Many U.S. national parks have a specific landscape that defines the park. Think the Grand Canyon or the Petrified Forest. Or, even the valley of Yosemite. Not so with Olympic. Here one can trek deep into rain forests; take a stroll in the sand; bask in the mist of countless waterfalls; reflect by the water’s edge of a serene lake; and, stand tall amongst the ridgeline of a mountain range. The diverse beauty of Olympic National Park overwhelms and left me in absolute awe. With so many options, it’s difficult to narrow do what to see in Olympic National Park when you visit.
The moss laden rain forests dominate the interior of park. The canopy from the towering trees works hard to keep daylight at bay. Descending into the forest, it feels like venturing into another world.
The Hoh Rain Forest area of the park is the best place to explore the strange rain forest vegetation. As it is an extremely popular destination in the park, I highly recommend going early in the day to avoid crowds and the long queue at the entrance station.
It’s easy to spend a day exploring the beaches of Olympic, which suddenly appear through the coastal forests. These are not your typical beaches and each has its unique touch of sheer beauty.
Rialto Beach – the perfect introduction to the beaches at Olympic. It has it all – expansive shoreline, sea stacks, and hanging fog above the water (at least when I was there). The dramatic sea stacks certainly leave an impression. They are beyond incredible.
First Beach – from here, you can view the distant sea stacks of Second Beach as well as a closer look at James Island, which is spied from Rialto Beach. It’s an ideal location to catch some waves or spot marine wildlife.
Second Beach – words will not do justice the immense amazement and joy I felt while strolling along this beach. I am still marveling at how trees can thrive atop the sea stacks. As a certified non-beach person, this beach converted me!
Ruby Beach – the first glimpse of the beach from the road above made me want to run down to the beach. Though this beach gets quite crowded near the entrance to the beach, a walk down the shoreline will afford you a quieter time.
There is no shortage of waterfalls in the park. No matter what section of the park you find yourself, there will be falls to seek out.
The icon of the park is Sol Duc Falls. Walking through the forest, you hear the falls before you see them. And they are glorious; but, its surroundings make the falls that much more impressive and breathtaking.
While some falls require a hike to get to, others are stops on the side of the road like Merriman Falls. Despite the lack of a hike, you can scramble up the rocks to see the pool below the falls making it still an adventure.
A nature trail leads you to the tucked away Willaby Creek Falls. Though smaller in comparison to other falls, Willaby has one of the most idyllic situations in the park.
Tranquility can be found at the water’s edge of any of the park’s many lakes.
Sunrise at Crescent Lake is pure perfection with the changing colors in the sky mirrored in the still waters. Driving in the early hours, I couldn’t help but pull over and take in the moment.
And, after a 4-mile, uphill trek, Deer Lake offers a relaxing respite to the hiker. There are several places along the shore where one can sit, catch their breath, and enjoy some nourishment while enjoying the scenery.
There are numerous trails one can hike in Olympic to get to view the tops of the Olympic mountain range, several of which I really wanted to tackle. However, with only two days to explore the entire park, I had to go with the popular route – a drive up to Hurricane Ridge.
The 17-mile drive up was so enjoyable. And to be greeted at the top by the seemingly never-ending ridge line was a definite wow moment.
And a short stroll through the big meadow opposite the ridge view, provides another stunning panorama. Oh, those trees!
Two days was definitely not enough time to fully explore the park. But, it did offer a taste of the diversity it has to offer. I’m looking forward to going back as there is no other place quite like Olympic.
Olympic National Park is roughly a 4-hour drive from Seattle, Washington. All access points to the park are from US-101. A minimum of 2 days is required as there is so much to see in the park.