6 Spring Days in Olympic National Park
There are many words to describe Olympic National Park: beautiful, green, interesting, unique. But the word that best describes it is diverse.
Diverse in terrain, mostly, but also diverse in animals, plants, elevation, geology, and recreation opportunities. Our favorite parks are multi-dimensional, and Olympic more than fits the bill.
There are four distinct areas of Olympic: mountains, old-growth forest, coast, and rainforest. In our six days in the park, in early May, we got a good feel for all four of these. There are pros and cons of visiting a national park in the spring (read more about that here!) and off-season Olympic definitely had its limitations, but we had an incredible week in this gorgeous and diverse park.
DAY 1: MOUNTAINS
We were joined on our first two days in Olympic by my lovely parents. We knew we’d be at the park for two days, so we chose the clearer of the two to drive up to Hurricane Ridge, accessed from Port Angeles, Washington, where we were staying overnight.
We packed a lunch and drove the 17 miles up to the ridge, which offered us incredible views of the Olympic Range. From the upper parking lot, we got to see one of the best, most continuous mountain views of our trip so far. It was magical! We ate our lunch, then walked up the plowed (but still closed) road that led to Hurricane Hill for views of the opposite side: Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- The road to Hurricane ridge is only open on the weekends until the beginning of May, and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center follows a similar pattern. Check before you go!
- The road to Obstruction Point is closed until later in the summer
- Many of the backcountry trails in the mountains are inaccessible through the spring.
DAYS 2 & 3: OLD-GROWTH FOREST
During our second day around Port Angeles, we headed west towards the Sol Duc Valley. We stopped first to gaze at Lake Crescent, an amazingly blue lake only 20 minutes from the city. While in the area, we took the two-mile easy walk to Marymere Falls, a 90-foot cascade leaving a neon-green mossy wall in its path.
Next, we headed over to the Sol Duc Valley, where we took the short, 1.5-mile trail to Sol Duc Falls. These falls were one of the most interesting I have seen, as they sort of tumble sideways into a rocky canyon. Highly recommend this easy walk. We finished out Day 2 with a picnic lunch and two short stops on the way out of the valley: a 1-mile nature loop trail, dripping with mossy trees, and the salmon overlook, where visitors can occasionally see salmon leaping up the stream.
Since we were also visiting my sister and aunt in Seattle, we returned to the city for a few days before venturing back into the park for another four days. When we returned, we spent another day around the Port Angeles area for some extra-curricular fun.
We worked with the visitors bureau in Port Angeles to promote their city on social media with our national parks-loving audience. Part of this partnership included an extra-amazing flightseeing tour of the park courtesy of Rite Bros Aviation in Port Angeles. We hopped on a six-seater plane with three other amazing women who volunteer in the community and were able to see the park from a very unique angle. We learned that Rite Bros offers customized tours and charter flights around the Olympic Peninsula. Definitely not something we normally consider on our very budget-friendly trip, but we love the opportunity to share this family-owned company with all of you. It was an unforgettable day.
We finished the day with an afternoon hike to what seems to be a local favorite spot called Storm King Mountain. Storm King Mountain is not for the faint of heart: it’s short at only 3.5 miles round trip, but it took us about four hours. The trail shoots straight up into the old-growth forest near Lake Crescent for 1.5 miles, then gets even steeper as hikers scramble up a crumbly rock hill, finally reaching the top and an incredible view of the bluest Lake Crescent. Don’t get too excited, though. The climb down is even tougher and might require some butt-sliding like it did for me. 🙂
- This area was very accessible to us in the spring, and the waterfalls were gushing!
DAYS 4 & 5: COAST
After a few weeks inland, we were already itching to see the Pacific Ocean again. Thankfully, Olympic delivers BIG TIME. Before leaving Port Angeles, we stopped by the visitor center to pick up an overnight permit ($5 per person per night) to camp on the beach, and after fully understanding the tide limitations and what time we’d have to pass over certain points along the beach, we were off.
We first ventured down to Second Beach in the La Push area of the coast. This slice of beach was gorgeous, with gigantic mounds of driftwood and several sea stacks. We picnicked down here before heading back to the car to pack for our overnighter.
Since we couldn’t pass over a point on the beach until 6 p.m., it was one of our latest starts on a backpacking trip, but since we knew the sun wouldn’t set until about 9 p.m., we weren’t too concerned. We began the 6-ish mile trek out to an area called Toleak Point, where there would be designated campsites and hopefully wonderful views.
The point provided that and more. It easily is one of the best places we have camped all year. Our campsite was tucked away in the forest looking out on the huge sea stacks that rose from the beach and served as an amazing sunset silhouette. We slept easily on the soft sand and awoke to waves gently crashing on the shore. Morning was low tide, and before heading back we peered into the pools to find several sea anemone and other critters.
- Always check the tide limitations on the coast, as there are several spots that are impossible to cross until low tide
- Layers are necessary; the beach felt much colder than we expected.
DAY 6: RAINFOREST
Our last section of the park we wanted to hit before heading out was the Hoh Rainforest. We had heard such amazing things about this area: after all, it’s a rainforest. In the US. We weren’t disappointed, but surprised because it seemed a lot like the Sol Duc Valley to us. We drove in late after hiking out of the coast backcountry, and found a campsite for the night. It was the first developed campground we had stayed in in awhile, and we took full advantage by setting up a cozy tent-nest and playing Set on the picnic table. It’s the little things.
When we woke up and packed up our site, we headed over to hike the two short nature trails around the Hoh Visitor Center. Unfortunately the Spruce Nature Trail was closed, but we walked through the Hall of Mosses and along the Hoh River Trail until we felt like we had a feel for the rainforest-ness of the Hoh.
- The Hoh Visitor Center has limited hours in the spring; check before arriving!
- Many of the backcountry hikes leaving from this area will be inaccessible until summer.
After a whole six days in Olympic (a couple days longer than our average time in a park) we still felt like we had merely scratched the surface. There is SO MUCH to do here. We have a long list of things we’d like to do next time we visit: take a long hike in the highcountry, soak in backcountry hot springs, visit the northwestern-most point of the contiguous states (not technically in the park), visit Ozette, see the other beaches, visit the less-frequented corners of the park like the Staircase… the list is endless.
I guess we’ll just have to come back soon!