16 Jan Olympic National Park – 3 parks in 1
Olympic National Park is like the Swiss Army knife of national parks. It’s a knife. And tweezers. And a corkscrew! And so much more!
Located just west of Seattle, WA, Olympic National Park combines alpine mountains, lush rain forest and rugged coastal shores. We watched a loping black bear along a hilly ridge, waded in a hot spring and explored a Pacific tide pool full of sea stars and urchins.
You can visit a lot of websites to learn about the basics of planning a trip to Olympic, but I’m going to share some opinions that will hopefully result in a better experience.
Combine Olympic National Park with Mount Rainier and North Cascades
We’ve usually explore Olympic by combining side trips to Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks. Be careful trying to take in all three unless you’ve budgeted at least ten days. This trio makes northwest Washington one of our favorite national park destinations. Plus, you can add Seattle as your vacation kicker.
Lodging in the park is dispersed, which allows you to plan your stay in a “loop,” several nights at one spot and then move on to explore different ecosystems and sights. We especially enjoyed Kalaloch Lodge with its rustic cabins along the coast and opportunities to watch sunsets and listen to ocean waves into the dark of night. Its restaurant also provides great views and good food.
If you want to consider something more high end, I highly recommend the George Washington Inn outside of the park. We used this luxury B&B as our base while hiking the alpine section of the park outside of Port Angeles. Amazing breakfasts, beautiful views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and an estate lavender farm and gift shop are bonuses for inn guests. We chose this accommodation as our “guilty pleasure” before moving on to the park’s more rustic retreats.
Sol Duc Hot Springs, tide pools and vampires
Now, let’s talk about the park’s sights and trails. To fully experience the “three parks in one,” I recommend a walk or hike along Hurricane Ridge, in the Hoh Rain Forest and along its iconic, wild coast. The rapid rise in elevation from the ocean to the mountains creates these multiple ecosystems within the park.
Many people enjoy Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort, where you can relax and swim in natural mineral baths created by spring water mixing with gasses from cooling volcanic rock. It’s located along the drive from Port Angeles to the rain forest and coastal sections of the park. I’m not a fan of smelly wading pools, no matter how natural and soothing to the skin; however, a short hike from here takes you to one of my favorite waterfalls in the country, Sol Duc Falls. It’s special.
The tide pools along the coast mesmerize. We love exploring them and all the creatures and plants that find refuge there. And Rialto and Ruby beaches and their rocks and spires offer the senses a burst of energy. I fill my camera with images along this coast because it’s both wild and gorgeous. Be sure to check with staff at the visitors’ center for recommendations on the best and most accessible tide pool beaches, and for low tide times. Otherwise, you might be disappointed.
And there’s nothing more enchanting than absorbing a tourist extravaganza as you travel from one section of Olympic to another, like the town of Forks, which inspired author Stephenie Meyer to write her famous Twilight novels. The city also holds an annual festival for fans, vampires and werewolves. It’s campy but, for some, worth a selfie or pitstop or yearlong sabbatical.
Olympic National Park offers fishing, climbing, stargazing, winter sports and a lot more. We’re repeat visitors. And we’ll be there again soon.