21 Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park, Washington

Now that you’ve decided to go to Olympic National Park, you’re probably wondering what to do in Olympic National Park, WA.  With four distinct ecosystems, ranging from snow-capped mountains to wind-swept beaches, moss-covered rainforests and waterfalls, and rivers and lakes, there is a huge variety of attractions and activities to keep you busy for days.

I am a national park expert and Olympic National Park is one of my favorite parks. Here are my top picks for the best things to do at Olympic National Park.

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Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park

If you’re not sure what to do at Olympic National Park, look no further. No matter what your interests are, you’ll find something to enjoy.

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21 Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park

Top Things to Do in Olympic National Park in Winter

If you’re planning a winter trip, you’re probably trying to decide what to do at Olympic National Park in the colder months. Winter is the rainy season in most of the national park, and not the best time to visit. However, the Hurricane Ridge section of the park is a great place to go for winter activities.

21. Skiing, Olympic National Park

There is great skiing in Olympic National Park at Hurricane Ridge.

The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is a small, family-oriented ski area operated by the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club. The Hurricane Ridge ski area includes two rope tows, a poma lift, and a tubing park.

You can ski Hurricane Ridge on weekends, from early December to late March 10:00AM to 4:00PM plus MLK Day and Presidents Day.

READ MORE: Guide to Hurricane Ridge

20. Snowshoeing, Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is also the best place to go snowshoeing in Olympic National Park.

There are almost 20 routes that are ideal for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Hurricane Ridge has flat meadows above the Visitor Center that are ideal for beginners, plus many more advanced areas in the slopes and bowls around the area.

None of the Hurricane Ridge snowshoe and cross-country skiing trails are groomed, but there are two routes along unplowed routes that are easy to use. 

A phot of the Map of Hurricane Ridge in Winter

READ MORE: Buyers Guide to the Best Snowshoes for Beginners

Top Things to Do in Olympic National Park in Summer

Most people visit Olympic National Park in summer.  This is the dry season and even the rain forest isn’t that wet in summer (although it can rain at any time). It’s also the warmest season by far.  The nice(ish) weather means that there are lots of cool things to do in Olympic National Park in summer.

19. Biking, Olympic National Park

The Spruce Railroad Trail is a former railroad turned hiking and biking trail that runs the length of the north shore of Lake Crescent.  It’s a great place to cycle.

The trail is 11.2 miles round trip out-and-back (2.4 miles roundtrip to Devils’ Punchbowl), which is long for a hike, but a great distance for cycling.  

The trail runs along the bed of an old railroad that was originally built to carry spruce lumber out of the forest to build airplanes in WWI.  It wasn’t actually finished until after the war, but was then used for commercial logging until the 1950s.  

One of the highlights are two railroad tunnels. The McFee Tunnel was blasted during World War I. This is a popular place to turn around, but you can continue along all the way to the west trailhead.  The second, shorter railroad tunnel, the Daley-Rankin Tunnel is 2.8 miles from the east trailhead.

The most popular feature of this trail, however, is the Devil’s Punchbowl.  This is a small bay that is semi-closed off from the lake by a long footbridge.  The sparkling turquoise waters are perfect for a (chilly) dip on a warm day.  

There are trailheads at both ends of the trail.

18. Taking a Twilight Tour

La Push is a small town on the coast just outside Olympic National Park.  Second and Third Beaches, both inside the national park, lie just outside the town.

Why is that significant?  Well, if you’ve seen the Twilight movies, you’ll know all about La Push and the surrounding area.  

La Push is the main setting for book two of the Twilight series. This is where the werewolf Jacob taught our heroine Bella how to ride a motorcycle.

It’s hard to miss the Twilight references – there are signs and souvenirs everywhere. At the Visitor Information Center in nearby Forks, you pick up a free Twilight packet, which includes a map (which you can also get here) so you can take a self-guided tour of many places featured in the movie including their high school, Dr. Cullen’s hospital and the Swan house. 

If you’re feeling peckish and want to follow in Bella’s footsteps, you can have her favorite dish (mushroom ravioli) at her favorite restaurant, Bella Italia in Port Angeles.

17. Kayaking, Olympic National Park

What is there to do in Olympic National Park if you like being out on the water? How about kayaking?

Lake Crescent and Lake Quinault are both wonderful places to kayak.

You can rent single or tandem kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at Lake Crescent Lodge. They are first come, first served and can be rented for a half day (4 hours) or a full day (8 hours).

Half-day (4-hour) rentals are also available at Lake Quinault Lodge.

Check prices and operating hours on their website.

An alternative is to invest in an inflatable kayak.  They take up very little space when you travel and give you the freedom to kayak anywhere on either lake any time you like.  If you’re interested in learning more, check out my Buying Guide for Inflatable Kayaks.

