How To Visit Olympic National Park In A Weekend

For the last three years, Drew and I are lucky enough to live hours away from the most beautiful sprawling combination of ecosystems in the world. We’ve frequented nearby day hikes but having the time to travel and stay in the area gives you an entirely different experience. You have gorgeous, clear views of the Olympic Mountains, old-growth rain forests, the Pacific Ocean and natural wildlife.

A Few Tips Before We Get Started:

  • If you are within driving distance, know that we came from the South entrance near Aberdeen so our timeline will be simple to follow. If you’re flying into SeaTac you will need to rent a car and make sure to hit up Seattle while you’re nearby. (Stay tuned for some Seattle posts by following this blog.)
  • We used the four-day Memorial Weekend and it wasn’t as crazy-packed as we thought it would be. Keep in mind summer is the peak traveling season for this area because of the great weather and conditions so plan accordingly and be patient.
  • While it will be sunny and hot, you are in the PNW and on the coast which serves for freezing water and frigid breezes, night time is consistently cold, too. You will be near several fairly developed towns to refresh items but it’s mostly wilderness and nature which makes the views that much better! Bring lots of layers, pack food and plan on starting fires during the evening.
  • Through this post, I’m including times so you can get an idea of true-driving time and estimate how long you’ll spend at each location. Feel free to use the same outline for your own trip, if you’d like. It also might be helpful for tides and high traffic times. I hope this helps!
  • HI.KING.BOOTS. Really good hiking boots. They’re a must. I wear Salomon’s with a gel arch insert and I was still feeling sore in my feet after this. We covered well over 30-40 miles on our feet over several terrains and tennis shoes just wouldn’t cut it.
  • I got these on sale a few years ago at REI so if you have time, look around to get a discount.

  • Backpack. Even if you’re not backpacking, carrying in a small pack of snacks, map, layers and water will make the trip more enjoyable.
  • I wear a Camelbak with a built-in hydration pack. I usually carry 20-30 pounds if it’s full. Drew carries a Mystery Ranch larger pack with usually around 30-40 pounds. He loves his because he also uses it for work.

  • Bring cash. Many campsites only accept cash or check and there won’t be a front desk to run a transaction. If you’re using a card and coming from out of state you’ll want to have a back up in case it’s denied. Don’t forget to notify your bank of travel plans.
  • Discover Pass/Park Pass. Military get the pass for free; see if you’re eligible. There are several places to buy in person or you can pre-order and have it mailed.
  • The annual pass is $35. If you purchase this you get unlimited access and would save about $20 for this trip. Lots of options just look at the website to decide what you want to do.

  • Otherwise plan on paying $25/car/entrance. They prefer debit or credit cards at the gate unless you have exact change.
  • Trailblazer App. We use the free Trailblazer app by Washington Trails Association (WTA) in the app store for our hikes. You can search for criteria, length, trail closures or updates, etc. Hikers also leave reviews and post photos which is extremely helpful the closer you get to your planned hike. Download it for your trip or if you live here!

 

 

Let’s Get Started

Day 1

Many of the areas allowed on-leash dogs but you were restricted from bringing them to lookouts or trails in several locations if they weren’t banned completely. For this reason, we took our dog to a boarding kennel on Friday morning. From Yelm to Quinalt it was just over a three hour drive.

We stopped at the Quinalt Ranger Station which is right next to the Lake Quinalt Lodge. It was a historic-looking lodge and I’ve seen them offer discounts or complimentary rooms for military. We drove through the Quinalt Indian Reservation and arrived at Kalaloch Lodge at 2:30 p.m. You can pull over here to grab food or spend the night in their cabins. It offers an outlook of the beach for anyone just wanting to step out for a look. We weren’t planning on camping here since it’s first come first serve but if you drive over to the board you can see which lots are available, choose an empty lot and pay for your stay. We had a lot which was next to the beach and the restrooms. We were shielded from wind but still walked over to watch the sunset.

HEADS UP: Camping for one night at Kalaloch Campground was $22.

Kalaloch Beach is popular for it’s Tree Root Cave aka Tree of Life. Take the steps down to the  beach, turn right and walk a few hundred feet. Keep an eye on the right and you’ll see it along the bank. You can climb over driftwood and walk inside the shallow cave to look at the roots and layers of rock.

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This beach is also near Ruby Beach which we had visited in December a few years ago. Beautiful views that you should check out if you haven’t been before!

