27 Essential Olympic National Park Travel Tips: Planning a Trip to Olympic National Park the Easy Way

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Last Updated on: 26th February 2023, 11:23 pm

If you’re looking for help planning a trip to Olympic National Park, you can use this ONP trip planner to ensure you have a magical park experience.

From avoiding crowds to picking the perfect time to visit to selecting the right things to do, the tips in this Olympic National Park guide will make sure you get the most out of your Pacific Northwest getaway, whether you will be spending one day or one week here!

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge - photo by Stephanie Craig | how to plan a trip to olympic national park
Seeing Hurricane Ridge is pretty spectacular

Washington’s Olympic National Park had been on my bucket list for a while. It’s one of the few places in the US that is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – so of course I couldn’t wait to see it in person!

And since it was the twenty-third US national park I visited, I know what questions travelers will need to have answered to understand how to plan a trip to Olympic National Park that works for them.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent - Storm King Ranger Station - photo by Stephanie Craig | best way to visit olympic national park
Leave from the Storm King Ranger Station

Because there is not just one way to experience this park – you will want to tailor your trip to your travel style along with taking into account the time of year, how long you have to visit, your travel budget, etc.

Use the tips in this Olympic National Park trip planner, but if there’s something I’ve missed, leave your questions and your tips in the comments at the end of the post!

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig on the Marymere Falls Trail - photo by Stephanie Craig | how to plan a trip to olympic national park

Planning a Washington National Parks road trip? Check out my guide to the national parks in Washington to help you choose which National Park Service sites (beyond the big three) to add to your list!

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27 Essential Olympic National Park Travel Tips Planning a Trip to Olympic National Park the Easy Way

Good to Know: During this portion of my trip to Washington, I was hosted by the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, a nonprofit that promotes tourism to the Olympic Peninsula.

We explored many parts of this corner of the Pacific Northwest, including Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Sequim, and Port Ludlow.

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While the trip was hosted by the OPTC, all opinions are my own, including thoughts I share about my visit and my tips for what you should do during your trip to Washington state.

My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2023

These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.

Protect Your Trip via Safety Wing

Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide and Viator.

Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.

For English-speaking private airport transfers, book through Welcome Pickups.

For road trips and independent travel, rent a car through Discover Cars.

Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.

For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.

Book an affordable family or romantic photography session on your trip through Flytographer (Use the code HISTORYFANGIRL for 10% off your first photoshoot).

For travel guidebooks to have with you during your trip, I always pick one or two from Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.

Olympic National Park Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting Olympic National Park

Whether this is your first time visiting ONP or one of many trips to Olympic National Park, there’s always new information that you need to have the best trip possible.

Here we go!

The Best Time to Visit Olympic National Park

The best time of year to go to Olympic National Park depends on what you want to do and which parts of the park you are most excited about seeing.

The weather can be different in different areas of the park simultaneously due to the various ecosystems around the park. The temperatures up on Hurricane Ridge, for example, can be fifteen degrees colder than the Quinault Rainforest or the sandy beaches of the park’s Pacific coastline.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge - photo by Stephanie Craig | planning a trip to olympic national park

A big factor that affects your park experience is the crowds. In summer, which is the park’s high season, the parking lots fill up early and you will rarely find any solitude during the day.

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For example, the best time to visit Hoh Rainforest in summer is before 10 AM or after 5 PM, when the crowds are thinner.

The spring and summer months are the best time to hike Olympic National Park, while autumn is one of the best times to sightsee.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig on the Marymere Falls Trail - photo by Stephanie Craig | how to visit olympic national park

And of course, those looking to enjoy adrenaline-fueled activities in the park like skiing and snowshoeing should come during the winter – though check winter road closures from October through April!

The best month to visit Olympic National Park may be different for everyone, but something to consider is how your visit will impact the park. Coming during the shoulder season will still give you access to most of the park, but with a much smaller footprint.

The Olympic Peninsula is so packed in the summer that I would far prefer a visit in April, May, September, or October when the weather is cooler and the competition for accommodations, rental cars, and parking spaces is much smaller.

The Best Olympic National Park Guidebooks

Whenever I travel to US National Parks, I use a few different trusted sources to plan my trips.

For my last trip to Washington state, I purchased a copy of the Lonely Planet Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest.

(I also love Rick Steves guidebooks when I travel in Europe, but there’s no Rick Steves guide to US national parks).

Washington - Olympic National Park - Visitor Center - Books - photo by Stephanie Craig | plan a trip to olympic national park

Second, I always pick up a hiking guide for the park. Perusing the different hiking options ahead of time (and where the trailheads are located within the park) is a huge help when it comes time to plan out my itinerary.

I tend to pick up a paper copy of Best Easy Day Hikes from the Falcon Guides, but you might prefer a more advanced ONP hiking guide.

Another great resource to have with you is a paper map of the park.

While backpackers and those heading to the backcountry know to grab one, it’s a good idea for everyone to have one available for safety reasons, especially in the parts of the park where there’s no data service.

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Check out Lonely Planet Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest & Best Easy Day Hikes.

