Olympic National Park Visitor Guide

Rate this story:

If you love the outdoors, Olympic National Park of Washington State is a dream destination with three different ecosystems to explore:

  • Its horseshoe cluster of mountains contains more than 150 glaciers and 13 rivers radiating outward. Below the snowy peaks are subalpine forests and meadows bursting with wildflowers in summer.
  • The park also includes 60 miles of wild rugged coastline with massive sea stack formations stretching into the surf and tide pools teaming with colorful starfish and sea anemone.
  • Finally, the western side of the park is home to an old-growth temperate rain forest full of moss-draped Douglas firs, giant western hemlocks and Sitka spruce trees. Winter storms soak the lush vegetation with 150 inches of rain annually. The park actually contains four rain forests in all: Bogachiel, Hoh, Queets and Quinault.

Accessing the Park

Route 101 skirts the Olympic Peninsula and gives you glimpses into the park’s 141,000 square-mile interior, but the full beauty of the Olympics can only be experienced on foot.

If you’re planning a visit, check our suggestions for getting the most out of your trip. The National Park Service is also a good resource for information on camping, day hiking, backpacking, climbing and paddling in the park.

REI also offers curated adventures in the Olympics, so you can simply enjoy an adventure and let us handle the rest!

Browse Trips in Olympic National Park

Camping in the Olympics

The park has a total of 16 National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds. Twelve are open year-round, four seasonally. All are accessible by car, except Dosewallips. Kalaloch can be reserved during the summer, while the rest are entirely first-come, first-served. Here are a few of our favorite options:

Deer Park (14 sites, non-reservable): At 5,400 feet, Deer Park is the only high alpine campground in Olympic National Park and offers an amazing 360-degree view of snow-capped peaks, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Dungeness Valley and much of Puget Sound. It sits on an exposed ridge, so it can be windy.

Deer Park is first-come, first-served, which can mean rolling the dice in peak season. There are no water sources, so bring what you need. The campground is typically open from June to mid-October. The last third of the 18-mile access road is twisting and rugged, with steep drop offs. Check the campground status before you go to make sure the road is open. See more information in the Deer Park brochure.

Dosewallips (30 sites, non-reservable): A section of the access road to Dosewallips campground washed out in 2002, so you need to walk the 5.5 miles from the parking area. However, that makes it perfect for secluded tent camping. It’s a pretty location set on the fast-flowing Dosewallips River and is often used by hikers on their way in or out of the backcountry.

Not to be confused with the campground in nearby Dosewallips State Park, this one is set inside the national park. See more information in the Dosewallips area brochure.

Mora Campground (94 sites, non-reservable): Located in a dense coastal forest, Mora is a short 1.5 mile walk from Rialto Beach with its crashing surf and towering sea stacks. The walk is actually along a roadway, so if you’re camping with kids you might want to drive to Rialto. The wide, sandy beach is home to many tidepools. An easy hike north takes you to Hole-in-the-Wall, a tunnel that’s been carved by waves into the headland.

See more information in the Mora area brochure.

Kalaloch (170 sites, reservable): Fair warning—Kalaloch is the most popular campground on the Olympic Peninsula, but if you score a site in summertime, you’re in for a great experience. The campground directly overlooks the coast, and sites along the bluff offer front-row views of surf and sunsets. Walk a mere fifty yards from any site and you’re beachcombing. Hike a mile north to explore tide pools and secluded coves. Chances are good for spotting harbor seals, eagles and maybe a puffin.

From mid-June to mid-September, sites are only available by reservation. Make one online at recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777 (reservations are available up to 6 months ahead of time). If you’re camping in the off-season, Kalaloch is a must. The crowd thins out nicely, and all sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. See more information in the Kalaloch area brochure.

Hiking and Backpacking in the Olympics


Outside of summer, when it can rain occasionally, you can bet on regular rain at lower elevations and snow in the mountains. That means bringing waterproof gear—jacket, boots, pack (or pack cover) and a tent with a waterproof rainfly. For more information on day hikes and backpacking trips, visit the park’s trail guide.

Backcountry permitsCamping in the park’s backcountry requires a Wilderness Camping Permit. In high-use areas, called “Quota Areas,” permits are limited and reservations are required for all sites from May 1–Sept. 30. The park accepts reservations starting on March 15 for the whole season.

In some Quota Areas, 50 percent of the permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis at a WIC (Wilderness Information Center) up to 24 hours in advance. The Port Angeles center is open year-round; the Quinault center and Staircase Ranger Station are open during summer months.

