A Family Guide to Traveling on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington
When it comes to family-friendly national parks, Olympic National Park is inWashingtonis probably one of the best. Where else can you experience snow on mountain meadows, boat on flatland lakes, enjoy breathtaking waterfall trails in the rainforest and end with a sunset on the beach in one day?
The Olympic Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Onational parkSpread over nearly a million acres, it's packed with fun and adventure for families who love the great outdoors.
Well, fitting it in one day on a trip would be a bottleneck for any family trip. We recommend spending at least 3-5 days exploring Olympic National Park and the entirety of the Olympic Peninsula.
On this family road trip itinerary, we'll walk you through:
- How to get to the Olympic Peninsula?
- The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula
- 5-day itinerary through Olympic National Park
- A shorter route through Olympic National Park
- Accommodation in Olympic National Park
- Olympic National Park pass fees
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How to get to the Olympic Peninsula?
Olympic National Park is located west of Seattle in the US state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
The Olympic Peninsula is the landmass beyond Seattle's Puget Sound. It is bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca (separating the United States from Canada) to the north, the Hood Channel to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Olympic National Park encompasses 1,406 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula along with the 70-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The remaining lands consist largely of the Olympic National Forest and the Quinault Reserve.
To fully explore Olympic National Park you will need your own vehicle and of course onepass national parks.
Most begin their trip to Olympic National Park with a flight to Seattle or as part of a larger tour of Highway 101 and the West Coast.
Anyway, Highway 101 is the main route you will travel on as it circles the entire national park. Due to the mountainous terrain, there are no through trails in the park.
Seattle Airport to Olympic National Park
If you pick up your vehicle at or near SEA Airport, it will take at least 2 hours to drive around Puget Sound on I-5 before crossing over to the Olympic Peninsula.
If you plan to drive the entire length of Highway 101 along the east coast, you'll pass through Tacoma and Olympia before you reach the beginning of 101. However, it's a little quicker if you turn onto State Route 16 after Tacoma, which will take you back to the 101 closer to Sequim.
Sequim or Port Angeles are places where we recommend starting your trip to Olympic National Park in the east. Spend the night in either of these two cities to stock up on supplies (you want lunch BYO, etc.).
On the outskirts of Port Angeles you will find the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Make sure you have your national park pass ready as well as your junior ranger brochures before following the itinerary we show you below.
Ferry to the Olympic Peninsula
It is also possible to take the ferry from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. Depending on where you're from in Seattle, or even if you're from Canada, this may be the quickest route to Olympic National Park, eliminating a lot of roads.
Taking your vehicle with you is the easiest choiceBainbridge Island Ferry. From Bainbridge Island it is another 70 miles by road to Port Angeles.
From the North, another option to consider is theEdmonds Kingston Ferryto the Kitsap Peninsula.
Go north on Highway 101
Coming down the road on 101 from the south, the lower entry point to Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault, is about 2.5 hours (120 miles) from Astoria, Oregon.
Crossing the stunning Astoria-Megler Bridge, you can choose to take the 101 all the way or take a slightly faster route on State Route 401/4 via Knappton/Naselle.
Aberdeen is your last major city to stock up on supplies as you begin your journey south to Olympic National Park.
How to get around in Olympic National Park
As mentioned above, there is no direct route, you will follow Highway 101 and take turns on your journey.
In theory, you could take a stroll through the park and make a few stops in one day, but honestly, why rush?
The beauty of exploring Olympic National Park is walking and exploring. So consider how long each freeway exit takes, as well as the length of hiking trails at each stop, when calculating how much to plan in each day.
We recommend choosing a few different starting points if you are only planning a short trip of 3 to 5 days, ideally for a couple of nights somewhere north and somewhere east for better access to the main places.More about accommodation below!