Olympic National Park Map

While I highly recommend bringing a paper map of the park on your Olympic Park visit, you can use this tourist map of ONP to help plan your trip.

powered by Proxi

Where to Stay inside Olympic National Park

You have many options for where to stay when visiting ONP, but you need to book your accommodations early since they tend to sell out far in advance.

When deciding where to stay, your first task will be to choose whether you’ll stay inside the park or in one of the nearby towns.

For my trip, we stayed outside the park, but I’ve stayed at park properties at other NPS sites. I love doing both – it just depends on what kind of park experience you want to have.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent from Lake Crescent Lodge - photo by Stephanie Craig | how many days in olympic national park
Lake Crescent Lodge

For those who choose to book inside ONP, the NPS partners with four lodges spread out across the park. You will find historic hotels, rustic cabins, and modern accommodations to choose from.

Lake Crescent Lodge, Log Cabin Resort, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and Kalaloch Lodge are located in Olympic National Park, while Lake Quinault Lodge is located in Olympic National Forest.

For those who want a more budget-friendly way to stay in the park (or want to be closer to nature), ONP also has fourteen campgrounds available. Some of the most well-known are Mora, Fairholme, and Ozette.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent Lodge Cabins - photo by Stephanie Craig | how many days to spend in olympic national park

ONP offers a mix of modern and primitive amenities, RV and tent-only sites, as well as campgrounds available by reservation only as well as some that are first-come, first-served.

Because of the wide array of amenities and camping styles available, make sure to look through all your campground options and choose one that is right for your group.

Where to Stay Near Olympic National Park – Nearby Towns on the Olympic Peninsula and Kitsap Peninsula

While ONP is spread across the Olympic Peninsula, the towns you will want to stay in are spread out on the outskirts of the park.

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This means that they are quite far apart from one another, and some are more suited for visiting certain parts of the park than others.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Port Angeles - MV Kalakala Mural - photo by Stephanie Craig | how many days to visit olympic national park
We based ourselves in Port Angeles for this portion of our Olympic Peninsula road trip

Thus you need to plan your accommodations carefully – especially if your visit to ONP will be a short one!

On the park’s northeastern side, the most popular Olympic peninsula towns to base yourself in are Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Port Ludlow, and Sequim.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Port Angeles - Red Lyon Hotel - Double Room - photo by Stephanie Craig | olympic national park trip planner

Of these choices, Port Angeles is the most popular. In Port Angeles, we stayed at the Red Lion Hotel. While I’ve heard other Red Lions in Washington are outdated, ours was renovated and located right on the water!

Book your stay at the Red Lion Port Angeles!

Washington - Port Ludlow - Resort at Port Ludlow - Room with Fireplace - photo by Stephanie Craig | visiting olympic national park

We also stayed in Port Ludlow (near Ludlow Falls) at the luxurious Resort at Port LudlowThis hotel was one of my favorites that I stayed at near any US national park.

Book your stay at the Resort at Port Ludlow!

If you’re headed to the western and northwestern outskirts of the park, you can base yourself in Forks (of Twilight fame) or Neah Bay.

If you want more options on the Olympic Peninsula, there’s also Hoodsport, which is situated to the park’s southeast.

Look for more hotel options on the Olympic Peninsula.

Washington State - Kitsap Peninsula - Bainbridge Island - Marshall Suites - photo by Stephanie Craig | trips to olympic national park

If you will be combining a visit to ONP with a trip to the Kitsap Peninsula, there are several towns from which you can easily visit the park on a day trip – just prepare for a long drive to and from your accommodations.

You can stay on historic Bainbridge Island (where we stayed at the Marshall Suites), spooky Port Gamble (just over the Hood Canal Bridge), or the charming village of Poulsbo.

Look for more hotel options on the Kitsap Peninsula.

A Brief History of Olympic National Park

Before the creation of Olympic National Park, the area was inhabited and cared for by multiple Native American tribes.

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Today, eight tribes maintain an ongoing relationship with the park: the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Skokomish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, and Lower Elwha Klallam.

White settlers came into the area in the 1800s, including controversial naturalist John Muir.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent - Storm King Ranger Station - photo by Stephanie Craig | how to get around olympic national park

Once the area was eyed for preservation, it underwent multiple designations before becoming what it is today – one of the USA’s only dual National Parks and World Heritage Sites.

Olympic National Park Preservation Timeline

1897: Olympic Forest Reserve created

1909: Mount Olympus National Monument created to protect the Roosevelt Elk

1937: President Franklin Roosevelt visits

1938: President Franklin Roosevelt signs law to create Olympic National Park

1953: Pacific Coast areas added to ONP

1976: Olympic National Park designated an International Biosphere Reserve

1981: World Heritage Convention votes to confirm ONP as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Top 10 Things to Do in Olympic National Park

The park is large and includes dozens of can’t-miss sites and local favorite places. However, if you’ll only be at ONP for a day or two, you won’t have time to see everything!

You probably can’t even do justice to this top ten list in less than three days in Olympic National Park.

