One Day At Olympic Overview
Learn How to Make the Most of One Day at Olympic
Olympic National Park is over 1,400 square miles—95% of that is Congressionally-designated wilderness, meaning it will remain untrammeled by man. The park protects 73 miles of rugged and pristine coastline, over 3,500 miles of rivers and streams, 60 named glaciers, over 1,200 plant species, 37 native fish species, 56 mammal species and 300 bird species. This land is special and unique, and you could spend months and months exploring it’s mountains, rainforests and coastline. But, most visitors have time and budget restraints that prevent them from spending more than a couple of days in the park. Even if you only have one day to enjoy the park, you are still able to see the highlights and experience this amazing region. This guide will share tips and recommendations for how to make the most of just one day in Olympic National Park.
BEST WAY TO SEE OLYMPIC IN ONE DAY
Olympic National Park hosts many unique ecosystems, sometimes it feels like this is three parks in one. There are ten main areas to visit in Olympic, they are briefly described below. You can check out the Getting Around page on the National Park Service’s website for mileage and time estimates between each area of the park. It is not possible to visit each location in just one day, so you may want to do some research to see which areas are best for you.
1. Hurricane Ridge: great for hiking—characterized by ridgetop traverses to subalpine lakes and valleys
2. Elwha Valley: ideal for hiking and fishing—known for it’s watershed restoration
3. Sol Duc Valley: great for hiking and fishing—the Sol Duc River runs through the valley and is a highway for spawning salmon, also, the Sol Duc Hot Springs are located here.
4. Quinault Rainforest: a perfect hiking location—known as a “wilderness getaway to alpine meadows, jeweled lakes and ice-carved peaks”
5. Hoh Rainforest: ideal for hiking—this is the most famous temperate rainforest in the world, and one of the best habitats for wildlife
6. Lake Crescent: perfect for hiking and boating—characterized by it’s cold, clear, glacially-carved lake surrounded by mountains
7. Lake Ozette: ideal for hiking—known for it’s sea stacks, crystal-clear lake and old-growth forest
8. Mora and Rialto Beaches: great for hiking and tidepooling—characterized by it’s rugged and rocky beaches, tidepools, sea stacks and crashing waves
9. Ruby and Kalaloch Beaches: great for hiking and wildlife viewing—home to Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
10. Staircase: ideal for hiking—known for it’s Douglas firs, old-growth rainforest and the meandering North Fork of the Skokomish River
SUNRISE IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
The Olympic Peninsula is stunningly unique at all times of the day, but especially so at sunrise. This is one of the best places in the world to watch the mountains spring to life with the day’s first light, or to watch the sun rise over the horizon with sea stacks scattered along the shore and an ancient old-growth forest behind you. Below are the best locations for sunrise in Olympic National Park:
Hurricane Hill: For an easy and paved uphill hike that rewards you with spectacular views, the trail to Hurricane Hill is a great place to watch the sun rise. The trailhead is at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, located in the northern section of the park, about 15 miles south of Port Angeles. As you gain elevation, you can peer down on Elwha Valley; and at the peak of Hurricane Hill, you get fantastic vistas of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the surrounding mountains. At sunrise, these mountains are slowly illuminated one by one as the sun crests over the ridgeline.
Sunrise Ridge: This trail offers sweeping views of Elwha Valley, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and all of the surrounding mountains, just like Hurricane Hill, but without the crowds or paved path. In addition to it’s expansive views, Sunrise Ridge is also known for it’s abundant wildflower display and being home to many types of wildlife. The trail begins at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, on the Mount Angeles Trail, and is 2.6 miles to the summit. Once at the summit, you can watch the mountains come to life as the rising sun awakens them with it’s first light.
Cape Flattery: Located in Neah Bay, Cape Flattery is the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States. With permits (obtained at the Makah Tribal Museum or Washburn’s General Store) in hand, Cape Flattery is fairly accessible to reach. From the trailhead, you will hike on a gravel path that turns to boardwalk, and at .7 miles, you will reach a point where the trail breaks into three spur trails. Each of these spurs takes you to a different lookout on the point, all equipped with a viewing platform.