Approximate driving distances in Olympic National Park
To calculate how much you can fit in a day, get an idea of the distance between the main attractions and lodging cities in Olympic National Park and the lodging:
- Port Angeles for Hurricane Ridge– 20 miles (40 minutes – wind and mountain ride)
- Port Angeles for Lake Crescent– 22 miles (27 minutes)
- Porto Angeles for Sol Duc– 43 miles (1 hour)
- Port Angeles for forks– 56 miles (1 hour and 5 minutes)
- Lake Crescent nach La Push– 47 miles (55 minutes)
- Lago Crescent para Hoh Regenwald– 66 miles (1 hour and 30 minutes)
- Sol Duc for forks– 40 miles (52 minutes)
- Forks for La Push– 15 miles (21 minutes)
- Forks para Hoh rainforest– 31 miles (48 minutes)
- Forks for Ruby Beach– 27 miles (33 minutes)
- High rainforest for Ruby Beach– 32 miles (48 minutes)
- Ruby Beach para Quinault Rainforest– 42 miles (50 minutes)
- Hoh Rainforest for the Quinault Rainforest-73 miles (1 hour and 40 minutes)
- Quinault Rainforest to the stairwell– 112 miles (2 hours and 30 minutes)
- Rainforest from Quinault to Seattle– 147 miles (2 hours and 40 minutes)
- Stairs to Port Angeles– 90 miles (2 hours)
NB times are indicative only and do not take into account queues and road works, both of which are very likely throughout the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park!
The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula
Summer is the best time to visit Olympic National Park, although don't discount visiting in the off-season either. Some roads are closed seasonally, but most of the park is accessible year-round.
A tour of the Olympic Peninsula in early fall can also be ideal, especially if you want to experience the colorful forests. Visit mid to late October if you want to see the Roosevelt elk when they are most active or the fall foliage.
In winter, the temperature at sea level rarely drops below freezing. It rarely gets above 30°F in the mountains. You can visit Hurricane Ridge, which is family-friendly and adventure-packed during the colder months, offering tubing, snowshoeing, and other winter sports.
5-day itinerary through Olympic National Park
It doesn't matter if you approach the park clockwise or counterclockwise, or start from the top or bottom.
Starting from a starting point in Seattle for this route through Olympic National Park, we take things counter-clockwise at a relatively leisurely pace over the course of 5 days. All you have to do is adapt the itinerary below to suit your travel direction and number of days.
We also assume you are traveling during the hottest summer months. Not everything listed below will be possible in winter.
Day 1 – Route to Olympic National Park
Starting the day you arrive, it's all about navigating the Olympic Peninsula - a Puget Sound Scenic Ferry is the perfect way to start your trip to another country!
The Port Angeles Visitor Center is open from 9am to 4pm - grab your National Parks Pass and Junior Ranger Booklets. Get to know all tours and trails, confirm weather conditions and possible trail closures.
If time permits, you can tackle the Hurricane Ridge drive directly on Day 1 or postpone it to Day 2. From the Port Angeles Visitors Center, it takes 40 minutes, depending on traffic, to reach the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
From here, on a clear day, enjoy spectacular views of Mount Olympus to the south and Juan de Fuca and Victoria, Canada to the north. Several short trails for young and old lead you through the hilly meadows, which are often still covered in snowdrifts even in the summer months.
Little animal lovers will love it here, as the mountains abound with wildlife-spotting opportunities including black bears, giant moose, black-tailed deer and mountain goats. Don't worry, you're unlikely to have many close encounters unless you hit the backwoods, but there are plenty of smaller creatures like voles, moles, squirrels, and squirrels too.
During theWinter, the road will only be open to vehicles with tire chains from Friday to Sunday and on Mondays on public holidays. Check in advance for status at (360) 565-3131.
If you're short on time and just want a quick introduction to the park and area on Day 1, there's Madison Falls near Port Angeles, a very easy route.
Explore the area around the city and around Port Angeles, theDungeness Wildlife Refugeon Dungeness Spit is a great birding spot with opportunities to stretch your legs. Families will enjoy an evening ride on the ODT (Olympic Discovery Trail) or rent an electric scooter and take advantage of the long summer nights in PNW.