Here are the top things to do at ONP to help you narrow down your itinerary:

See the top of the Park from Hurricane Ridge

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the mountains of ONP, Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area within the park.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge - photo by Stephanie Craig | how to go to olympic national park

You can reach it by driving up the scenic Hurricane Ridge Road.

On a clear day, you can see across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, British Columbia! That’s right, from Hurricane Ridge Road you can see to Canada!

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - View of Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria - photo by Stephanie Craig | olympic national park first time

You can also reach the top of Hurricane Ridge on the Hurricane Hill trail. This is a moderate trail that takes about two hours to complete.

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However, you choose to reach the top, from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center you can check out stunning views of Mount Olympus and the Olympic Mountains.

Touch the Sound of Silence in the Hoh Rain Forest

If visiting a rainforest in person is on your bucket list, then make sure a stop at the Hoh Rain Forest is on your itinerary.

This temperate rainforest receives about one hundred and forty inches of rain every year, giving the area its verdant and luscious appearance.

While here, you can explore the area on foot via the Hoh River Trail, the Hall of Mosses Trail, or the Spruce Nature Trail.

Or Check Out ONP’s Other Rainforest, the Quinault Rain Forest

Yes, ONP is blessed with two stunning rainforests, though I’ve heard whispers that Quinault is the more beautiful of the two.

The Quinault Rain Forest Trailhead leaves from Lake Quinault.

While in Quinault, make sure to check out the world’s largest Spruce Tree, located at the Rain Forest Resort Village.

Live Out Your Summer Camp Fantasies at Lake Crescent

There may be a debate about which are the best lakes in Olympic National Park, but whatever your preference, Lake Crescent must be among them.

This brilliant blue lake, surrounded by mountains, is the perfect place to escape for a summer getaway.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent from Lake Crescent Lodge - photo by Stephanie Craig | olympic national park tips

This deep and clear lake is perfect for boating. From here you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, hiking, waterfalls, and more.

You can start your trip by checking into Lake Crescent Lodge and staying right on the lake.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent Lodge - photo by Stephanie Craig | tips for visiting olympic national park

For an easy day hike that starts from the lake, check out Marymere Falls (1.7 miles out and back), or the even easier Moments-in-Time Hiking Trail (a 0.8-mile loop).

Want a more challenging route from the Lake? Check out the Mount Storm King trail, a 4.1-mile out-and-back trail that includes two miles of uphill hiking.

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Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig on the Marymere Falls Trail - photo by Stephanie Craig | getting around olympic national park

The area around the lake is comprised of old-growth forests, so these trails are a great place to escape to after a day in the water and sun!

Enjoy the Park’s Backpacking Trails

I’ve already listed some of the park’s most famous hiking trails, most of which are short hikes (1-3 mile hikes) that can be accomplished as part of a larger itinerary.

But there are over six hundred miles of hiking trails at Olympic National Park, so you will barely scratch the surface with a visit of a day or two.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center - photo by Stephanie Craig | olympic np

ONP is famous for its overnight trails. For those who love getting into the backcountry, make sure to add one of these epic multi-day hikes to your list:

Elwha to Quinault: The Press Expedition Route (45 miles one way)

Enchanted Valley and Anderson Glacier (37 miles)

Hoh River to Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus (36 miles)

The Duckabush/Skokomish Traverse (33 miles one way)

Pacific Coast Olympic Wilderness (23 miles one way)

Seven Lakes Basin (19 miles)

Royal Basin (18 miles)

The recommended number of days for these trails is anywhere from three to nine, depending on the trail’s length and difficulty.

Visit Sol Duc Falls, the Most Famous Falls at ONP

It shouldn’t surprise you that a landscape with multiple rainforests is bursting with lakes and streams as well. And another water feature you can make sure to see while here are the park’s many waterfalls.

The Olympic Peninsula even has a designated waterfalls trail to help the true waterfall chasers among us get in as many as possible.

If you only have time for one, though, the most famous waterfall in Olympic National Park is Sol Duc Falls.

You can reach the calls via the Sol Duc Falls Trail, an easy 1.6-mile hike through an old-growth forest.

Experience the Park’s Magnificent Pacific Coastline

ONP might feel a bit disjointed. What do overgrown rainforests and snowy mountains have in common with each other – let alone with the long stretches of coastline that occupy the park’s western region?

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And adding the Pacific Ocean coastline was indeed an afterthought – added to the park in the 1950s.

This was fifteen years after the area was designated a national park and over fifty years after the original Olympic Forest Reserve was created.

Today, though, these areas of the park are some of the most well-known, and they are certainly areas you shouldn’t miss!

While Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are on the peninsula’s more remote southwest, they are some of the most visited areas of the park.

ONP features driftwood beaches, opportunities to see the marine life in tide pools, harvest Razor Clams, and get out on the water in a kayak or canoe.

You can appreciate the beauty of the Hole-in-the-Wall and sea stacks at Rialto Beach, compare La Push’s First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach, and camp under the stars at Shi Shi Beach.

Experience Winter Sports at Olympic National Park

If you are an adrenaline junkie, you’ll be happy to know that there are many winter sports you can enjoy in the mountain of ONP during the off-season.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center - photo by Stephanie Craig | olympic park travel

From November through March, the park transforms into a winter wonderland. During this time, you can go skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and tubingweather permitting.