SUNSET IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Make sure you stick around for the sunset in Olympic National Park. This is one thing that you do not want to miss! Below are the best places to watch sunset in the park:
Second Beach: It is a 4 mile roundtrip hike to Second Beach, so make sure you bring a headlamp for the hike back to your car after it gets dark. Start at the trailhead just outside La Push. The trail starts with a short uphill climb, until you reach a crest at .3 miles and the trail begins a descent down a series of switchbacks. Once you reach the bottom of the switchbacks, you are on the beach, and the views are incredible—with sea stacks as far as the eye can see. You can mosey around the beach; head south for Teahwhit Head, or north to an arch and rocky outcropping. This is a fantastic place for sunset— the expansive sandy beach with towering sea stacks is very photographers’ dream.
Lake Crescent: This is a perfect place to watch sunset, because it is quite effortless, and is a great way to cap the day spent kayaking or boating on Lake Crescent. With the setting sun casting shadows on the surrounding mountains, making silhouettes on the lake, and the crystal-clear water glowing with the vibrant colors of the sun, this is one sunset location that you do not want to miss! Lake Crescent is located in the northern section of the park, 17 miles west of Port Angeles.
Ruby Beach: Easily accessible, with a parking area right off the road between the Hoh Rainforest and Kalaloch Lodge, and a set of stairs leading you to the beach, Ruby Beach is a great place to watch sunset if you are pressed for time or on your way out of the park. The coastline here provides classic Olympic Peninsula views of sea stacks, rugged waves crashing along the rocky beach, and the outline of a wise, old-growth forest.
TAKE A HIKE
There are over 600 miles of trails in Olympic National Park, so whichever you chose, you are sure to experience the majesty of this spectacular region. There are many different ecosystems within the park, so we have broken down our recommendations into three categories: mountains, rainforest and coast. For a comprehensive list, see our favorite trails. Before hitting the trail, make sure you check out the current trail conditions. A great way to explore Olympic National Park is on a guided day hike. With a local and experienced guide, you are guaranteed the trip of a lifetime, as the guide shares their knowledge of the biology, geology and cultural history of this special region! Check out all of Wildland Trekking’s trips in Olympic National Park here.
BEST HIKES IN THE MOUNTAINS
1. HURRICANE HILL: This easy, 3.2 mile, out-and-back hike begins at the trailhead at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. The trail is paved most of the way, and exuberant wildflowers bloom along the path for most of the summer. As you gain elevation, you can peer down on Elwha Valley; and at the peak of Hurricane Hill, you get fantastic vistas of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the surrounding mountains. Take your time soaking in the views on Hurricane Hill, and keep an eye out for friendly Olympic Marmots basking in the sun.
2. MAIDEN PEAK: Start your hike at the Obstruction Point Trailhead, just before the Deer Park Ranger Station. This is a moderately-strenuous, 9 mile roundtrip hike, taking you on one of the highest trails in Olympic National Park. Obstruction Point trail descends 400 feet in the first mile, and then gains it back, climbing 700 feet in the second mile. As you reach the base of Green Mountain, you are treated to some great vistas, but this is just a small glimpse of what is yet to come. Traversing Green Mountain, the meadow starts to open up, and you get broad and expansive views on all sides. To get to the summit of Maiden Peak, you will have to scramble up a boulder field with no trail, but once you are at the top, the views are incredible. You can look down on the Grand Ridge trail winding up the side of Elk Mountain, as well as Mount Angeles, Klahhane Ridge, Hurricane Ridge and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
BEST HIKES IN THE RAINFOREST
1. MINERAL CREEK FALLS: Start this 5.6 mile hike at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center. The Hoh Rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the list also includes Grand Canyon and Machu Picchu), and is the most famous temperate rainforest in the world. It receives 140 inches of rain each year and is dominated by fantastic old-growth trees, covered with mosses and ferns. Mineral Creek Falls is easy and pleasant hike through giant Sitka Spruces and Bigleaf Maples. At just under one mile, a spur trail takes you to the beaches of the Hoh River. Once on the main trail again, you will continue to a bridge over Mineral Creek and it’s small, but impressive waterfall. This is a great spot for a snack before turning around and heading back to the trailhead.
