of rather than doing the entire hike. This is also a popular camping spot if you’re looking for beach camping.
Port Angeles is the most populated town near Olympic National Park where the mountains meet the sea. Besides delicious food ranging from Chinese to Mexican to seafood, you can also visit a dispensary, which is legal in the State of Washington. Origins had a beautiful interior with a very friendly and knowledgeable staff, and all their products are organically sourced (no photos are allowed inside.)
Where to Eat in Port Angeles
– Country Aire Natural Foods (natural grocery store; they also have a hot and cold bar, and smoothies and sandwiches for takeaway, which is perfect for a pit stop before a long day of hiking)
– First Street Haven (breakfast – they have the best cinnamon rolls in town, but get ’em while they’re hot because they sell out!)
– Easy Street Coffee & Tea House (excellent selection of London Fog drinks, mom and pop-owned)
– Kokopelli Grill (great views on the water – seafood)
– Next Door Gastropub (American cuisine – this is the only place open until 11PM; most eateries in this area close by 9 or 10PM)
– New Day Eatery (impressive list of smoothies & coffees)
– Sergio’s Hacienda (Mexican)
If you’re returning back to Seattle, the route that most people take is through Port Gamble, where you catch the Kingston ferry (20 minutes) to Edmonds. While driving through the cute town of Port Gamble, I highly recommend stopping at Butcher and Baker Provisions, where you’ll find amazing sandwiches, home-cooked stews, comfort food and some of the best home-baked chocolate cake you’ll find in the state.
Once you reach the Kingston ferry terminal, visit J’aime Les Crepes, located at the end of the road right before you queue your car to board the ferry. This small creperie was started by two girls who were inspired by their first trip to Paris in their 20’s and decided to bring the Parisian favorite back to the Pacific Northwest . They certainly chose the right location as there is always a line out the door during any season!
There is no shortage of incredible hiking and exploring to do on this beautiful cost of Washington State, and it’s easy to find your own little slice of peace among the tall pines, lush green canopies, sparkling lakes, and glistening rock-jutting beaches of Olympic National Park.
*PIN THIS POST!*