Hiking the pristine trails of Olympic National Park is just what the doctor ordered to ease the stress brought on by the hustle and bustle of cities. Rainforest, old growth forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and a stunningly beautiful coastline provide many options, from easy to hiking.
Three full days will yield incredible wildlife, but at least five days will give you a fully immersive and highly memorable experience.
GETTING AROUND IS EASY
Seattle’s main airport, Sea-Tac, is the closest commercial airport to Olympic National Park. There are direct flights daily from most major US airports. My wife and I flew Alaska Airlines back and forth with Delta Air Lines for the return trip from San Diego.
Because the Seattle area is so popular, prices for economy and business class seats are more reasonable than one might think, and the number of miles required for mileage travelers seemed quite low. It’s easy enough to book rental cars in advance, and it’s always good to shop around for the best deals.
The medium sized Avis fit our budget perfectly. And there’s no need for old paper maps; Google shows you how to get exactly where you want to go.
RUSTIC OR QUALITY ACCOMMODATION
One of the things that makes Olympic National Park so great is that there aren’t many places to stay, which keeps the crowds small. Camping is possible in several places, but also limited. The park offers both mobile home and tent camping, as well as wilderness camping.
The Willaby Campground right on Lake Quinault in the southern part of the park looked very nice, as did the Sol Duc Campground right on the Sol Duc River in the northern part of the park. All of the campsites looked very well maintained with fire pits, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers.
The campground looked good, but we decided to stay at two different Park Lodges, Lake Quinault Lodge to the south and Lake Crescent Lodge to the north. These are not luxury accommodations, so don’t let the term Lodge fool you.
Both places offer different types of accommodation, including staying at the venue itself at varying prices. Reservations can be made online at the Olympic Lodging Experience or by phone at 1-888-896-3818.
Note that these motel-style cabins, cabins, and rooms are a bit dated, so bring earplugs. WiFi is good near the Lodges and voice and mobile data work well in most areas of the park. Don’t miss the heated pool at Lake Quinault Lodge.
DINNER IN OR TAKE AWAY
There aren’t many dining options, such as lodging, but the Lodges themselves offer a variety of dining options, including formal seating, bar service, and takeout. Nothing seemed overpriced except the alcohol.
There is a large grocery store called Thriftyway in the town of Forks along Hwy 101, about halfway between Quinault and Crescent Lodges.
A tasty restaurant just a few miles from Quinault Lodge is the Salmon House Restaurant. It’s all about salmon here, and an inspiring picnic is a good way to go, with Lake Quinault just a stone’s throw away.
Don’t miss out on that delicious marionberry, or any of the berries, cakes or cobblers that are popular in spring, summer and fall.
Another notable dining experience, but not in the park, is the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon on Hwy 101 on the east side of the park. It’s all about the oysters here; I mean the freshest and tastiest you will ever eat.
Another restaurant with great food and a view is Ocean Crest Restaurant on Hwy 109 on the coast, about 30 minutes from the Lake Quinault Lodge. This is one of those places where you wonder who the heck is in the kitchen because they sure know what they’re doing.
WALK AND WALK AGAIN
Hanging out in the cabins, especially in the atrium next to one of the grand fireplaces, can be intoxicating, but it’s the trails that offer the greatest rewards. All trails in the park are well marked and well maintained, and many have parking and restrooms.
And you don’t need a map or GPS system because the trails are easy to navigate. However, there are plenty of trail maps online to view and purchase, but it’s easy enough to pick up a free map at one of the Lodge or Park Ranger stations.
The trails are difficult with many flat trails and others that are narrower and steeper. As with all hikes, it’s best to bring a companion, water, and comfortable walking shoes. It is good to have waterproof shoes with a non-slip sole as they can get a little wet. And don’t forget that umbrella.
There are signs warning of wildlife such as Roosevelt elk, black bears and mountain lions, but we didn’t see any. We did see several black-tailed deer. But thankfully no Sasquatch sightings.
Our four favorite hikes were the Rain Forest Nature Trail and Gatton Creek Trail both near Quinault Lodge, the North Fork Sol Duc Trail on the way to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and the Barnes Creek Trail near Crescent Lodge. These trails feature lush rainforest, old-growth forest, streams, and waterfalls.
It’s certainly okay to go back and redo part of the trail, and its okay to stop, close your eyes, listen, smell, and let your body feel the air.
ABSOLUTELY NOT TO BE MISSED
The Giant Sitka Spruce near Quinault Lodge is a 1000 year old tree, 60 meters high and 5 meters in diameter, simply stunning.
Salmon Cascades is located about halfway between Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. In late summer and fall, you can see coho salmon leaping over treacherous waterfalls in an attempt to return to their spawning grounds.
The small town of La Push on the Pacific coast is a good place to take in the coastal beauty of Olympic National Park. There are many trails and sandy beaches for walking.
Sunrises and sunsets from Lake Quinault or Lake Crescent set a positive tone for a great day on the trails or a relaxing evening planning the next day’s adventures.
Different fees and tickets are charged for visiting the Olympic National Park. We used our national park and recreation area senior passes for life. No matter the cost, the benefit of experiencing wildlife up close and personal on Olympic National Park’s trails is worth it.