It’s hard to believe that this was our first visit to Olympic National Park even though we spend a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest—David is a native Oregonian and I went to a college in Oregon. But that’s sometimes how things go.
With its main features including glaciated peaks, temperate rain forests, and wild coastline, Olympic National Park is by far the most diverse U.S. national park we have visited. The park is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Despite being less than 3-hour drive from the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, the park seems quite remote, particularly when you head away from the Port Angeles area.
Olympic National Park is a big park. If you want to visit several parts of the park (and you should), it’s best to find accommodation in different areas to avoid hours and hours of driving. Since there is no road that goes through the park, all the park interior is accessed from Hwy 101. We spent nine days on the Olympic Peninsula splitting our base between Salt Creek Recreation Area campground outside of Port Angeles and Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push.
The first few days after arriving on the Olympic Peninsula, there was smoke from forest fires in the area. Fortunately, the day we drove up the Hurricane Ridge Road the smoke stayed pretty much at lower elevation and in valleys. The air at the Hurricane Ridge was clear and the sky was blue. A lovely day to enjoy the mountain
Hoh Rain Forest
Having lived in Oregon, we have seen plenty of temperate rain forest along Oregon’s coastal range. But we wanted to check out the west side of the park’s interior anyhow. There are a few short nature trails that start from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. The loop trails go through old-growth firs, cedars, and hemlocks. Even in late summer, the forest was quite lush with ferns and mosses. It was an enjoyable walk.
There are over 70 miles of remote coastlines in Olympic National Park. We spent several days in the town of La Push inside the Quileute Indian Reservation. From there, it’s easy access to several beaches—First Beach (in La Push), Rialto Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach.
If you’re not familiar with beaches in the Pacific Northwest, these are not the places where you go sunbathing. It’s a put-on-your-jacket-and-go-explore-rock-and-tide-pool kind of places. So, come prepare even in the middle of the summer.
Salt Creek Recreation Area
For the visit to the northern part of the national park, we camped at Salt Creek Recreation Area, about 20-minute drive from Port Angeles. From the campground, it’s an easy walk to Tongue Point where you can explore tide pools.
La Push is a small beachside town in the Quileute Indian Reservation. There aren’t much services in terms of gas and grocery. However, the town of Forks on Hwy 101 has most services you would need while on this side of the peninsula. We stayed at Quileute Oceanside Resort. It was foggy most days that we were there. Luckily, on our last evening the fog lifted enough for a spectacular sunset we had been missing.