16. Fly Fishing, Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park has over 75 miles of Pacific Coast, 800 lakes, and 4,000 miles of rivers and streams.  Some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout, and char in the Pacific Northwest are found here.  And yes, fishing is allowed.

However, if you want to go fishing in Olympic National Park, there are restrictions that you need to know about. There are specific seasons for different zones in the park, and size restrictions for various types of fish.

A Washington State Recreational Fishing License is not required to fish in Olympic National Park, with some exceptions.  Exceptions include fishing in the Pacific Ocean from shore (16 years old and over); a free Washington State catch record card is required for anyone fishing for salmon or steelhead; and a Washington State Shellfish/Seaweed license is required for harvesting shellfish from the Pacific Coastal Area.

Check the NPS website for more details and up-to-date restrictions and requirements. 

If you’d like a guided fishing tour in Olympic National Park, you can book one here.

15. Rafting, Olympic National Park

There are several rivers where you can go rafting in Olympic National Park.  From calm river floats to full on rapids, this is one of the most fun things to do near Olympic National Park.

Hoh River Rafters offer half-day trips on the Hoh River.  The rapids are Class I and II, which is pretty calm (more of a float trip than a white-water rafting trip) – suitable for novice rafters and the whole family.  The highlight is traveling on the river through the magnificent Hoh Rain Forest. 

Olympic Peninsula Raft Co also offers year-round Hoh River float trips. In addition, they also provide white water rafting trips on the Sol Duc River (mid Oct- May) and the Calawah River, which is shorter but more intense than the Sol Duc, (Oct-April).  Seasons depend on water levels.

14. Eating crab

Dungeness Crab gets its name from the town of Dungeness, which is located on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca just outside Olympic National Park.  So, what better place than here to try this local specialty!

There are plenty of restaurants in and near the national park that serve Dungeness Crab, including the Lake Crescent Lodge Restaurant, the Roosevelt Dining Room at Lake Quinault Lodge, and Downriggers on the Water in Port Angeles.

If you’re in the area in early October, don’t miss the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival.

13. Watching wildlife

There is no shortage of wildlife in and around Olympic National Park.  One of the highlights are the majestic Roosevelt Elk that are often seen from the trails in the Hoh Rainforest.  Black bears are also common. If you look down, especially after rain, you’ll likely see large yellow banana slugs.  

There are plenty of salmon and trout in the rivers – Salmon Cascades is a great place to see them jumping up a waterfall as they return to their breeding grounds.

Offshore, there are often seals and marine birds. The sea stacks and offshore islands at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are nesting grounds for tufted puffins.  Olympic National Park is also home to bald eagles, which are often sighted in the trees along the coast. 

If you want to go whale watching, Olympic National Park is a great place to go. The best time to see whales swim by the coast are during their main migration seasons April – May and October – November, though you may also see them June – September.  You can often whales from the shore. Popular whale watching sites include Kalaloch, Rialto, and Shi Shi Beaches.

Puget Sound Express offer half-day trips to go whale watching near Olympic National Park from mid-May to mid-October.

If you’re interested in seeing animals and/ or birds, it is worth having a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.

Check my buying guides:

Best Spotting Scopes for Wildlife Viewing
Best Binoculars for the Money 

12. Swimming, Olympic National Park

One of the Olympic National Park top things to do in summer is to cool off by going swimming.  You don’t want to swim in the ocean – the waters are freezing; the rip tides treacherous; and hidden rocks lurk to get you when you least expect it.

But not all is lost.  Crescent Lake is a great place to swim. Admittedly, the waters are a little chilly (OK, cold), but on a hot summer day, it can be very refreshing.  Two popular spots are at Lake Crescent Lodge and the Devil’s Punchbowl, reached along the Spruce Railroad Trail.

You can also swim in (the equally chilly) Lake Quinault.  Many of the campgrounds along South Shore Road have day use areas where you can access the waterfront even if you are not staying in the campground. On the north shore, the July Creek Picnic Area also has lake access.

For something warmer, there is a swimming pool at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.

11. Photographing Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is a photographer’s dream.  

There are alpine scenes with meadows of wildflowers and snow-capped mountain peaks at Hurricane Ridge (which is also where to catch the best sunrise in Olympic National Park). 

On the coast, jagged sea stacks and over-sized driftwood will take your breath away. In the rain forests, moss-draped trees, enormous ferns and scenic waterfalls will have you taking so many photos it will take you hours to edit them (well, if you’re like me, anyway).

There are just so many different landscapes and so many incredible opportunities for stunning photos worthy of a double-page spread in National Geographic magazine! 

