I’ve been to some of the best (i.e. most popular) National Parks out there…Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons…and honestly, I think Olympic National Park in Washington is my favorite.
It’s one of the most diverse National Parks out there for sure…it has a little bit of everything…mountains, rain forests, beaches…and maybe it just hasn’t been on my radar, but I don’t feel like it’s talked about as much as other parks.
But ever since I first found out about the Hoh Rain Forest with those dreamy, moss covered trees, I knew I wanted to go.
So I planned my very first trip to the Pacific Northwest and carved out a bit of time to explore Olympic National Park.
Now, in hindsight, I waaaaaay underestimated the amount of time we would need to explore here and while we got to see so many incredible things I’m already planning to go back.
Here’s what you can expect in this post:
I’ll start off with the lay of the land of the entire park so you have a general idea of what we’re talking about.
I’ll go over my exact itinerary and how I spent 2 days in Olympic National Park.
And then wrap up with everything I learned in hindsight…what I didn’t have time to see and how I’ll do the trip differently next time.
About Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington…that’s the northwestern most corner of the contiguous US. The park is almost a million acres and home to some incredible ecosystems. Most notably: The snow capped mountains of Hurricane Ridge, the lush, old growth Hoh Rain Forest, and over 70 miles of rugged coast line.
The main hub of park activity is in Port Angeles on the north side of the park. It’s where you’ll find the most options with lodging, food, etc. plus the best access to the main visitor center and the Hurricane Ridge section of the park. It’s also close to Elwha and Sol Duc where you’ll find the waterfalls.
Forks (on the west side of the park) is the closest town to the Hoh Rain Forest and the northern section of the coast line.
Kalaloch has a lodge and amenities for enjoying the southern section of coastline plus it’s also closest to the Quinault Rain Forest.
2 Days in Olympic National Park
Since this was my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park was just one stop on my trip.
I spent two nights in Seattle, two nights in Forks, and two nights in Portland.
**I did this trip late May/early June 2023 and Hurricane Ridge was closed due to a big fire so since I wasn’t going to be able to see that area of the park, we stayed later in Seattle, had a nice breakfast at Pike Place Market, did a little shopping and left a little before noon.
Since I knew Hurricane Ridge was closed, I figured half a day would be plenty of time to see the highlights along the north side of the park and I honestly didn’t make much of a plan since I was most interested in the Hoh Rain Forest on the other side of the park. Silly me!
From Seattle, it’s about 2.5 hours to Port Angeles. We stopped at the main visitor center to gather some information, do a little shopping (National Park gift shops are the best!), and get our passports stamped. Of course, once I chatted with the rangers, I realized there were quite a few things that I wanted to see and do, but…not enough time!
I’m always amazed by how much research you can do online ahead of time and you still don’t really get as clear a picture of the park as you do just talking with the rangers for 10 minutes!
Even though Hurricane Ridge was closed, we drove up the road as far as we could (to Heart of the Hills) to see this lookout.
The park ranger at the guardshack told us about an alternative route to take to Madison Falls in Elwha (instead of retracing our route and going down 101) so we turned left on Lake Dawn Road (just before the guard shack), another left of Little River Road, and a final left on Olympic Hot Springs Road.
It was a beautiful drive and it brought us right to the parking area for Madison Falls. There are beautiful views of the Elwha River here and it’s just a short walk to the falls.
From here, 101 is just a short way to the north. We hopped on the main road and headed west to Lake Crescent.
We wanted to hike to Marymere Falls at Lake Crescent, but since we got a later start on the day, we decided to just pull in and see what we could see in the area.
Well, for starters the lake is beautiful, but there’s also a historic National Park lodge here! The Lake Crescent Lodge was built in 1937 and it is SO charming.
This is a place you could easily spend a few days just relaxing but it’s also a pretty good central location for exploring the park.
I had hoped we would have time to hike to Sol Duc Falls (a couple of miles), but we just couldn’t fit it all in!
It was about 4:30 PM by the time we were ready to leave the Lake Crescent area and we had a big day planned for tomorrow, so we decided to head straight to Forks to check in to our hotel and get dinner.
It’s about 45 minutes to Forks from Lake Crescent and we were able to check into our hotel easy breezy.