If you didn't travel by water, you can also reserve a half-day on your Olympic Peninsula itinerary to cruise to Puget Soundwhale watching tourif you are there at the right time of year.
In Port Angeles, stock up on groceries and supplies for the next few days in the national park.
Day 2 - Tour of Olympic National Park
If you didn't complete Hurricane Ridge on Day 1, you can get an early start on Day 2. It's open 24 hours a day during the summer months, so you can make the most of your day and avoid the line of cars coming behind you to the Visitor Center straight from Seattle for the day.
The short walk to Sunrise Point can be a great way to start a day at Olympic National Park.
We then head west towards Lake Crescent, one of the most accessible stops as it is just off the 101. You can easily spend half a day at the lake and tackle the surrounding hiking trails.
There are also pedalos and kayaks for rent if you want to explore the lake yourself.
Marymere Falls is a popular trail for families to hike from. Most of it is flat with only a small climb at the end to see the falls. Numerous picnic spots here make it an ideal lunch break. This area is very popular in autumn and one of the federal statesautumn leaf patches!
Then go straight to Sol Duc. If you want to take a dip in the hot springs, they are open from 9am to 8pm daily. Be warned, the springs are Mother Nature at work, so they have their own, oh, unique scent! This may completely put off some reluctant beach-goers, but it is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Alternatively, Sol Duc Falls is another moderate hike option down this road that most little legs should be able to handle. They can walk to the Salmon Cascades and back if they have trouble, or up to the impressive falls.
NB: As the COVID hot spring is only open by the hour, you must come in person daily, first come, first served. Pool access fees are USD 15 for adults, USD 12 for children 4-12 years old and USD 12 for seniors 62 years and older.
Stay at Sol Duc Campgrounds or Sol Duc Resort, Lake Crescent or return to Port Angeles. Alternatively, head out on your next adventure along the coast.
In the summer months you can still easily take a sunset beach trip in the evening of Day 2 and spend the night in Forks.
Day 3 - Route to Olympic National Park
Today we will tackle temperate forests and beaches.
The order in which you do this can bedepending on the tide. Low tide on most Olympic Peninsula beaches offers the best opportunities to explore the coastal tide pools, but high tide can make certain beaches inaccessible. Don't be fooled into thinking you're going for a swim at the beach - even in the height of summer the waters of the Pacific Ocean can be freezing!!
There are many beaches to explore along the Pacific Coast. They differ in terms of accessibility, so it's best to choose a selection of beaches rather than visit them all. There is a good guide for that hereThe best Olympic beaches to visit with kids.
If you're pressed for time, we only recommend Rialto Beach or La Push Beach One near Forks and Ruby Beach further south for two different coastal experiences.
Whichever beach or beaches you choose, you are sure to be spoiled for choice with amazing tree trunks, spectacular and dramatic cliffs, sea stacks and an abundance of marine life.
The coastline offers opportunities to see sea otters, dolphins, gray whales and white-tailed eagles, and you're sure to spot crabs, starfish and sea urchins in the rock pools.
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Next we drive inland to the Hoh Rainforest. We recommend heading here in the summer months first when times are right. The queues get longer as the day progresses, and when the parking lot is full, they won't let cars in.
This is one of the few places you'll find temperate rainforests in the US, with dripping moss and massive ferns.
There is agood selection of trails hereTo select hiking resources for your family, the Hall of Moses Trail and the Spruce Trail are within easy walking distance. For older children you should be able to complete at least part of the Hoh River Trail, 2.5 miles takes you to the spectacular Mineral Creek Falls.
Hoh is a wonderful place to camp if you are lucky enough to get a spot.
Alternatively you can drive straight to Kalaloch Beach just up the coast, perfect if you love being right next to the crashing waves with beach access right on your doorstep! You can also return to Forks for the night if you prefer motel style accommodation.
Day 4 - Olympic National Park Tour
Today we explore the southwest corner of Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest. The Quinault Valley offers a scenic loop and short hikes through temperate rainforests and around Lake Quinault.
