Families should plan a multiple-day visit to fully appreciate the vast offerings of this Pacific Northwest wonderland.
Diversity is the hallmark of Olympic National Park. Situated on the Olympic Peninsula, this park is nearly a million acres in size and boasts three distinct ecosystems: glacier-capped mountains, old-growth rain forests, and over 70 miles of rocky Pacific coastline. To fully explore it, your family will need several days. If you have limited time, it’s best to focus on just an area or two. While summer promises the best weather, each season has something to offer. After all, it’s those rain-soaked days of winter that water the lush landscape.
KidTripster Tip: Stop at one of the visitor centers to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book and return it completed for a Junior Range badge. Also, make sure to watch the park movie, so you’re primed for your visit.
What to do?
The route around Olympic National Park is a large circle. Here are a few must-sees along the way:
After you stop at the visitors center in Port Angeles, make your way to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center about 17 miles south. From here, you can access several short trails that reward with breathtaking vistas of the Olympic Mountains and Strait of Juan de Fuca on a clear day. Know that these trails are often covered with snow until May; in late spring, walk among a colorful array of wildflowers.
If you’re visiting in late October or early November, head to the Sol Duc Valley. From the Salmon Cascades Overlook, you can to watch determined coho salmon leap over the falls on their way to spawn upstream. It’s a very Pacific Northwest sighting!
Drive two hours from Port Angeles, and you’ll find the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the few temperate rain forests remaining in the United States. But as you hike the .8-mile Hall of Mosses Trail or the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail, you’ll swear that you’ve fallen into Middle Earth! Here the lush green canopy protects the underbrush where you’ll find ferns the size of small children!
No trip to Olympic National Park would be complete without a beach stop. I think the prettiest one is Ruby Beach. As you make your way down the path here, you’ll see sea stacks off shore and giant drift logs on the beach. Time your visit correctly, and you’ll also be able to explore the many tidal pools. And if you have the energy, hike 1.5-miles north to Hole-in-the-Wall, a picturesque sea-carved arch.
KidTripster Tip: Use extreme caution at the beach. Don’t turn your back on the ocean, and by all means, watch younger children carefully. Also, be wary of sneaker waves and don’t get trapped by rising tides.
KidTripster Tip: Distances from one area to another can be deceiving. Drive times can be longer than anticipated. Click here for a mileage chart.
Where to stay?
There’s no shortage of campgrounds and lodge options at Olympic National Park. It’s best to select a different location each night as you move around the park. Click here to see a list of choices.
However, don’t miss Kalaloch Campground. With campsites within steps of a long stretch of vacant beach, it could be one of the best-located campgrounds in the national park system. Cost: Tents and RVs (up to 35 feet) $22/night; no hookups; dump station.
KidTripster Tip: If you happen to visit the park during Thanksgiving, plan to feast at Kalaloch Lodge, which is within walking distance of the campground. It's a spread worthy of praise!
Olympic National Park’s Port Angeles Visitors Center is a 2-1/2-hour drive from Seattle, if you utilize the ferry to Bainbridge Island. The park also can be accessed from the south.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.