READ MORE: Best Views in Olympic National Park

Top 10 Things to Do in Olympic National Park

OK, now we are down to the top ten! The best of the best …

10. Discovering History

A man on the small road between two cabins and behind are trees in Small road surrounded by mossy trees, ferns, and other trees in Kestner Homestead - Maple Glade Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park is filled with fascinating history.  Cycle or hike the Spruce Railroad Trail along what used to be a railway used to transport logged wood and pass through two historic tunnels.  

Or step back in time and discover your pioneering spirit at the Kestner Homestead.  The site has many of the original buildings of this early homestead and you can gain a real sense of just how hard life was for the settlers. 

Of course, native Americans lived in the area long before that.  Eight tribes have traditional associations to lands now in Olympic National Park and visiting there is an opportunity to learn more about them and their history and lifestyle.

READ MORE: Kestner Homestead Trail Guide

9. Learning about the temperate rain forest

Small road surrounded by mossy trees and ferns in Hoh River Trail Olympic National Park

When you’re deciding what to do in the Olympic National Park, don’t overlook the opportunities to learn about the environments in the park, including the temperate rain forest.  There are many ranger-led programs including talks and hikes.

There are also several trails that have interpretive signs along the way explaining about the environment. 

A great example is the Moments in Time Trail near Lake Crescent Lodge.  The easy loop has multiple signs explaining how nurse logs help regenerate the forest, how to identify different trees by their bark, how logging affected the forest, etc.  There are also signs giving information about tidal pools at the beaches.

READ MORE: Best Lake Crescent Hikes

8. Watching Salmon Leaping

Two salmon jumping over the water in Sol Duc Salmon Cascades, Olympic National Park

Soon after being born at the bottom of Sol Duc Falls on the Sol Duc River, coho and chinook salmon head down river and into the Pacific Ocean, where they spend most of their lives.  After a couple of years roaming the ocean, they head back to their spawning grounds to lay or fertilize eggs before dying.  

In between their spawning ground and the ocean is the powerful 11-foot Salmon Cascades. 

One of the most fun things to do in Olympic National Park is to watch schools of salmon gathering their energy in calm pools of water below the falls then making the incredible leap up the waterfall. 

March – May and September – October are the best times to see the salmon leaping. Salmon Cascades is on the road to Sol Duc Falls.

READ MORE: Salmon Cascades Guide

7. Gazing at Giants

beams of sunlight through tall trees and a trail on Ancient Groves nature Trail in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is a great place to see giants.  Not mythical creatures, but no less impressive.

There are all kinds of giants to see in Olympic National Park. 

At the southern end of Third Beach, you’ll see a group of sea stacks and small islands rising dramatically out of the sea. This is called the Giants Graveyard and provides a stunning backdrop for the southern views. It’s also an excellent habitat for resident seals and coastal seabirds.

The other giants are the trees.  Quinault Valley is often called The Valley of the Giants because of the large number of record-breaking trees found there.

The five champion trees are: the Largest Sitka Spruce in the World; the Largest Douglas Fir in the World; the Largest Yellow Cedar in the U.S; the Largest Western Hemlock in the U.S., and the Largest Mountain Hemlock in the U.S. Some of them are deep in the back country, but the world’s largest Sitka Spruce Tree is very accessible and a popular spot on the scenic Lake Quinault Loop Drive.

Not record breaking, but nonetheless still impressive are the towering trees in the Ancient Grove, easily seen on an easy loop trail through the forest in Sol Duc Valley.


Third Beach Guide
Fun Facts About Olympic National Park
Ancient Grove Trail Guide

6. Taking a Scenic Drive, Olympic National Park

A rocky road surrounded by trees in Lake Quinault Loop Drive, Olympic National Park
Unpaved road on the Lake Quinault Loop drive

Are you wondering what can you do at Olympic National Park if you prefer not to hike or have mobility difficulties? How about a scenic drive.  Highway 101 loops around the Olympic Peninsula and connects the major areas of interest in the national park. 

For an even more scenic drive, head down to the Quinault Valley.  A 31-mile loop goes around Quinault Lake and along the shores of part of the Quinault River.  The road is partially unpaved. 

Highlights of driving in Olympic National Park include the Maple Glade and Kestner Homestead Loop Trails in the national park, two beautiful waterfalls, the world’s largest spruce tree, and the gorgeous Lake Quinault Lodge.  Plus, of course, the lovely lake and possibly some of the best salmon you’ll ever eat at Salmon House Restaurant.

READ MORE: Lake Quinault Loop Drive

Top 5 Things to Do in Olympic National Park

OK, we are on the home stretch.  Here are my top five favorite things to do in the national park!

5. Soaking in Hot Springs, Olympic National Park

I love soaking in hot natural mineral spring water.  And I love that you can do this in Olympic National Park.  

