Things to do in Olympic National Park

October 15, 2021

This past August we visited Olympic National Park for 4 days and the more we explored Olympic National Park, the more we realized there is to explore! Below are some of the locations we visited and our thoughts on them! After reading about all the incredible places to explore from Mt. Ellinor, Rialto Beach, La Push to the Hoh Rainforest, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge, keep scrolling to the bottom to learn about the best places to stay and eat during your visit.

PLACES TO EXPLORE IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

MT. ELLINOR

While Mount Ellinor, isn’t technically inside Olympic National Park, it’s right on the border and the views look into the Park. There are two hikes to get up to the peak – the Upper Trail and the Lower Trail. The Mount Ellinor Upper Trail is around 7 miles and the trail head starts quite a bit lower than the Upper trailhead and stays in the woods longer. Neither of the trail head lots are very big so I’d recommend getting there earlier in the day rather than later. The Upper Trail is around 3 to 4 miles. Since it was a super foggy morning we ended up making the last minute decision to do the Upper Trail, which we highly recommend! Unless you’re just wanting more mileage on the, I would suggest the Upper Trail since the longer option doesn’t offer any more scenic views.

It’s a difficult trail even with the short mileage that would be a great hike for people looking to transition from moderate hikes into more difficult ones without having a large mileage commitment. The trail starts in the woods on a pretty standard woodland trail terrain. As you get higher in elevation, the trail gets significantly more rocky turning the trail almost into a natural stair-master. On a clear day, the views make it well worth the hard effort! It’s a great hiking trail that gives you some of the best views of the entire area.

Above – hiking up the rocky, built in natural stairs the entire way up!

The views from the top!

RIALTO BEACH

Rialto Beach was one of my favorite places in all of Olympic National Park! We walked along the beach following the popular, Hole in the Wall trail. It’s a pretty easy trail that’s roughly 3 miles round trip. You’re walking on sand and rocks the entire time so make sure to wear good walking shoes that are waterproof or water resistant! I HIGHLY recommend checking the tide schedule for the day you plan on going so that you can ensure you’re at the tide pools at low tide. Low tide is when you can actually see the tide pools, walk out to the “hole in the wall”, and see all the sea life. During high tide, all of that is covered by water and the beach you can walk along is much smaller.

Sunshine is a rare thing at this beach but don’t be discouraged by rainy or foggy weather, we honestly thought it made everything look even more unique than if it had been a warm, sunny day!

Above – these are the tide pools at the end of the trail!

LA PUSH

La Push has a total of 3 different beaches but we decided to explore, Second Beach. It’s a short 1 mile one way hike down the the beach from the parking lot [approximately 2 miles round trip]. The last 0.2ish miles has a decline down natural “stairs” leading down to the beach. It’s a great place to have a picnic, relax, or even camp! We saw lots of people walking with gear and setting up camp down on the beach. It’s very similar to Rialto Beach but still different enough that if you have enough time, I recommend going to both beaches!

Just a heads up, there were no facilities at this beach other than a port-a-potty. Rialto Beach has bathroom facilities with no running water.

HOH RAINFOREST

Hoh Rainforest is a place not like many others, as it’s one of the few remaining temperate rainforests in the United States. It’s probably most famous for its Hall of Moss. It’s a beautiful area with lots of ferns and moss covered trees! There a few different easy trails that weave together throughout the area.

The Hoh Rainforest is it’s own location in the park, meaning that you have to go through a entrance station, even if you’re coming from other areas of the park like La Push or Rialto Beach. Since it’s such a beautifuly unique place due to all the lush greenery and moss everywhere, so it’s no surprise that it can get very, very busy. Wait times can be up to two hours before getting to enter into that area of the park. You simply wait in your car in a long line outside the entrance area until a car leaves.

It has a limited parking so the Rangers monitor the “one car out, one car in” system. I recommend avoiding visiting during the time frame of 10:00am – 4:00pm, even on week days! We went on a Thursday and waited around an hour to get in [it wasn’t until we pulled up that we learned how busy of an area with very limited parking]. My biggest piece of advice when visiting the Hoh Rainforest is to go early in the morning or later in the afternoon!