Always check for weather closures (especially during winter) before heading to the park.

Check for Wildlife

No matter what part of the park you’re in, keep your eyes (and ears) peeled in case of wildlife sightings.

Animals you might encounter while in ONP include black bears, black-tail deer, cougars, Roosevelt elk, otters, seals, and sea lions.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Deer at Lake Crescent - photo by Stephanie Craig | day trip olympic national park
Seeing deer at Lake Crescent!

One animal I didn’t expect to experience while at ONP was a Sasquatch – but we are pretty sure we heard one while driving back down Hurricane Ridge Road.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Listening for Sasquatch | best place to visit in olympic national park
I heard Sasquatch in these woods…these exact woods!

And you can’t convince me otherwise. ::wink wink::

Have the Full Park Experience and Stay at one of the Park’s Lodges or Resorts

I listed the park’s lodges and resorts in the section on where to stay in the park, but it’s worth noting that a stay at one of these is more than just a travel accommodation – it’s a complete activity in itself.

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Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent from Lake Crescent Lodge | best way to get to olympic national park

Many of these are historic properties that are an integral part of the history of the park.

And if you don’t stay at one, you can still visit and take in the scenery, architecture, and (depending on the lodge) the food!

Looking for the best things to do NEAR Olympic National Park? Check out my guide to what to do on the Olympic Peninsula, including dozens of ideas for things to do close to ONP!

The Top 5 Guided Tours of Olympic National Park

Whether you’re trying to fit more activities into a short time, you’ll be visiting the park from further away and want the transportation and logistics taken care of, or you want to explore the park with a group, guided tours are a great way to see ONP.

Full-Day Hiking Tour of Olympic National Park with Pick Up

Sol Duc and Hurricane Ridge Tour

Private Day Hike- Rialto Beach Tide Pooling

Olympic National Park Driving Audio Tour

Private Day Hike to Maiden Peak

How Many Days in Olympic National Park

You can see some highlights of ONP in one or two days, but you won’t be able to see any of the backcountry in such a short time.

You’ll be glad to know that if you are going to be in the area and only have one day in Olympic National Park, it’s still worth it.

Even though it would be a very long day trip from Seattle or Tacoma, even one day out here offers so much in terms of sightseeing and experiencing nature.

To make this easier, you might book a guided Olympic National Park itinerary from Seattle that takes care of transportation and logistics so you can better enjoy your time in the park.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park | olympic national park guide

Of course, if you have two to three days, you will be able to see more of the highlights and dig into more sections of the park.

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For example, if you want to see Lake Crescent and the coastline, this is easier to accomplish in a minimum of two days.

If you have four days or more, you can see more parts of the park or add an overnight hike to your itinerary.

Olympic National Park Itinerary Ideas

There’s no single “best itinerary for Olympic National Park” that suits all travelers. The best Olympic National Park itinerary for you takes into consideration your travel style, interests, resources, budget, transportation, group size, and more.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent | olympic national park first time

However, here are a few ideas for what you can experience in the park depending on your trip length.

Keep in mind that these are sample itineraries, and you need to check seasonal closures and current conditions before you visit ONP.

One Day in Olympic National Park

If this is your only day in ONP, follow this itinerary. If this is your first day of a multi-day trip, follow this for day one.

Morning: Lake Crescent + Marymere Falls Trail

Lunch: Lake Crescent Lodge or Self-Catering Picnic

Afternoon: Hurricane Ridge Road + Hurricane Ridge

Evening: Hoh Rain Forest

2 Days in Olympic National Park

Your second day gets you out enjoying the western beaches on the Pacific Ocean.

Morning: Rialto Beach

Lunch: Eat in La Push or a Self-Catering Picnic at First Beach

Afternoon: Second Beach

Evening: Sunset on Ruby Beach

3 Days in Olympic National Park

If you have a third day, you can follow your heart. If you loved your time in the Hoh Rain Forest, spend the day at Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest.

If you prefer your time on the beaches, you can spend your day at Shi Shi Beach and Lake Ozette.

4 Days in Olympic National Park

With four days in the park, you can do everything mentioned on day three, or you can add in a longer day hike in one of the areas you previously visited.

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Consider the Mount Storm King trail if you want a challenge!

One Week in Olympic National Park

If you have seven days in the park, you can complete one of the multi-day hikes listed above, spend more time in each section of the park, or expand your activities to a full Olympic Peninsula itinerary.

For ideas for things to do outside of the park, like the Olympic National Forest or the Dungeness Spit, check out my guide to the best things to do on the Olympic Peninsula.

Getting to Olympic National Park

Whether you are driving from afar or flying into a nearby airport and renting a car, you will likely head through one of these major cities.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Hood Canal Bridge - Eagle | olympic national park tips

There are also a few alternative ways to get here, however, note that once in the park you will want a car, motorcycle, or bike to get around.

The park doesn’t have public transportation to get you from place to place, and many of the destinations within the park are hours from each other.