If you're looking for a more secluded spot during your visit, this is the part of the park for you - but still, we recommend getting there early in the summer months - not just to avoid the crowds, but because it's nicer there!
The Quinault Rainforest has some of the largest Sitka firs, western red cedars, hemlock and Douglas firs. The Quinault Rainforest Nature Loop here is an easy hike of just 0.5 miles over flat terrain, making it kid-friendly.
You can also try the Great Cedar Trail and Giants Trail if you want to expand your experience.
If you have more time, you can swim, boat, and fish around the lake. Spend the night at one of the campgrounds or at the historic and rustic Lake Quinault Lodge.
Day 5 – Olympic National Park Route
We now move on to see the less explored side of the park,Stairs.
It takes approximately 2 hours to get from Lake Quinault to the east side of the park and to the Staircase ranger station (operates in the summer). There is no road here. (Also see about 2 hours from Port Angeles if you do things differently.) Secluded but worth it if you love the solitude of exploring the great outdoors - less than 1% of park visitors make it this far!
fast stairsIt's a beautiful loop trail suitable for your older kids and more confident walkers. Arguably the loveliest in the park, this hidden gem winds its way through old growth forest and over a beautiful cable bridge that meanders along the Skokomish River.
Lake Cushman also offers kayaking, canoeing, and SUP, with fewer crowds than Lake Crescent.
From the east side of Olympic National Park, it's less than 2 hours back to complete your 5-day journey through the Olympic Peninsula back to Seattle.
A shorter route through Olympic National Park
You only have 3 days? Try making some early departures and doing some shorter trails, this itinerary can easily be compressed into a shorter time frame, why not give it a try:
- Travel 1– Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc
- Travel 2– La Push/Rialto Beach, Hoh Regenwald, Ruby Beach
- Travel 3– Kalaloch, Quinault-Wald, Quinault-See
With only 4 days left we would be leaving the eastern portion of the park and heading back to Seattle after visiting the Quinault Valley.
Accommodation in Olympic National Park
What's your road trip style? Are you planning to camp, have your RV or RV with you, or require bed and breakfast or hotel style accommodation?
The Olympic Peninsula offers a lot, but if you have strong preferences, BOOK EARLY!
Many options, particularly popular campsites and lodges within the national park, are booked months in advance. Expect even crowded B&Bs and motels in the height of summer; We didn't show up for the spec on the Olympic Peninsula.
Accommodation in Olympic National Park
One of the best ways to experience Olympic National Park, if you like accommodation with all the amenities, is to stay in a chalet. The top three lodges attached to Olympic National Park are Lake Quinault, Kalaloch, and Lake Crescent Lodge.
The best base to explore the northern highlight of Olympic National Park. The historic Lake Crescent Lodge offers spectacular water and mountain views. To enjoy it all year round, there are various accommodation options, from guesthouse rooms to chalets and cozy huts with a fireplace.
It would be our top choice for families for both the facilities and the choice of accommodation.
Located in the southern coastal region, you'll be preferred for an authentic Pacific Coastal experience! Kalaloch Lodge offers rooms with incredible forest views as well as oceanfront cabins and the Seacrest House for an incredible oceanfront experience.
If you are looking for a classic national park experience in the wild, Lake Quinault Lodge offers the tranquility and stunning scenery you desire with a lakefront location.
Remember lodges are not the same as luxury hotels! National Park lodges are designed to help you connect with nature. there are no televisions and possibly no cell service. Rooms don't come with extras like microwaves and self-catering facilities, so you'll also need reservations for meals at the on-site restaurants.
Camping in Olympic National Park
Camping in Olympic National Park is a great experience with children. Yes, the weather in PNW can often go against your best plans, but give it a try!
- Most campsites do not have electricity but provide access to toilets and drinking water.
- Note that you need to book and pay on time.
- First-come, first-serve only works during off-peak times.
- Peak bookings are only released six months in advance on an ongoing basis.
