This rainforest-covered peninsula with Mount Olympus at its center is a glorious side trip from Seattle.
Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula, surrounded the Puget Sound on three sides, and just a few hours’ drive from Seattle. This lush rainforest is a sparsely inhabited reserve of rivers, waterfalls, mountains, beaches and wildlife. It takes its name from the glacial peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Just one main road, Highway 101, encircles the peninsula, linking the small cities of Port Angeles and Port Townsend with Olympia, Washington State's capital city.
The only way to explore the interior of the park is via the 500-mile (800-kilometer) network of hiking trails. There are plenty of hikes for all levels of walking enthusiasts, including easy strolls for those visiting just a short time. Be careful if you’re visiting in winter, when steep and slippery trails can present challenges during hikes of all levels.
Awe-inspiring Mount Olympus rises 7,965 feet (2,428 meters) in the center of the park. Only trained climbers should attempt to reach the summit, but there are plenty of easier trails. Follow the Hoh River Trail for great views of the mountain. Venture into the dense, jungle-like Hoh Rain Forest, where some of the trees are up to 500 years old.
Try alpine and Nordic skiing at Hurricane Ridge, where there are two rope tows and a lift as well as a lodge for warming up. In summer, this area offers stunning views from the 1.6-mile (2.2-kilometer) long paved trail where patches of snow may linger well into July.
For a hike with an ocean view, head to the southwest coast. Ruby Beach has some of the most stunning and accessible coastline in the area, including tide pools rich with urchins, starfish and gooey ducks.
Immerse yourself in Olympic National Park’s natural charms and stay at one of the campgrounds, or seek out simple lodgings in one of the small communities such as Forks or Quinault. If you’re looking for luxurious digs, this isn’t the right place. The pampering is strictly for the senses, found in the breath-taking natural surroundings.
Lake Quinault is another popular area on the peninsula. There’s a rustic lodge, the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and helpful visitor centers at the Hoh Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge. Port Angeles, just north of the Olympic National Park, is a nice stop between the peninsula and Seattle.
A fun way to extend your visit to Olympic National Park is to take the ferry from Port Angeles across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria on Vancouver Island, but don't forget your passport or another form of I.D.
The Olympic National Park is two to three hours by car from Seattle, depending on traffic and the wait at the ferry. During the summer, allow for a few hours’ wait at the ferry terminal.