Airports Near Olympic National Park

The main airport used to access ONP is Seattle-Tacoma / Sea–Tac (SEA). Many visitors will get a round-trip ticket and pick up a Sea–Tac rental car at the airport.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Seattle-Tacoma International Airport - Line for Security | tips for visiting olympic national park

Directions to Olympic National Park from Seattle and Tacoma

While road trips in the US are usually straightforward, getting from Seattle or Tacoma to the Olympic Peninsula is not.

From Seattle, you can choose to use the ferry system, crossing over the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) to the Kitsap Peninsula and driving over the Hood Canal Floating Bridge on Highway 104 to Highway 101.

Other options include driving north to Edmonds and over the 104 to Kingston or driving south to Tacoma.

Note that the Hood Canal Bridge closes for boat traffic periodically.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Tacoma - Tacoma Narrows Bridge | visiting olympic national park

From Tacoma, you cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the Kitsap Peninsula and drive north to Port Gamble and over the Hood Canal Floating Bridge.

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Each of these routes theoretically takes about two and a half hours to get to Port Angeles, but keep in mind the current traffic conditions and ferry lines before deciding which route to take.

It will also take longer depending on which of the gateway towns or entrances to Olympic National Park you are going to.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Port Angeles - Port Book and News | best way to see olympic national park

For example, going from Seattle to LaPush is a little over four hours while you can get to the town of Forks from Seattle in under four hours.

You need to know which entrance or town you’re heading to get a good travel time estimate.

Another popular route, going from Seattle to Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, is four to four and a half hours.

Getting to ONP from Olympia and Portland

Driving up from Olympia or Portland are also popular options for those road-tripping to ONP.

Olympia looks close on a map, but you do need to know which entrance you’re using to determine drive time.

Olympia to Forks is about three hours while driving from Olympia to Port Angeles is about two and a half hours.

If you’re coming from Portland, Oregon, prepare to spend between four and six hours on the road, depending on your final destination.

Getting to Olympic National Park from Victorica, BC

Those coming from Victoria on Vancouver Island can take advantage of the ferries that run from Victoria to Port Angeles.

You can go on this route on foot and rent a car in Port Angeles, or you can bring your vehicle.

Check the latest ferry schedules here.

Driving in Olympic National Park

The best way to see Olympic National Park is by car. You can explore the park’s scenic drives, like Hurricane Ridge Road, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, and Hoh River Road.

Even if you don’t want to spend all your time in the car, they’re the only real answer to the question of “how to get around Olympic National Park.”

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Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic National Park - Driving to Hurricane Ridge | how to visit olympic national park
Driving up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

There just is no other way to traverse a park as large as this one when there are no public transportation options.

Driving in the park is straightforward, with many well-maintained roads, but you always want to check for seasonal road closures.

Parking at Olympic National Park

Parking lots are well marked, but they fill up early when the park is full of visitors in the high season.

Come early to avoid spending your precious park time circling a parking lot! (Which I had to do in Glacier National Park, and it sucks wasting precious park time in a parking lot).

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge Parking Lot | how to go to olympic national park

Parking in ONP parking lots is free, and you do not need to display anything to park.

Gas Stations near ONP

Unlike some national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton, there are no gas stations inside ONP.

The closest gas stations are in Port Angeles and Forks, near the park entrances.

These gas stations provide both regular gasoline and diesel fuel.

There are large driving distances between different parts of the park, so make sure your car is fueled up and ready to handle the distances.

If you need an electric vehicle charging station near ONP, check this guide.

Renting a Car for Olympic National Park

Since a car is the best way to visit Olympic National Park, those flying into Sea-Tac can pick up a rental car at the airport.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent - Driving to Lake Crescent | best entrance to olympic national park

You should book your rental car early (I just booked my car today for a trip that’s twelve weeks away). Rental car prices can be unstable, so locking in a good price early ensures you don’t end up getting hammered later.

Get a car rental quote from Discover Cars.

Olympic National Park Road Trip Ideas

You can use the sample itinerary from above to help you plan your road trip. If you have a week to explore ONP by car, I would break up the trip into:

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2 nights in Port Angeles

2 nights in Neah Bay

2 nights in Forks or LaPush

During your first stop in Port Angeles, you can take in Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and the Hoh Rainforest.

From Neah Bay, you can visit Shi Shi Beach, Cape Flattery (technically outside of the park), and Lake Ozette.

From Forks or LaPush, you can spend a day in Quinault and your final day on the west side beaches, choosing among Rialto Beach, the LaPush beaches, or Kallaloch Beach and Ruby Beach.

Cost to Visit Olympic National Park

How much an Olympic National Park vacation costs depends on your travel style and how many people are in your party.

Getting into the park itself isn’t expensive. The fees for one week are $30 for a car, $25 for a motorcycle, and $15 for a bicycle.

However, accommodations, food, gear, transportation, and souvenirs can add up quickly. Especially if these expenses are being multiplied to account for more people.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic National Park - Driving to Hurricane Ridge - Ranger Station - Gate | best way to visit olympic national park

To create your trip budget, research your accommodations, current fuel prices, rental car prices, guidebooks and gear prices, tour costs, etc.