- Locations open roughly between March and June for the summer season (meaning you need to start looking for booking times from September to December of the previous year).
One of the finest family campgrounds in Olympic National Park, complete with an excellent Night Ranger program. The summer season here is short, so the 72 locations here fill up quickly. Each site is equipped with a fire pit and picnic table.Regular sites $24USD/night, group sites $48USD/night.
This popular 94-site beach camp is close to Rialto Beach and La Push. All pitches are unelectrical with a fire pit and picnic table, please note that the camper van depot is only open in summer (additional cost).Regular sites $24USD/night, group sites $48USD/night.
Another good beach option for families. This large campground has 168 unpowered campsites scattered along the cliffs and along the coast. Advance bookings are mandatory in summer, while off-peak times apply: first come, first served (some circuits may be closed in winter due to inaccessibility). The mobile home dump is chargeable.RV and standard sites $24/night, group sites $48/night.
Located on the shores of Lake Quinault, this campground has 31 campsites without power. Reservations are possible from May to mid-September.All sites here are $25 USD/night.
Another option on Lake Quinault with only 21 campgrounds. There is a slightly longer season here than other campgrounds, from April to October, with trailers up to 16 feet.All sites here have no power, $25USD/night.
If you are traveling with a larger campervan or motorhome, or prefer more facilities than a non-motorized campsite, you should also look around:
With 82 tent sites and 17 RV sites (water/electricity hookup), this campground is just 400 meters from Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. The season here lasts from mid-April to the end of October. Off-peak camping is allowed, but you may not have water or electricity.
Resort facilities include thermal pools and swimming pools, on-site massage (additional charges), restaurant, poolside deli and gift shop.
Another option on the shores of Lake Crescent that offers options for rustic cabins, powered and non-powered locations. These sites can only be booked by calling – 888.896.3818.
Inns, motels and hotels around the Olympic Peninsula
There are several small towns around Olympic National Park that offer family accommodation.
Accommodation near Port Angeles
- Pousada Vista Olímpica–
- Quality Inn & Suites Olympic Nationalpark
- Red Lion Hotel Port Angeles Harbor- Walk to all things Port Angeles with pool and restaurant on site
The only full-size town on the west side of Olympic National Park is Forks, 15 minutes from the coast. Here you can stock up on supplies and find basic motel accommodation at reasonable prices. We recommend:
- Waldgasthöfe – Each room has a kitchen and living area and can accommodate up to 6 people
- Forks-Motel– Includes laundry and heated pool, offers double rooms for up to 5 people
- Pacific Inn-Motel – Larger double rooms for families of up to – Twilight decorated rooms!
Olympic National Park pass fees
- Single Admission - $30
- Olympic National Park Annual Pass - $55
- America the Beautiful Annual Pass (all national parks) - $80
- All children outdoors (4th Annual Pass) - Buch
Camping permits cost extra as above.
You can pay at several guarded entrances to the national park at one of the visitor centers or order your annual passes in advance –America the beautyIt's a must for a USA trip!
We recommend having your passes ready prior to your arrival to save entry time. While entry into other busy national parks doesn't require a timed entry permit, lines can be long at Hurricane Ridge and Hoh Rainforest in the height of summer.
More West Coast travel tips and inspiration
Continue your family travel adventure on the US West Coast andPacific Northwest. Why don't you check it out below:
- Washington's finest tours– from Snoqualmie Falls to the San Juan Islands, these are the most breathtaking roads you must drive, many are oneeasy day trip from Seattle.
- Oregon's must-see scenic drives– From spectacular coastlines to mountain passes and waterfall trails, Oregon is a PNW nature lover's destination.
- 12 Incredible Scenic Drives in Northern California- Discover a whole new side of California, much more than sun and beaches. You'll explore California's mining past, giant coastal redwoods and volcanic heritage with this selection of must-see tours.
- Check real-time traffic conditions before you ride to WashingtonInteractive WSDOT map.
- Never forget an important travel item again! Download ourEssential checklist for family travelbefore your trip.
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