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We walked through the really fine sand for a while during low tide and saw many rocks, wood, crabs and tidepools filled with tiny creatures. During the summer, the sun doesn’t set until about 9 p.m. and even after it stays bright for a while. We setup camp, grilled hot dogs, s’mores, trail beer and a cigar from my husband’s collection. The sunset was gorgeous and it’s awesome to be the last ones in the U.S. to see it go down.

While we didn’t see any whales during this trip, keep your eye on the horizon and in the waves for blowholes and whales. People standing where we were earlier in the day saw a few!

TIP: Whale season is winter and early spring but summer has brought us some luck on the coast.

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Day 2

We didn’t set alarms during the trip but woke up at 7:30 each morning. We made a campfire to heat up pre-made breakfast burritos and walked to the beach for a last look before breaking down camp.

TIP: Breakfast burritos were awesome sources of protein, filling and delicious with taco sauce! Mine were wrapped in foil and the tortilla would stick when heated up. I would wrap them in wax paper and foil, freeze, let cool in cooler and before you heat them up remove wax paper. This might help.

We left Kalaloch Campground at 10:20 a.m. and an hour along the coastline to the Hoh Rainforest which felt like a long, winding drive until we reached the entrance of the Olympic National Park. At 11:40 a.m. we were parked at the overflow lot next to the Hoh Rainforest’s Visitor Center. This was one of the busiest areas we had hiked up here since it’s easy for families and offers longer backcountry hikes for the adventurous.

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I really wish we could have spent more time here to make it to Glacier Meadows and summit Mt. Olympus. We warmed up on the Hall of Mosses before heading out on the Hoh River Trail. We had a fairly easy trek out to Five Mile Island with a few elevation gains and minor obstacles. We stopped for a break at a waterfall on the way in where we climbed to the top for a quick snack.

During the hike there are a few chances to step out on the river and get a view of the Olympics. We didn’t see any large wildlife but made noise and conversation as we walked since you are in cougar and bear country. They have been spotted so the easiest way to avoid surprise is calling out or clapping now and then. It is a popular trail. Once we made it to Five Mile, I ate my first MRE next to the Hoh River. The edge of the river was filling up with campers settling in for the night but no one noticed a baby deer who came out to the meadow to graze.

Hiking to Five Mile Island and back is 10.6 round trip, added with Hall of Mosses we went a total of 11.5 miles in 4 hours 20 minutes. This was mostly taking pictures and stopping to look at the scenery but we keep a pretty good pace throughout.

 

When we got back to our car there was an elk just across the field who came out to graze. We left the Hoh and drove to Forks, WA. Forks recent claim to fame has been the Twilight novels and movies and there were lists of filming locations along with numerous shops and signs designated to them. We even got a radio station named Twilight. There’s a grocery store on the edge of town where we grabbed a few things then arrived at the perfectly secluded camping area, Last Chance Campground. Veronica owns the green pasture along with some chickens and horses we woke up to each morning. It had a port-a-pot, lots of space and running water for simple things like rinsing dishes or washing hands. There’s a wild elk herd that comes onto and nearby the campground so you will get plenty of close-ups of them. We also saw several bald eagles flying and perching in the trees.

This campsite is minutes from the highway and within 30-40 minutes of all hikes and beaches we planned on seeing for the next two days. Watching the sunset in this little valley next to the mountains was beautiful. The moon was so bright it drowned out the stars but s’mores with Reeses tasted just as good! I prepped meat for walking tacos with chip snack bags which were the perfect meal after a long day of hiking.

 

Day 3

We woke up to chickens, birds and a bright, hot sun. The elk herd was at the fenceline looking at me as I stepped out of the tent. Veronica gives you lots of free firewood so we were able to keep morning and evening fires going, no problem. Kalaloch had a grate over their firepit but luckily we had brought our own grate from our firepit. I warmed up cinnamon rolls in a pie tin, breakfast burritos, jetboil coffee and some watermelon. We saw an eagle fly overhead while eating and it landed in a tree above the elk herd. A baby elk yelled out and it was the coolest experience to be in the middle of it all like that.

At 10 a.m. we left for the iconic Rialto beach. We got there just before the scheduled high tide at noon so it was fairly simple to find a parking spot.

TIP: Make sure to check the tides before you go or else some locations will be impassable.

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This is all rocks so definitely wear your walking shoes and pack flip flops if you’d like. It’s 1.5 mile hike out to Hole-in-the-Wall but you’ll see lots of cool rocks, driftwood, fallen trees, campers and hikers along the way.

