10 Must-See Olympic National Park Destinations
Ten Olympic National Park Highlights That Every Explorer Should See.
- Hurricane Ridge
- Elwha River Valley
- Lake Crescent
- Sol Duc
- Ozette Lake
- La Push
- Hoh Rainforest
- Lake Quinault
- Ruby Beach
- Lake Cushman & Staircase
- Bonus – Cape Flattery (Makah Reservation)
1. Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge sits on the north side of Olympic National Park just above Port Angeles, Washington. A 17-mile drive up from Port Angeles puts day trippers around a mile high with big views, mountain meadows, and summer wildflowers. For most visitors, Hurricane Ridge and its visitor center will be the highest elevation they explore in the National Park. Choose from a selection of short walks to long hikes from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
Our Favorite Walk: The Hurricane Hill Trail from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center (appx. 3.2 miles RT, 650′ of elevation gain if you head up the hill). If you have a few days, drive out to Obstruction Point, park, and launch into a multi-day backcountry loop hike.
2. Elwha River
The Elwha River is home to the world’s largest dam removal project – the deconstruction of the nearly 100-year-old pair of Glines Canyon & Elwha dams. Essentially complete, the removals usher in an exciting new chapter for residents (human or otherwise) of the peninsula. The ecological significance of the freeing of the Elwha likely can’t be overstated; visit the river from Highways 101 or 112, or drive down to the mouth of the river through the Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation.
Our Favorite Walk: River highlights are currently difficult to access after the Olympic Hot Springs road washed out in 2018 (still in need of repair). There is a bypass foot trail from Madison Falls. Instead, we recommend the easily-attained coastal views from the mouth of the river via the Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation just beyond Port Angeles.
3. Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent…years after your visit to Olympic National Park, you’ll close your eyes and try to remember the place. You’ll see the mountains and the coastline; you’ll see moss-draped giant trees and you’ll see jewel blue water. Lake Crescent is likely the water in your memory.
Cool, clear, and stunningly blue – Lake Crescent is surrounded by low mountain ridges and old-growth trees. There are walks to waterfalls, bike rides to take along reclaimed rail lines, and sunsets to soak in from Barnes Point and the famed Lake Crescent Lodge (and you might as well stay for dinner).
Our Favorite Walk: We would consider it an easy trek, but the 1.7 mile out-and-back walk to Marymere Falls from Barnes Point is a classic. Enjoy big trees along a bubbling creek as you wind (slightly) up to a ribbon of a waterfall cascading over the edge of a break in the bluff.
4. Sol Duc
Renowned for the developed hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, visit Sol Duc to say goodbye to the slightly drier forests of the north end before heading to the West Coast and the rainforest ecosystems.
Our Favorite Walk: Sol Duc Falls is an easily attainable Instagram photo in a gorgeous setting. If you have a few days, gear up and head out on an undulating Seven Lakes Basin and High Divide backcountry loop.
5. Ozette Lake
Ok, the Ozette Lake area is awesome and relatively unknown. We’re going to keep this section short to keep it that way – but get your backcountry permit arranged, grab your tent and sleeping bag, and spend the night on the coast during this flat 9-mile loop through the bogs and along the Pacific coast. Deer, seals, and sea otters await!
Our Favorite Walk: the 9-mile ‘Ozette Triangle’ loop while paying attention to the tides. Ambitious day-trippers can definitely nab the loop with an early start. You won’t regret this one…
6. La Push
Home to the Quileute Tribe, La Push is a hauntingly beautiful section of the Pacific Coast (and claims the westernmost zip code in the continental United States). Highlights like beaches 1, 2, and 3, and nearby Rialto beach make this rocky coastline a full-day destination.
Our Favorite Walk: Second Beach and it’s rocky pillars jutting from the sea are a 1.9 mile out-and-back family affair. For a bit of a longer meandering beach walk, consult the tide tables and head 3.8 miles to famed Hole In The Wall.
7. Hoh Rainforest
What can we say about the Hoh Rainforest that hasn’t been said? Many on our team consider it a top Pacific Northwest ecosystem. Every bend of the Hoh River (above) is picturesque. The mossy old-growth trees and their 200″ of annual precipitation are likely what led you to consider a trip to the Olympic Peninsula. Your first sighting of a Roosevelt Elk on the banks of the river will stop you in your tracks until they disappear back into the misty woodline. There are too many reasons to spend a trip there.
Our Favorite Walk: any of them. Seriously, just go! The Hall of Mosses is a family loop. Grab your day pack or your gear hauler and tent and follow the Hoh River trail until your legs give out (or you reach the top of Mount Olympus).
8. Lake Quinault
Another understated gem in a sea of epic landscapes – we love Lake Quinault for its off-the-beaten-path-ness while just a few miles off of the main highway. Beyond Lake Quinault to the east sit a handful of hiking options that will keep any good path pounder or photographer occupied for the week.
Our Favorite Walk: Take a short afternoon stroll and pitch your tent near Pony Bridge perched above azure waters pulsing through the blackened box canyon below. For a more in-depth experience – pack a bit more gear and head toward the Enchanted Valley for a few days. To really nerd out – track down as many area record-book-sized trees as you’re able to!
9. Ruby Beach
Like a few of the beaches near La Push, Ruby Beach has that rocky ‘Goonies’ or ‘Twilight’ movie scene vibe (though famed Goonies scenes were filmed in Oregon). It may be the most famous rocky beach in Washington state…
Our Favorite Walk: don’t overthink this one – park your car and walk down the bluff to the beach. The end. Bring a few friends and find a log for the sunset hour!
10. Lake Cushman & Staircase
Ah, Lake Cushman…on the generally neglected southeastern corner of the National Park. Technically, the dammed lake sits just south of the Park. Your target is the Staircase area for easy nature walks and solitude from the masses.
Our Favorite Walk: the must-do walk here is the easy Staircase Loop. We say blow up your inflatable stand-up paddle boards afterward and picnic on the shores of Lake Cushman. Be careful – the local Skokomish tribe’s name was generally translated as the people who live by the lake with the monster in it…
11. Bonus – Cape Flattery – Makah Reservation
Cape Flattery isn’t in Olympic National Park – it’s on the Makah Reservation and does require a separate recreation fee. We don’t believe blogs should give you all of the answers…looking for more adventure and a little mystery? Turn the wheel toward Cape Flattery!
Our Favorite Walk: you tell us! Send us a note if our blog post sent you to Cape Flattery.