Below is a photo of the spreadsheet I used to plan a budget for every national parks road trip I have taken in the last two years.

The simple spreadsheet I use to budget road trips in US national parks. Photo by Stephanie Craig

No, it’s not fancy. But it works!

When creating our budget, I try to estimate how much we will spend on food as a combination of restaurants, groceries, and road trip snacks. I also try to bring food from home to avoid things going bad while we’re away.

I always purchase a travel insurance policy for our family as well, and I leave enough room in the miscellaneous budget in case we have an emergency.

Saving Money in Olympic National Park

If you are trying to visit Olympic National Park on a budget, here are a few tips for saving money.

First, camping isn’t always the least expensive option, especially if you will have to get a bunch of gear to be able to camp.

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Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Walking the Marymere Falls Trail | olympic park visit

I’ve found the least expensive options for our family are usually budget hotels and motels in towns outside the park, like the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.

Whenever we want to save money traveling to US national parks, we bring our lunch to the park as well as get hotels with kitchenettes so we can self-cater.

(Though we started traveling with our own portable stove when we can’t find hotels with kitchens).

Cooking for ourselves isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about having healthy options on the road so we don’t spend the whole trip eating fast food. It also saves time at the parks, since some of the best restaurants can take a while to enjoy.

Photo of Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent Dock Wharf - Stephanie Craig | getting around olympic national park

Another key to saving money traveling to ONP or other western parks is that we keep going to parks on multiple vacations. This means the gear we bought for our first trip has now been used in twenty parks!

Finally, we invested in a National Parks Pass and used it like maniacs throughout the year. More on that below!

Using a National Parks Pass at Olympic National Park

We bought an America the Beautiful Pass (aka the National Parks Pass), and we used it so much that we saved $430 on entry fees throughout the year.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - America the Beautiful Annual Pass | how to get around olympic national park

The more parks you go to, the better the value per park visit!

For more info on this pass, read my guide to saving money with an America the Beautiful pass!

Getting Olympic National Park Reservations

If you’re wondering how to visit Olympic National Park, the great news is that you can still just show up!

While you need reservations for the campgrounds, park lodges, and backcountry permits, you do not need to make reservations to enter ONP (as of this writing).

Unlike parks that require reservations, like Rocky Mountain National Park or Glacier National Park, all sections of ONP are open to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis.

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What to Wear to Olympic National Park

The weather in different parts of the park can vary wildly from place to place, so wearing layers in ONP is essential.

Wear weather-appropriate clothing based on where you will be going for the day. Keep in mind the weather in the mountains is nothing like the weather on the beaches or in the rainforests.

Photo of Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig on the Marymere Falls Trail | olympia park washington

Here are clothing items that are essential for ONP. The links are to the versions of these items I personally own (and paid for).

rain jacket because you can expect at least some rain during your trip

packable down jacket because you always need to be able to add some warmth

waterproof hiking boots to help you get deep into the park’s beautiful old-growth forests

performance socks AND warm wool socks so you can change your socks to suit the weather conditions

thermal neck gaiter for wind protection in the mountains

touchscreen gloves so you can use your phone for pictures in windy conditions

non-slip headbands if you have longer hair and want to protect it from the wind

thermal longjohns to add under your clothes if the temperature drops

What to Bring to Olympic National Park

For daytrippers headed to the most popular places in the park, here are common items that everyone will want to bring.

Day Bag

I use this day bag for visiting national parks. It’s survived twenty-one of them! It’s sturdy but inexpensive, yet big enough for me to organize what I need for a full park day.

Photo of Stephanie Craig - South Dakota - Badlands National Park - Stephanie and Jordan in parking lot - wearing backpack | Olympic National Park gear list
This day bag has served me well at many US national parks – including ONP!

Cell Phone + Charger

The park doesn’t have cell service in every nook and cranny, so you will want a cell phone with enough available storage to download Google maps offline and store photos until you have data to back up to the cloud.

El Salvador - Apaneca - Mirror Selfie in Front of the Church in Apaneca - Stephanie Craig
I used my cell phone for most of my photography for convenience.

Bring your phone charger as well, since being on-and-off data can eat your battery.

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Backup Battery

Bring a portable charger to keep your phone charged during your trip. This is an important safety item in case of an emergency, so don’t leave home without it!

First Aid Items

I always have a small vaseline and bandaids for blisters, along with a small pocket knife (pack in your checked luggage if flying).

Sunscreen

Even in cloudy parts of the park and deep in the forests, sun damage can (and will) find you. Bring sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin during your trip.

Binoculars

Bring a pair of binoculars for wildlife viewing, especially bird and whale watching! This is the pair of binoculars that I own.

Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Deer at Lake Crescent | olympic washington national park

Bear Canisters

If you will be backpacking or staying overnight, you’ll want to bring a bear canister. This protects yourself, the Black Bears who call ONP home, as well as future visitors.

These are required in Enchanted Valley, Sol Duc River/High Divide/7 Lakes Basin Loop, Royal Basin area, the Wilderness Coast, and anywhere food cannot be hung at least 12 feet high and 10 feet out from the nearest tree trunk.