We sat down on some fallen trees right in front of the rock formations to air out our shoes (those waves will sneak up on ya) and have a snack. I believe the rock formation was Cake Island. While we were there we saw eagles, a sea otter, lots of birds/ducks and a seal! By the time we got back to the truck it was PACKED. If you’re able to go earlier to avoid the crowds, I would suggest it.

There were lots of leashed dogs allowed here, in case you were wanting to bring your pup along.

We left at 2 p.m. for Second Beach and arrived there at 2:30 p.m. It’s out on a two-lane road so your best best is the overflow parking at the top of the hill (you’ll see a sign). The regular lot was full but it does drive through to overflow, heads up if you decide to check them out. Just allow a few minutes to look and take the first open spot you see. It’s a novice hike, about two miles in, with a few steep inclines and switchbacks but I saw so many people do this, you’ll be more than fine.

It’s the best beach we’ve been to here so highly recommend this is a must-see for you!

The hike through the forest is standard PNW but you will hear the ocean as you get closer before you see it. As you breakout on the ridge you catch a glimpse through the trees then the base of the trail opens into an arched entry to the beach, perfectly merging the ecosystems together like a dream. We loved this beach because the only way to get there and see it is a hike. You also have to climb and jump over a wide area of driftwood to get to the sand. The water was freezing. We saw tons of hermit crabs, urchins, and anemones in the tide pools and tons of eagles in the sky flying mainland to the Crying Lady rock and islands.

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This beach was covered in really fine, soft sand and it was huge! There are lots of campers and visitors on this beach but it’s very expansive so you’ll have a lot of space to play or walk around.

We ended up climbing up a smaller looking Crying Lady rock (maybe 50 feet tall?)

We hiked back up to the truck at 5 p.m. ready to try out a restaurant Veronica had told us about. She said ‘a restaurant’ and it was clear there was only one when we got into La Push. The tribes have a strong presence in these areas and there are several signs with their language, images and historical markers to represent them.

We ate at the Rivers Edge and were amazed at how much wildlife we saw in the span of a few minutes. We watched sea lions and seals catch and eat fish by slapping them against the water. Each time they did this, seagulls and birds would flock over to try and mooch off them. Fisherman would throw their chum in the water and the animals would go NUTS trying get a piece of the meat. That’s when the eagles would swoop down and catch the fish with their talons. It was the best dinner show we’ve ever seen! The food was fresh but don’t expect five-star service here…it’s a small fishing and lumber town, they have their own ways 😉

That night at 7 p.m. we stopped at their creek store for some ice and goodies. They had several paintings and totem poles here and was one of the more convenient options before you drive back into Forks from the North.

 

Day 4

Four days?! Yep, we like getting a lot done on our trips and filling our days while we’re at places. This was Memorial Day Monday so we were going to head up North to close out the loop of what we’ve seen before and hit some old favorites. By this day my sunburn was hurting very bad (LOL) even though I continually put on sunscreen. siigghhhh, cue ‘That’s Life’ song.

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We heated up the usual cinnamon rolls, breakfast burritos, instant coffee and cleaned up camp. We were out at 10 a.m. heading north toward Lake Crescent. It took us about 40 minutes to get there. I really wanted to visit the Sol-Duc Falls & Hot Springs but that would require more time than we had. The highway drives you along the lake for miles and seeing the blue of the water and the tall mountains around it is serene. This is another popular area for water sports, hikers and vacationers. There’s lots to see including parts of the Discovery Trail, PCT and the Lake Crescent Lodge. We did a short, easy almost two mile hike to Marymere Falls. This waterfall was easy to get to and offers a great view that would be occurring whether people are looking or not.

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I would have loved to do the Storm King hike that you access from this trail but we had other hiking plans for the day. We already talked about going up another time.

We took the end of the trail to the Lake Crescent Lodge which we were so glad we did because of the history. The lobby, bar and screened in porch have a quaint lodge feel with the historical colonial-style cabins lining up the sidewalk. While there we found out the lodge was built in 1915 as one of the first buildings in the Olympic National Park. Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed there and discussed the proposed Olympic National Park with Park Service and Forest Service advisors. Following his tour of the Peninsula, the President signed authorization for the creation of Olympic National Park in 1938. We found all this out from photos in the lobby but you can get more history here.