It is quite far from any food or gas, so make sure to fill up in Forks [about an hour away] before heading to this area of the park!

HURRICANE RIDGE

Hurricane Ridge is probably one of the most iconic and picturesque places in the whole park! One of the reasons that it’s so popular is due to how accessible it is – being about an hour drive from Port Angeles and unlike many beautiful National Park views, this one you can simply drive up to. At the top, there are 8 different hiking trails ranging from very easy and short to a bit longer and more challenging. The shorter, easy trails right by the visitor center are a great places for families with young kids or maybe a hiker who wants to take a “light” day.

We decided to arrive a few hours before sunset, hike some of the shorter trails, and find a good place to sit and watch the sunset! I’d recommend packing a dinner and eating it as you enjoy the views. If you drive a mile past the Visitor Center, there is a large picnic area with tons of picnic tables and grills. Next time we visit, we’re going to pack the supplies to make dinner fresh up on the mountain!

After the sun went down, people were just arriving for the Night Sky Program which offers star gazing tours during the summer [weather permitting]. We wish we could have stayed but we had a long drive back to Seattle that night.

Please note: all of these photos were taken on marked trails, do not go off the trail into the wildflowers and restoration areas. I know it is tempting but let’s always aim to leave no trace from visiting out beautiful national parks!

Above – this was on the High Ridge Trail!

Left Above – taken at the picnic area near the picnic table we sat at!

Right Above – sitting on the brick wall, waiting on the sun to set!

LAKE CRESCENT

Lake Crescent is a beautiful glacier-water lake about 18 miles from Port Angeles. It has a few hiking trails, campsites, swimming areas, and places to put in your boat or kayak. A perfect place to go on a warm summer day! As you drive along the 12 miles long lake, there are plenty of pull-outs to stop at to take photos and take in the views.

While wish we had more time to truly explore the lake by water, we did stop at Fairholme Beach for an hour in the afternoon. It was quite busy with people enjoying the sun [see below]. It’s right near a campsite so we figured most of the people were also camping there that weekend!

PLACES TO EAT

While there are so many places to eat in Port Angeles, below are our most noteworthy restaurants for each meal.

Breakfast: Chestnut Cottage

This truly may be the best breakfast place I’ve ever ate at in my entire life. We ate outside on their cute patio – we sat out under a tree and even saw distant views of the mountains. Their menu has so many incredible options to choose from. I got the Apple Cinnamon French Toast and it was seriously unreal. Not only was their food incredibly delicious, they had the sweetest staff with great service. Highly recommended, you will not be disappointed!

Lunch: Granny’s Cafe

While we only stopped for ice cream, we wished had been more hungry because their lunch menu looked yummy! They normally have indoor dining, but due to COVID and understaffing they only offer take out. It’s a cute, quick place to stop to grab lunch for a picnic on the way into Olympic National Park or Lake Crescent

Dinner: Nextdoor Gastropub

We grabbed dinner at the bar here after a long day of exploring in the Park! It offers your typical pub food menu but super delicious – their garlic truffle fries are a must!

Above – grabbing an ice cream come at Granny’s Cafe just before you get to Lake Cresent

Below – eating breakfast at Chestnut Cottage in Port Angeles

PLACES TO STAY

Port Angeles is the largest and closest town near Olympic National Park. It’s not a large city by any means but it does have good options to stay at, stores to shop at, and a cute downtown area to eat and walk around! It’s also right on the water so on a clear day you can see into Victoria, B.C. and the mountain ranges in Canada and the North Cascades. It was a nice central “home base” for our explorations into ONP each day.

We had a nightmare situation with the Airbnb we originally booked that we ended up having to leave during the middle of our stay and had to scramble to find a place that night to check into. Almost all the good hotels were booked, except the Super 8. We typically don’t stay in motels but we were very pleasantly surprised and thrilled to have find somewhere so last minute! It was very clean, had comfy beds, and an amazing staff who were able to accommodate us extremely last minute. We didn’t do tons of research on hotels/motels to stay at since we though we were staying in an Airbnb, but I can tell you the Super 8 was a reasonable price for a great place to stay!

Looking for more travel ideas all over the US? Visit my blog to read about all the places we have been able to travel to!

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