Bear canisters can sometimes be rented from the park once you arrive, but they cannot be reserved or guaranteed.

The park encourages visitors who will need one to rent or purchase their own ahead of time.

Check prices for bear canisters on Amazon.

Where to Eat in Olympic National Park

If you aren’t going to be camping or staying inside ONP, you will want to plan your food options ahead of time.

Picnicking at ONP

When we travel to national parks, we typically bring our food with us. We will cook ahead and bring food storage containers with hearty dishes that are easy to eat outside, like kale and quinoa, sausage and rice, and peanut butter sandwiches.

We love utilizing picnic tables at national parks since these tables can have some of the best views in the country. Talk about eating with a view!

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To make the experience even nicer, we sometimes bring a picnic blanket and tablecloth clips for picnic lunches.

If you will be bringing your own food to the park, plan ahead and bring enough for meals and snacktime as well as water and any other drinks you will want.

Remember to dispose of any trash in the bear-proof trash cans or take it with you out of the park.

Restaurants in Olympic National Park

All four lodges within ONP have restaurants. If you are interested in dining within the park at one of these restaurants, check with them directly for operating times, menus, and reservation requirements.

Food Options at Visitors Centers

Snacks are available at some of the Visitors’ Centers, though not all. Don’t count on being able to get food within the park without verifying availability and hours ahead of time.

The Best Restaurants Near Olympic National Park

If you don’t plan on eating in the park, you can enjoy lunch in the towns near the park entrances. Prepare for the extra drive time that this will add to your itinerary.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Sequim - Rainshadow Cafe - Panini
Enjoying lunch in Sequim after a morning hiking in ONP

Popular casual lunch spots outside of ONP include Granny’s Cafe in Port Angeles, the Rainshadow Cafe in Sequim, and Hard Rain Cafe in Forks.

Internet + Cell Phone Data in Olympic National Park

There are cell service dead zones in ONP, so prepare ahead of time.

Download the offline version of the park in Google Maps, clear enough memory so you can take photos and have them stored on your phone until you have data again for backing them up, and use SMS for texting when it’s available.

Using the Bathroom in Olympic National Park

Most of the popular sites in ONP have restrooms. Some of these are flushable toilets with running water, while others have typical park outhouses and hand sanitizer.

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Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent - Bathrooms | olympic national park in washington state
Bathrooms near Lake Crescent

Bring your own hand sanitizer – just in case!

Should you find yourself needing to go while in the backcountry away from facilities, you need to pack out anything you bring in – including anything that, well, would normally end up in a toilet.

Staying Safe in Olympic National Park

Safety is your responsibility.

While national parks are fabulous vacation destinations, they are also wild places. You need to follow all park rules, especially safety regulations, and come to the park prepared to keep yourself safe while here.

Start by reading the park’s posted Wilderness Safety tips.

Follow wildlife safety during animal encounters, and follow the proper food safety rules for bear safety.

Finally, practice common sense by observing local driving regulations (including speed limits), researching road closures, dressing appropriately for the weather, and keeping minor first aid equipment handy.

Finally, get the appropriate permits for backcountry activities, and know where the nearest ranger stations and Visitor’s Centers are, should you need them.

Tips for Visiting Olympic National Park: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

These are the most common questions travelers have about vacationing in Olympic National Park.

How many days do you need to visit Olympic National Park?

You can get a taste of the park in one day, but you will get to see more of the important sites in two or three days.

How Big is Olympic National Park?

ONP is 1,442 mi² or 922,650 acres.

Photo of Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig in front of the Olympic National Park Sign | olympic park usa

What is the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park?

The most popular time to visit is from June through August, though I prefer the shoulder season months of April, May, September, and October.

When is the best time to visit Olympic National Park?

You can enjoy the entire day in ONP, from early morning before sunrise until well after sunset.

Come early in the morning to avoid crowds, especially if you’re traveling in high season.

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Some activities, like visiting Hoh Rainforest or sunsets at Ruby Beach, are also wonderful in the evening.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center | olympic national park washington

How much does a trip to Olympic National Park cost?

The park entry is $30 for a week, or you can use your America the Beautiful Pass for free entry.

Other trip costs include transportation to the park, gas, food, accommodations, and any necessary gear.

How do I plan a day trip to Olympic National Park?

You can go on a guided tour or you can utilize the suggested one-day itinerary in this post.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic National Park - Visitor Center - Souvenir Magnet | planning a trip to olympic national park | washington's olympic national park

Can you drive to Olympic National Park?

Yes, this is the most common way to arrive in the park.

How do you get to Olympic National Park?

You can utilize the instructions above to get to ONP from Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Olympia, or beyond.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent Marymere Falls Nature Trail Entrance

What is there to do at Olympic National Park?

You can go hiking, boating, swimming, driving, etc.

What should I not miss at Olympic National Park?

Lake Crescent, Hurricane Ridge, and the Hoh Rainforest are popular places to visit if you don’t have much time.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Walking the Marymere Falls Trail - Boulder on Staircase | olympic national park in washington

What are some of the best hikes in Olympic National Park?