After all the walking around it was 12:40 when we got back to the truck and a quick 20 minute drive over to Port Angeles. We had been to Port Angeles two years ago when Drew’s family visited. We drove up for a day trip to go whale watching and ate at the Next Door GastroPub before heading to Hurricane Ridge and back home.

The next summer Drew and I took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles during sunset and saw several whales pop up.

This time Drew and I decided to go back up to Hurricane Ridge hoping for a clearer day

(It seems that there are always clouds in the mountains but the weather has always been different when we break above them. No matter what, drive up!)

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Our last visit was during July so we were sort of surprised to see snow up there during May. It was covering many of the paths we hiked last time. You are high up and it’s named ‘Hurricane’ because of the wind so wear something warm, no matter the time of year. Deer walk freely around the parking lot and trails. This is an area you can have dogs at one lookout next to the Visitor’s Center but not at the Northern lookout point. We heard a few disappointed visitors so if you did bring your dog I would suggest finding a playdate/daycare for the day. The trails are simple but do get a little steep. You can get to several points for valleys, meadows, to view Canada and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

TIP: I did get Canadian roaming charges and you can pick up Canadian radio stations so if you’re worried then put your phone on Airplane mode.

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During this trip, Drew and I looked out and saw some amazing ridge trails. We decided to go check it out and found the Hurricane Hill Trail. Drive to the back of the Visitor’s Center and there is a very narrow, no guard rail, winding road about one mile to the trail entrance. We had to find a spot in the overflow lot but it was 1/4 mile walk so nothing awful. We wore our packs and you will be working so we wore minimal layers. Hurricane Hill might be one of my favorite hikes and it’s definitely in our Top Five.

It’s 3.2 miles roundtrip but our GPS told us we walked about 4 miles in 1.5 hours. It was a gorgeous day, well-maintained trail with some snow to easily navigate over and lots of people. We saw several deer and chipmunks on our way up and I spotted a black bear in the meadow across the valley where we were headed (he was gone by the time we were going back down.)

At the peak we noticed several marmots and you can hear them squealing. From a distance this does look like you’re on a narrow ridge, making for steep views and great perspective photos but you never feel like you’re in trouble up top. We stopped a lot for photos and just to look at different areas the farther along we hiked in.

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Hurricane Hill Summit

While most hikes in the PNW have you going through deep forest switchbacks, this was a gravel and dirt path and you’re out in the open for nearly all of it. When at the top you’ll definitely be throwing on your coat but sit on the outcrops to look down at PA, across the Strait at Canada or over the range and down at a further river trail.

Hurricane Hill Summit

It’s breathtaking. This isn’t so steep that it kills your knees on the way down but another hike that will be more comfortable with proper shoes. If you have kids or just wanted to get out for a view you can always go out part of the way before heading back in.

We had to go back to the Next Door Gastropub for ole times sake and, even though it was super busy, we waited thirty minutes to sit down and we’re glad we did. We got a few local beers, Tiger eings (small but SO good!) then burgers and fries we long-awaited all weekend. We judge places based on their fries and Next Door ranks in our Top List for Washington. (Wow. Huge honor, right?!)

We had enough sun to drive back home to Olympia/Lacey and went through Hoodsport as we had a million times. There are lots of hikes here if you’re looking for a place to stop and visit. We always end Hoodsport hikes at the Hoodsport Coffee Company to treat yo’self with coffee and/or ice cream before heading back. There were also Orcas reported in the Hood Canal recently but we didn’t spot any during our drive.

 


That was our 4-day weekend trip exploring the Olympic Peninsula! It is such a unique experience to be around people who are there to enjoy the scenery and adventurous nature of the upper left corner. If you have kids (maybe middle school or above?) they would easily be able to navigate these hikes but we saw everyone from toddlers to elders in walkers getting out to explore.

Nearly everything was free. We filled up gas one time and besides food and drink, didn’t pay a thing for any other activities making this a super valuable low-cost trip for couples or families.

We’ve lived here for three years and are sad to go. Although we’ve used every available weekend to explore the area there is always more to do. Every single day here leaves me grateful and I hope my friends and family get to experience it. I hope this gave you insight for your trip and please let me know if you have any comments or questions. Let me know what you think!

 

From our trail beer to yours, Cheers!

Marin

PS: Want to check out my real-time photos and videos? Follow me on Instagram.

 

3 thoughts on “How To Visit Olympic National Park In A Weekend

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