I seriously can’t recommend the Woodlands Inns in Forks enough! It’s a brand new property and there are about a dozen stand alone cabins each decorated a little differently.
If you’ve traveled to many National Parks, you know that it’s not always easy to find a nice place to stay at a decent price. Well check and check.
Each cabin is outfitted with pretty much everything you could think of including fireplaces, and kitchenettes.
Plus there’s an outdoor firepit with seating. And check in/checkout is all handled remotely.
We had dinner at Pacific Pizza.
Hoh Rain Forest
This was the reason for the trip!
I’ve written a full post about hiking in the Hoh Rain Forest here.
The Hoh Rain Forest is about 30 minutes south of Forks and it can get pretty crowded here by midday in the summers so it’s always a good idea to get an early start.
Good News: Forks is a coffee town! There are a handful of drive thru coffee shops that also serve breakfast so we hit one (we liked Mocha Motion and A Shot in the Dark) and arrived at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (also the trailhead) by 8:15 AM.
We spent a little over two hours here and hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8 mile loop) and Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 mile loop).
These are both really easy trails, but there is something spectacular to see about every three feet so it is slow going.
Seriously, read this post for all of the details, but the short version is…the Hoh Rain Forest is probably the most incredible place I’ve ever been and 100% worth the entire trip.
This ended up being another highlight of the trip and we just kind of stumbled into it. I’d read that Rialto Beach was the top beach to see at the park and I’ve never been to a National Park that had BEACHES so I definitely wanted to check it out.
I’ve got a full post here about the Hole in the Wall hike, but basically it’s a must do.
Be prepared for a three mile round trip hike in sand, but it’s completely worth it to see the hole in the wall and the tidepools.
We finished up at Rialto Beach about 4:30 and we’d only had snacks all day (it’s a good idea to have some snacks and water in the car because there’s not a ton out this way) so we headed back to Forks for an early dinner.
Now, there are not a ton of options in Forks, so we headed to the place with the most cars…the In Place. It was fine…not great, not bad but you can’t be too picky in a tiny town.
We checked out of the Woodlands Inns the next morning and after a stop for coffee, we headed south down the 101.
The 101 is part of the famous Pacific Coast Highway that runs from Washington down through Oregon and the entire California coast.
The stretch in Washington is pretty short and even less is actually on the coast. But what is on the coast is part of the National Park.
Kalaloch is the home base for the southern section of coast in the park and it’s pretty dreamy. I didn’t stop to take any pictures, but there’s a really cute lodge here and almost a dozen different beaches.
Once we left the park, we kept heading south down 101 towards Oregon!
Things I Didn’t Get to See (And What I Would Do Differently)
Mostly…I just underestimated the time that I would want to spend in Olympic National Park. You can see a LOT here in two solid days, but the park also has such nice recreation areas (Lake Crescent plus all of the beaches) that you could spend several more days if you want to actually have a bit of a vacation instead of just sightseeing.
If I had this trip to do over again, I would definitely have left Seattle much earlier so I could’ve had the full day to spend along the northern part of the park.
If we’d left Seattle by 8 AM (at the latest), we would have had plenty of time to hike to Sol Duc Falls.
Also, Hurricane Ridge is a huge part of this park so missing that due to fire was a big bummer. When that’s open you’ll definitely want to factor it in.
I also would’ve liked to have more time to spend on the coast to see the Kalaloch Lodge, Tree of Life, and Ruby Beach. If I’d spent less time at Rialto Beach, and pushed on once we left there we probably could have visited those three spots in the same day since they don’t require much hiking.
While not part of the National Park, I also really wanted to make it all the way up to Cape Flattery to hike that trail. I’ll definitely come back for that!
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
I’ve kind of already hinted at your best options, but I’ll pull them all together here…
If you want the most picturesque place to stay (with a vacation vibe) that’s still well located for exploring the park, you’ll definitely want to stay at the Lake Crescent Lodge.
Port Angeles is where you’ll find the most options, and I like the looks of Olympic Lodge.
If the Hoh Rain Forest and the coastal areas are a priority, you’ll want to stay in Forks, and I can’t recommend the Woodlands Inns enough. That’s where I stayed.
If you want a full coastal getaway, the Kalaloch Lodge is rustic and charming.
Want to read more posts about the area?