For backcountry sites outside of Quota Areas, permits aren’t limited and can be picked up at a WIC on or before the day you start your hike. Check the park’s wilderness backpacking reservations page for the online reservation form and a link to the Quota Area map.

Bear canisters: Along with a permit, you’ll need a bear canister any time you stay overnight in the backcountry. All scented items (from food and trash to sunscreen and chapstick) needs to go inside when you hunker down for the night. You can rent bear canisters for a nominal fee at a WIC. Visit the park’s wilderness food storage page to learn more.

Recommended Hikes in Olympic National Park

Whether you’re hiking or backpacking, you have lots of options. To find some less-traveled gems, we talked with the experts at our REI Silverdale, Wash., store, who shared a few of their favorites. (Though not included here, some longer backpacking trips well worth exploring include the Hoh River Valley, Gray Wolf Pass, Enchanted Valley and O’Neil Pass/Lake LaCrosse.)

Ozette Loop: Cape Alava to Sandpoint Day Hike or Overnight (easy; 9.4-mile loop): This is one of the nicest hikes on the Olympic coastline, and it’s a great first backpacking trip for kids. Do it in the shoulder seasons and you’ll have less company. The first leg is an easy 3.3-mile trek through dense groves of Sitka spruce and western cedar. Much of the trail is on cedar-planked boardwalk, which can be slippery when wet. When you arrive at Cape Alava, you’ll be treated to the sight of sea stacks towering in the ocean mist. Keep your eyes open for sea otters and sea lions, and eagles perched in the trees.

The second leg takes you south along the beach with its many tide pools. At Wedding Rocks, one mile down, look for ancient Makah petroglyphs carved into the rocks near the high-tide line. If you camp on the beach, you’ll need a permit and bear canister. Water sources are few, so it’s best to bring all the water you need.

The route out begins at Sandpoint, 3 miles south of Cape Alava. Find more information about the Ozette Loop here.

Third Beach: Day Hike or Backpack (easy; 3.6-mile round-trip): This is another coastal destination that’s great for kids, whether you’re backpacking or doing a day hike. Just south of First and Second Beaches and the small fishing village of La Push, the Third Beach trail is a little longer and a little less crowded than the other beaches. Visiting in the shoulder seasons will mean less company on the trail but a greater chance of rain.

After 1.8 miles of easy hiking you’re on the wide, sandy beach. A waterfall on the tall bluff to the south sends water crashing into the waves. Enormous sea stacks extend into Strawberry Bay and provide a dramatic backdrop for photos. The beach is a mile long and has plenty of tidepools to explore. If you plan to camp on the beach, you’ll need a permit and a bear canister. Find more information about Third Beach here.

Bogachiel River Trail via Sol Duc Overnight (moderate; 25–50 miles round-trip; 2–7 days): Just north of the popular Hoh Rainforest is the lesser known Bogachiel Rainforest. It has the same ancient, moss-covered Douglas fir, spruce and western red cedars but is less visited. The trail follows the Bogachiel River and takes you into the heart of this rainforest wilderness.

The route begins at Sol Duc, where the trail climbs gradually to Mink Lake, then continues south through meadows until it reaches 4,100 feet at the junction of two trails: Little Divide and Bogachiel River.

Enjoy the view of snowy Mount Olympus before turning right and making your way down to the Bogachiel Valley. You’re likely to encounter some wet, muddy ground, so wear hiking boots that can handle it. As you glance up at the towering canopy of old-grown trees, keep your ears open for the sound of bugling elk. The Bogachiel is home to lots of Roosevelt elk.

Five camping areas are spaced out along the remaining 11 miles of trail, letting you shorten or lengthen your trip as needed. When you return to the trailhead at Sold Duc, there’s a bonus waiting: the soothing hot springs at Sol Duc resort.

7 Lakes Basin/High Divide Trail Overnight (moderate to strenuous; 19 miles loop; 2–3 days): Snow usually lingers well into summer on this trail, so it’s best from early July to mid October. The route follows a high alpine ridge (High Divide) with jaw-dropping views of snow-covered peaks and glaciers, lush valleys, sparkling blue lakes and maybe mountain goats and black bears. This trip draws a lot of backpackers, so you might want to save it for early fall.

Hike the loop counterclockwise by starting out on the Sol Duc Falls Trail. At 0.8 miles, turn onto Deer Lake Trail, where the trail climbs steadily to Deer Lake and continues south into the 7 Lakes Basin area and High Divide.

