Seattle and Olympic National Park

Discover different worlds in the beautiful landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.
August 17, 2015Long Weekend
– Pete Zaidel/NPS

Just a short drive from Seattle, visitors can catch a glimpse of some of North America’s incredible biodiversity. Snow-capped mountains serve as a backdrop for grand adventures with a vision of neighboring Canada in the distance; the still, quiet of the rainforest shows there are more shades of the color green than even imagined, and the sparkling sand and cool waters of Pacific beaches provide a stunning end to a whirlwind two-day tour of Olympic National Park. By building in extra time, a tour can include some of the great historical and cultural sites of the Emerald City. 

Ruby Beach at Olympic National Park

Day 1: Exploring Klondike Gold Rush in Seattle
If you can arrive in Seattle in the morning, there are many sights to see throughout the city before you embark upon your Olympic adventure. In addition to the popular tourist sites like the Space Needle, the Chihuly Gardens, and the Pike Place Market, you can soak up a little history at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, a national park in the Pioneer Square area of the city.

The exhibits at this national park tell the story of Seattle’s crucial role in launching thousands of Stampeders to Alaska in hopes they’d their fortune in gold. You can easily spend an hour exploring the museum and then walk around Seattle in search of a fun dinner spot.

Day 2: Hiking Hurricane Ridge
There are so many things to see and do in Olympic National Park that you could easily take a whole week to explore, but if you have two days and are willing to put in some driving miles, you can get a taste of the beauty and variety of this jewel of the Pacific Northwest.

There are several itineraries you could choose to visit Olympic National Park, but consider going the “counter-clockwise route” from Seattle and driving about 3.5 hours to spend your first day at Hurricane Ridge, just outside Port Angeles, WA.

Snow-Topped Hurricane Ridge Mountain at Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge features several hiking trails just off of the visitor center parking lot that give you breathtaking views of the snow-covered Olympic mountains, with 7,980-foot Mount Olympus off in the distance. If you’re feeling adventurous, the short but steep High Ridge Trail takes you along a mountain ridge to a gorgeous overlook called Sunrise Point. On a clear day you can see across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Canada. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits and a regular schedule of ranger programs, as well as a snack bar for a quick meal and a great gift shop with souvenirs perfect for the entire family.

You can spend the night at any of the hotels, motels, or B&Bs in Port Angeles and enjoy dinner in a beautiful setting near the water. There are several cute restaurants and shops to check out in the early evening, but be sure to check their hours before you go as many places close pretty early. This is the perfect opportunity to try some salmon!

Day 3: Lake Crescent, the Hoh River Trail, and Ruby Beach
Be up early on your second day as there are a lot of miles to cover, but you will see some beautiful places along the way.

Leave Port Angeles via US-101W for a roughly 30-minute drive to Lake Crescent. Drive along this glacial lake until you reach Lake Crescent Road, where you can find the Storm King Ranger Station and a small parking area with bathrooms and access to a few trails. Here you can walk through the woods along the lakeshore and admire the stunningly blue, clear water. And, if you have time, be sure to stop in at the Lake Crescent Lodge for a late breakfast.

Lake Crescent at Olympic National Park

Next you will make your way through the city of Forks (watch out for vampires!) to the Hoh Rainforest. Enjoy the rare beauty of this temperate rainforest by exploring the Hall of Mosses trail, a .8-mile loop that brings you deep into the heart of the lush, green forest.

For a more significant hike, you can explore the Hoh River Trail, which has several options including a 17.4-mile journey to Glacier Meadows with great views of Mount Olympus. Note that there is no food available for purchase in this part of the park, so when you pass the Hard Rain Café with its sign that says it’s the last food available before the park, pay attention. This is a quirky, fun stop with great burgers and souvenirs.

Trees on the Hoh river trail

Finally, for your last stop of the day, head back out to US101-W for about another hour to find Olympic’s rugged and beautiful Pacific beaches. The 65 miles of natural coastline in Olympic National Park – ranging from the iconic Ruby Beach, with its rocky coast and tide pools teeming with sea life, to the rugged, hidden away Beach 1 and Beach 2 south of the Kalaloch Ranger Station – makes for a perfect end to your adventures. Just remember that the water is pretty cold this far north, but it’s totally worth getting your toes wet!

The Pacific Ocean at Ruby Beach

From the beach, it will be about 3.5 hours to drive back to Seattle, and you can make an easy dinner stop in Olympia along the way. If the weather is nice, as you drive closer to Seattle you can get a glimpse of Mount Rainier in all her glory. That’s reason enough to plan your next trip to Washington State to explore another of our incredible national parks!

Need help planning your next national park adventure? Filled with detailed maps, travel tips and inside information on what not to miss, NPF's Owner’s Guide is your one-stop resource to discover all of the over 400 national parks. Download a FREE copy today!

Photo credits: Ruby Beach by William Brinkman via Share the Experience; all other images courtesy of Stefanie Mathew

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