The Hall of Mosses, Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall, Marymere Falls Trail, the Spruce Nature Trail, and Lovers Lane Loop are some of the most popular hiking trails.

What is the best town to stay in to visit Olympic National Park?

There are several good towns to stay in near Olympic NP, but two of the most popular are Port Angeles and Forks.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Port Angeles - Bella Italia | plan a trip to olympic national park

How long does it take to drive the loop in Olympic National Park?

The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive is a little over 300 miles. The drive time without stops is between six and seven hours, but you can easily spend days exploring this drive as a road trip.

Do you need a reservation to go to Olympic National Park?

No, ONP does not take reservations.

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Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Lake Crescent - Storm King Ranger Station | how to plan a trip to olympic national park

Is there a scenic drive in Olympic National Park?

Highway 101 is part of the Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive. Hurricane Ridge Road is another beautiful scenic drive in ONP.

What is the best entrance to Olympic National Park?

There are multiple Olympic National Park Entrances. Which of these you use depends on where you are staying and your destination in the park.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Stephanie Craig in front of the Olympic National Park Sign | olympic np

What do I need to know before going to Olympic National Park?

At a minimum, you should have an idea of what area of the park you want to see.

Which is better Mount Rainier or Olympic National Park?

If you’re wondering if Mt. Rainier is better than Olympic National Park, it depends on you. Both offer snow-capped mountains, lots of hiking, and access from Seattle and Tacoma.

ONP has more diversity of activities since it also has areas of coastline and multiple rainforests.

However, both of these Washington state national parks are worth visiting.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge - Stephanie Craig | olympia state park

Do and don’ts while visiting National Park?

Do follow common sense safety, as well as posted rules and park website information.

Don’t leave trash or food behind unless it is in a marked trashcan. Don’t take risks that could harm others. Don’t be rude to other park visitors.

Do you have to worry about bears in Olympic National Park?

You need to take precautions for black bears, like using a bear canister.

Photo by Stephanie Craig - Washington - Olympic Peninsula - Olympic National Park - Driving in Olympic National Park | olympic national park directions

Is bear spray necessary in Olympic National Park?

No, you do not need to bring bear spray to Olympic National Park. Bear spray is for grizzly bears. ONP only has black bears.

What is Olympic National Park famous for?

ONP is famous for its rainforests, mountains, lakes, and Pacific coastline.

More Washington State Resources

Here are all the resources I have written about travel in Washington state.

Washington State Guides

50 Fabulous Things to Do in Washington State: Bucket List & Beyond!

See also
The 7 Most Beautiful West Coast Lighthouses & How to Visit Them!

The 17 National Parks in Washington State: How & Why to See Each One!

Olympic Peninsula Guides

The Best Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula

27 Essential Olympic National Park Travel Tips: Planning a Trip to Olympic National Park the Easy Way

17 Things to Know about Hurricane Ridge Road in Olympic National Park: Best Viewpoints + Travel Tips!

21 Things to Know Before Hiking Marymere Falls Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington

Things to Know Before You Hike to Ludlow Falls

Kitsap Peninsula Guides

27 Blissful Things to Do in Poulsbo + Tips to Visit Poulsbo, Washington’s Little Norway on the Fjord

23 Perfect Things to Do in Port Gamble, Washington: Activities for History Lovers & Ghost Hunters!

Tri-Cities and Southeastern Washington Guides

17 Fabulous Things to Do in Palouse Falls State Park & Nearby + Tips for Visiting Palouse Falls

5 Things to Pack for a Trip to the Olympic Peninsula & Olympic National Park

Along with a good Washington State or Olympic National Park guidebook, make sure to bring the following:

A Packable Down Jacket – everyone in our family has one. They’re light and easy to keep in your backpack or car, but they’re warm enough to make a huge difference if the weather turns cold.

I have this women’s version. I loved having it at ONP even in late April. My husband has this men’s version. Our son just outgrew this child’s version.

A Lightweight but Durable Backpack – My Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack was a steal for the price. It’s survived 17 national parks as well as trips to Mexico and El Salvador!

It won’t last forever, but it has more than proved its worth so far.

See the Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack on Amazon

A Pair of Binoculars for parks where I’m going to be looking for wildlife. I use these binoculars, and my husband has a separate pair.

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A Portable Charging Bank in case my phone dies. Having a portable charger for your phone is crucial.

This is a safety issue as my offline maps may be the only way to navigate in the park where there’s no cell phone data available, as well as the convenience of being able to use my cell phone camera.

I relied on this heavily during my time in Olympic National Park, as cell phone coverage on the Olympic Peninsula was spotty in places and nonexistent in swaths of ONP.

A Basic First Aid Kit to handle minor issues while you are out. Don’t let a hot spot on your foot turn into a blister, or leave a small cut open to the elements.

I keep a small first aid kit in my backpack at all times when we are on the road.

Other items to consider: a pocket knife and a water bottle with a filter.

Pin this Olympic National Park Travel Guide to Help You with Planning a Trip to ONP!

27 Essential Olympic National Park Travel Tips Planning a Trip to Olympic National Park the Easy Way

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