The spring water from rain and melting snow seeps through cracks in the sedimentary rocks.  It then mingles with gasses coming from cooling volcanic rocks and then rises to the surface along larger cracks or fissures, creating these natural hot springs.

The best hot springs in Olympic National Park are found at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.  Although there are several hot springs in the Olympic National Park, these are the only ones that are easily accessible. There are three mineral hot spring soaking pools, all with different temperatures, plus a cool freshwater pool.

There are several 1.5-hour sessions available throughout the day. 

4. Beach Camping, Olympic National Park

Beach camping makes the tour memorable in Olympic National Park as tall trees surrounding the area makes the stay relaxing.

Beach camping in Olympic National Park is a great way to experience the mythical energy and jaw-dropping scenery of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  Of course, you can visit the beaches as a day trip, but camping overnight among the driftwood is a magical experience.  

Unless restrictions are in place, you can use beach driftwood to make a fire and spend the evening toasting marshmallows around the fire or gazing up at the stars.  Then wake up to the sounds of waves breaking on the beach.

Be sure to pitch your tent above the high-water mark.  This will typically be among driftwood at the edge of the beach near the forest. 

Wilderness Camping Permits are required for overnight camping on the beaches in Olympic National Park. 


Best Beaches in Olympic National Park
Beach Camping Packing List
Best Beach Tents: Buyers Guide

3. Chasing Waterfalls, Olympic National Park

A wooden bridge above the river surrounded by rocks, trees, and various plants in Sol Duc Falls Olympic National Park

Chasing waterfall is one of the best things to do in Olympic Peninsula.  There are dozens of stunning waterfalls in the national park and national forest that covers most of the peninsula.

The most famous waterfall in the park has to be Sol Duc Falls.  The falls are only 40 feet tall, but split into three of four streams, and angle across a ravine due to a 90-degree turn in the river. Surrounded by lush forest, they are breathtaking.

Another popular waterfall is the 90-foot horsetail waterfall, Marymere Falls.  Located near Lake Crescent at the far end of a 1.7-mile lollipop loop, the beautiful waterfall is a highlight.  There are two viewing areas.  

These are just two of many waterfalls you can see in and around the national park. 

READ MORE: Best Waterfalls in Olympic National Park

2. Tide Pooling, Olympic National Park

Green Anemones in the water in Beach 4 in Olympic National Park

Tide pools are created when water gets trapped in rocks when the tides go out.  These pools are home to all sorts of creatures and exploring them is one of the top things to do in the Olympic National Park with kids (or without).  

Bright green anemones wave soft fronds in the flowing waters.  Purple and ochre-colored sea stars pile up on top of each other. Sharp barnacles and mollusks cling to the steep sides of rocks.  Tiny hermit crabs scuttle along the bottom of shallow pools in borrowed shells … These hidden worlds teem with life.

The tidal pools are best explored about 30 minutes before the low tides to allow maximum time there. Kalaloch Beach 4, Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach are popular beaches for tide pooling.

READ MORE: Best Tide Pools in Olympic National Park

1. Hiking, Olympic National Park

Small road in the middle of trees, and behind are mountains surrounded by clouds in Hurricane Hill.

If there’s one thing you must do in Olympic National Park, it’s hiking. The hiking in Olympic National Park is legendary and there is something for everyone.  Many of the best views in the national park are found on the trails.  

There are easy trails through the rainforest, short paths to the beach, and even mostly flat walks at Hurricane Ridge with spectacular mountain views.

There are also moderate hikes such as the stunning trail to Sol Duc Falls, longer coastal forest walks to Second Beach, or hillier walks on Hurricane Hill.

And, if you prefer to challenge yourself, long hikes on the Hoh River Trail, or a scramble along the coastal path south of Third Beach will get your blood pumping!

READ MORE: Best Hikes in Olympic National Park

Subscribe to regular updates with tips for planning, travel inspiration and trip ideas and get instant access to the free PDF of this guide to the
21 Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park

Travel Insurance for Olympic National Park

Hopefully, you’ve now picked your favorite things to do. Olympic National Park has such a lot to choose from, but these activities don’t come without any risk.

This is why I recommend that you get travel insurance.  This can protect you not only against medical and emergency repatriation, but can also cover things like trip cancellation, loss and/ or theft of property, etc. 

A great insurance option is Travelex.  It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now:

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Enjoy these top things to do at Olympic National Park!

What are your favorite Olympic National Park things to do?  Are there any other fun or unique things to do in Olympic National Park not listed here?  I’d love to hear about them. 

Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know (you can also pick up extra planning tips, share your photos and stories with other national park lovers and more).

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About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

Read more…

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