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There aren’t many national parks that can promise mountains, lakes, beaches, and rainforests all in one natural setting – and even fewer that make them available on the same day. Granted, families must be willing to put in some road trip hours to make that happen on that day, but even driving around Olympic National Park is worth the time.
Our family is fortunate to call Seattle home, which means we have easy access to the mesmerizing beauty of the Pacific Northwest and can make a weekend trip out of the Olympic Peninsula. If you have two to three days – or even a week, is better! – your family can experience the best of Olympic National Park, knowing there’s plenty more to explore on return trips.
From the tippy top of Hurricane Ridge to the tide pools of the Pacific Coast, here’s what we do every time we make it across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula.
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Go Tide Pooling
Sea stars, anemones, and teensy crabs – your kids will ooh and aah over the funky marine creatures they’ll discover as they peer into the tide pools of the Pacific Ocean coastline. Look up and spot seals and eagles, too (maybe even gray whales migrating if it’s April). It’s an aquarium come to life.
Remember, this is the ocean, and with that comes the rising tide. Talk to a ranger at Olympic National Park visitor centers or a coastline ranger station. Pick up a tide chart, map, and watch so you can keep an eye on the waters and the time as you explore.
Again, check the hours at the ranger station to plan accordingly.
Some of our favorite tide-pooling and beachcombing spots on the Olympic Peninsula are:
- Kalaloch Beach
- Beach 4
- Ruby Beach
- Second Beach (not to be confused with Beach 2)
- Third Beach (not to be confused with Beach 3)
- Rialto Beach
- Hole-in-the-Wall (in the Mora/La Push area)
At any of these shallow-water showcases, little eyes will widen at rock crabs, wolf eels, pricklebacks, vibrant sea stars, barnacles, clams, and sea snails. Some people have even seen black bears (from a distance) roaming the shoreline.
Hike to Shi Shi Beach
You’ll quickly see why Shi Shi Beach is such a popular place. Although it’s a walk to get there, it’s a relatively easy hike (but can be muddy). Carry your younger ones in a backpack, or stretch everyone’s legs during a road trip. It’s a fantastic way to spend the better part of a morning or afternoon.
The roundtrip hike through old-growth forest clocks in around 8 miles, leading you to one of the most beautifully rugged, natural beaches you’ve ever seen. Once you hit the sand, you can go as far as you like (depending on the tide) toward the Point of Arches, an outcropping that comprises more than 30 sea stacks. Trust me, you’ll take about a thousand photos.
Even our teens can’t get enough of chasing the waves, letting the undertow pull their feet below the sand. Stick around for low tide and see what marine treasures you can locate in the pools, then set up a blanket and a picnic on the sand and just zen out to the roar of the surf. If you don’t mind hiking back by the light of your headlamp, stick around for the amazing sunset.
Where to Stay for Tide Pooling and Beach Visits
Kalaloch Lodge: With several types of accommodations, from rooms in the lodge to spacious cabins overlooking the beach, this idyllic setting will have you considering real estate on the Pacific Coast. Don’t miss the root beer floats in the restaurant!
Experience the Rainforest
Ready for green? Approximately 12 feet of rainwater falls each year on the west side of Olympic National Park. That makes for some pretty lush forests and some of the coolest landscapes your kids have ever walked through. There are four official rain forests (Hoh, Quinault, Queets, and Bogchiel), though Hoh is one of our favorite places for easy access.
A two-hour drive from Port Angeles, or less than an hour if you’re already in the Forks area, the Hoh Rainforest blends a variety of trails for all ages and abilities.
No matter your route through the rain forest, you’re guaranteed a setting reminiscent of the forest moon on Endor (where the Ewoks live in Return of the Jedi, but you knew that already, right?). Sky-soaring conifers that are larger than life, huge maple leaves, and moss-draped vines create a dense canopy, while gigantic ferns line the trail.
The 0.8-mile Hall of Mosses Trail makes a beautiful loop ideal for the youngest kids. The 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail takes you along the Hoh River, while the lengthier South Snider-Jackson Trail is 11.8 miles and 2,700 feet of elevation through the forest.
Where to Stay for a Rainforest Retreat
Hoh Valley Cabins: Nab one of four Northwest contemporary cabins set in the heart of the Hoh Rainforest in the Sol Duc Valley. Each one has a separate bedroom with a queen bed, a common area with a pull-out sofa bed, a propane fireplace, a kitchenette, and a cedar deck.
Check Out Sol Duc Falls
No matter the season, Sol Duc Falls creates a gorgeous cascade that visitors can actually view from its brink before the water falls 50 feet into a slot canyon. It’s particularly heavy in the fall rainy season or in the early spring after the snowmelt. Look for rainbows in the mist, and if it’s late fall or winter, keep an eye out for cutthroat and steelhead salmon running in the water.
The 1.6-mile roundtrip Sol Duc Falls Trail is easy enough for little kids, leading them through the temperate rainforest the whole way. Boardwalks and handrail fences make it an ideal choice for various levels of hikers in a group.
Where to Stay Near Sol Duc
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort: Choose from charming cabins or a suite in a nearby building, all with access to the relaxing hot springs. Soak in three mineral hot springs pools and one freshwater pool. The spring water that feeds the pools comes from rain and melting snow. It seeps through cracks in sedimentary rock, mixing with gasses from cooling volcanic rock. Those mineralized spring waters then rise to the surface.
Hang Out on Lake Crescent
Solidly in the top three in the list of places I would retire to in Washington State, Lake Crescent, on the Olympic Peninsula, is heavenly. Strikingly blue and staggeringly deep (up to 624 feet), the lake is incredibly clear (apparently because there is very little nitrogen in the water and, therefore, very few phytoplankton). Whether your family is seeking swimming, short trails to hike, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or just taking in the view, this is a fabulous home base within Olympic National Park.
Our greatest hits in the Lake Crescent area include:
- Hiking a mile along the easy Spruce Railroad Trail to Devil’s Punchbowl (for those who love wild swimming and don’t mind a bracing water temperature, be sure to bring along your bathing suit for a dip in this turquoise swimming hole)
- Hiking to pretty Marymere Falls, an easy trail suitable for families
- Challenging ourselves on the Mount Storm King trail, sort but steep with ropes near the summit to help gain the peak
Where to Stay on Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent Lodge: This historic lodge was built in 1915 and still exudes the charm of a turn-of-the-century hotel. Both romantic in vibe and ideal for families, the Lodge offers a variety of accommodation styles, including the popular Roosevelt Fireplace Cabins along the lake shore – the cabins are actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The full-service lodge offers dining, lake access, a beach, a gift shop, free guest parking, boat rentals, and more.
Here’s how to make a family-friendly weekend trip out of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park in Washington State.
Take in the Views from Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge is the first place I was ever truly struck by the grandeur of the Olympic Mountains and how very tiny a human is by comparison. Until then, my views had been from Seattle across Puget Sound to the striking outline of these jagged peaks. It’s another thing to stand at 5,242 feet of elevation and see the navy-blue mountains spread in front of you, including Mount Olympus.
Sadly, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center burned down in May 2023. However, the park is currently allowing a finite number of vehicles daily up the 17-mile Hurricane Ridge Road through the Heart O’ the Hills Entrance Station. After those vehicles have entered, others will be allowed in as previous cars depart. Keep in mind that there are currently no indoor facilities available at Hurricane Ridge. Current info can be found on Twitter. The road is closed in the winter as the snow makes it impassable.
Ready to go? We’ve really just scratched the surface here on what Olympic National Park offers families. We try to go back every summer – that’s how very unique it is and how compelling. For even more info, check out the national park website. Happy exploring!
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