A less-used option for first camp is Hoh Lake. You’ll be treated to less-crowded camping at a pretty lake. Sunset can be especially beautiful with colorful displays of alpenglow. Finally, word has it that Hoh Lake has the best privy in the park. From its seat you get an exceptional view of glacier-clad Mount Olympus.

Once back on the High Divide, the trail descends to Heart Lake and Sol Duc Park before looping back to the Sol Duc River for a level hike to the trailhead. Find more information about this trail here.

North Fork Quinault River Trail Overnight Loops

This is the starting point for two beautiful backpacking trips. Before starting, check the park’s trail conditions page. After a storm, downed trees along the trail can turn a pleasant hike into a grueling ordeal. These hikes are best from mid to late June after the snow has melted and before the trail becomes crowded. Find more information about these trails here.

21-Mile Loop (moderate; 3 days): This is a good choice for people who haven’t done much backpacking because there’s good access to water sources from beginning to end. Hike north for 6.5 miles through the old-growth forest along the North Fork of the Quinault River, then spend the night at Elip Creek camp. The next day, turn left at the trail junction and hike five miles to the Skyline Trail junction, where you turn south. The alpine tarns you’ll see make for great swimming and picturesque mountain-reflection photos. Spend the second night at Three Lakes camp, then hike back to the trailhead the next day.

47-Mile North Fork/Skyline Loop (strenuous; 5–8 days): For this route, continue north after Elip Creek camp for another 9.5 miles to Low Divide at 3,600 feet. Stock up on water here before turning left onto a ridge trail through beautiful alpine meadows. The views here are gorgeous enough to rival anything you’ll see in the Cascade range. Keep your eyes open for mountain goats, black bears and elk. The trail gets a little difficult between Lake Beauty and Kimta Peak, and there isn’t much water access in this section. Then it’s all downhill back to the trailhead.

Other Ways to Explore the Olympics

Climbing: The Olympics offer alpine rock climbing on remote routes. Good options include Mt. Constance (7,743 ft.), Mt. Deception (7,788 ft.) and Mt. Olympus, the highest peak in the park at 7,980 ft. Learn more about climbing routes, safety tips and climbing guides on the park’s climbing page.

Paddling: The coastline, rivers and lakes in or near the park provide lots of spots where you can explore the park’s different ecosystems on your kayak, canoe or paddle board. For more information on how to plan your paddling trip, visit the park’s boating page.

Winter activities: During the winter, hiking trails in the rain forest and coastline tend to be snow-free. For snow activities, the Hurricane Ridge visitor center is a good launching point for snowshoeing, tubing, snowboarding and both cross-country and downhill skiing. View the park’s winter activity page for current weather and road conditions.

Tips for Visiting the Olympics

Getting to Olympic National Park

The park is located on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest corner of Washington State. See the park’s Directions & Transportation page for information on traveling to the peninsula. You can also check road-closure details and current weather conditions.

Park Fees and Passes

Fees for entering the park depend on the type of pass you choose and your vehicle. You can opt for a single-use park pass, an annual parks pass or the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass that covers all national parks and federal fee areas. See all fee details on the fees and passes page.

Guidebooks and Maps

The park service website is an excellent general resource for guidebooks and maps. You can also find them at the REI Silverdale, WA store, online at REI.com and at Discover Your Northwest.

Lodging

The park has two year-round lodges (Quinault and Kalaloch), one seasonal lodge (Lake Crescent) and two seasonal cabin resorts (Sol Duc Hot Springs and Log Cabin Resort). Communities outside the park also offer lodging. For reservation info (book well in advance) and other details, visit the park’s lodging page.

Animal Safety

Olympic National Park is home to all kinds of wildlife, including black bears, mountain goats and cougars. The park’s wildlife viewing page provides tips on when and where to see different animals. Before you head out for a hike or other activity, check in with the nearest visitor center or backcountry office for information on recent animal activity. It’s also important to know what to do if you encounter a black bear, mountain goat or cougar. Visit the park’s wildlife safety page for more information.

Written by Steve Burke. REI Silverdale Associate Val Loughney Stapleton contributed to this article.

be_ixf;ym_201911 d_19; ct_150
  • be_ixf; php_sdk; php_sdk_1.4.26
  • https://origin-coopjournal.rei.com/blog/travel/olympic-national-park-visitor-guide
  • https://www.rei.com/blog/travel/olympic-national-park-visitor-guide
No Comments