2. PONY BRIDGE: This trail through Enchanted Valley begins at the Graves Creek Trailhead. Hiking along the North Fork of the Quinault River, this trail to Pony Bridge will take you deep into the rainforest without much effort or elevation gain. Sitka spruce, mosses, ferns and berries grow abundantly along the path, which leads you up a ridge, and down the other side. A short spur trail leads you to an incredible overlook of the vibrant river flowing through a narrow gorge. Once back on the main trail, you will continue down to the bridge, giving you an up-close and personal experience with the brilliant blue-green river. Take a break here; enjoy the beautiful scenery and eat a snack, then simply turn around and head to the trailhead the same way you came.
BEST HIKES ON THE COAST
1. SHI SHI BEACH: Start this 4 mile roundtrip hike at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, located in Neah Bay, at the north coast of the peninsula. The trail winds through cedar and spruce forests, over boardwalks, through mud, and brings you to Shi Shi Beach. When you finally emerge, you get a wide-open view of Shi Shi Beach before descending 200 feet to be on it. Once on the beach, you have the chance to go tidepooling and peer into the clear water, teeming with intertidal communities, sometimes with hundreds of organisms crammed into a space the size of a dinner plate. Take your time on Shi Shi Beach and explore all the nooks and crannies of the shoreline. This is an out-and-back hike, so when you are ready, simply turn around and head back the way you came.
2. HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: Begin at the trailhead at Rialto Beach. Hole-in-the-Wall is a Swiss-cheese looking rock face, created by waves that carve away softer rock, leaving a hole in the harder rock. The opening is large enough for a person to stand beneath, and offers spectacular photographic opportunities to capture the sea stacks framed in the opening. This easy stroll along the coast is just 3 miles roundtrip, and takes you past some of the most phenomenal features that the Olympic Coast has to offer. Ancient, fern and moss covered sea stacks are scattered throughout the water, birds are soaring in the air and scavenging on the beach, and a lush old-growth forest is alive with wisdom and mystery. If you arrive at Hole-in-the-Wall at low tide, you can walk through the rocky opening, and gaze into the tidepools, vibrant with colorful sea urchins and sea cucumbers. However, if you arrive at high tide, you can take the overland route above the rock to get a panoramic view. Make sure you know the times of high and low tide, and take a look at a tide chart before you get started!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
With over 3,500 miles of streams and rivers, fishing is a very popular activity in Olympic National Park. The best locations for fishing include: Bogachiel River, Elwha River, Hoh River, Lake Crescent, Lake Ozette and Seven Lakes Basin. Boating (kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding) is also a very popular activity. The best locations for boating activities are: Lake Ozette and Lake Crescent; both have rentals available on site. Make sure you stop by a Visitor Center for visitor information and exhibits about Olympic’s unique habitats, as well as, guided walks and interpretive programs.
Join a Guided Hiking Adventure
Olympic National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Olympic: the coast, the mountains, wildlife, solitude, adventure and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation. Guided Olympic National Park treks are all-inclusive which covers permits, local transportation (excluded on certain tours), meals, equipment, safety systems, and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allows visitors to maximize their time in Olympic and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.
OLYMPIC ADVENTURE TOURS
GUIDED BACKPACKING ADVENTURES: these are for people interested in an authentic Olympic National Park adventure away from the roads and crowds.
INN-BASED PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
CAMPING-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of the Olympic Coast on wonderful outdoor vacations.
DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Olympic National Park on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park’s best trails.