2 Days in Olympic National Park: A Guide for First-Timers
Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula is wild, green and untouched. With pristine pine forests and groves of trees covered in drooping yellow-green moss, it’s a place waiting to be explored. Located under a couple of hours’ drive from Seattle, it’s the perfect excuse to get out of the city and back into nature. 2 Days in Olympic National Park is all you need to see the highlights but I’m not promising you won’t want to stay longer.
Most of the Olympic Peninsula is home to the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest, both have so many things to do during all seasons. If you love the outdoors this is one of the US’ finest destinations you simply have to add to your bucket list. From virgin, native forests to cascading waterfalls and glassy lakes to monochrome beaches the Olympic Peninsula is full of surprises.
If you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest then keep reading to plan that perfect, short trip out to Olympic National Park.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Olympic National Park really depends on what you want to do. Summers are generally the best time to visit weather-wise. You’ll have warmer temperatures, fewer chances of rain and more opportunities to catch some splendid sunsets. The days are longer too which helps a lot. The downfall of summer is that everyone else visits at this time so trails are crowded and so are beaches and viewpoints.
Another great time to visit is during late spring and early fall. Expect more rain and cloudier days but trails will be open and there’ll be far fewer people during this time too.
Winter is a great time to visit if you’re looking for snowy landscapes and frost-bitten pine forests. There aren’t too many opportunities for skiing in these parts and many roads can be closed at the last minute due to unpredictable snowfall so it’s best to keep your itinerary flexible when visiting during the winter.
I visited in late fall and it was grey, cold and rainy but extremely atmospheric too.
Most people get to Olympic National Park from Seattle. The trip takes about 1.5hrs to get to the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula. From your location in Seattle, you’ll need to get to the Bainbridge Island ferry dock on Alaskan Way. Then take the ferry over Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. You can check ferry schedules here.
Spend some time strolling through the main town on Bainbridge island before heading up to the Olympic Peninsula.
If you don’t want to take the ferry then you can also drive down to Tacoma and loop around Puget Sound before continuing north to Gig Harbor and Purdy. I don’t recommend doing this however because the loop is big so it will add a lot of time and miles to your tip. Plus, the Washington ferry to Bainbridge Island is one of the best things to do in Seattle so it’s not something you want to miss. Expect to see one of the best views of Seattle from the water.
From Oregon, there are two ways to get to Olympic National Park and which one you’ll take depends on if you’d like to begin exploring in the eastern or the western side of the peninsula.
For Sequim, Port Angeles and the Eastern part of the Olympic Peninsula, take the Interstate 5 north, through Washington to Olympia, turning onto the 101 heading north.
To access the Western part of the Olympic Peninsula you can also head to Olympia on the I-5, then turn on to Highway 8 west where you’ll join onto the 101 on the western part of the Olympic Peninsula.
If you prefer you can also take the slower, yet more scenic route from Oregon following the coast. Simply head to Oregon’s coast and follow the 101 north until you get to the Olympic Peninsula.
You can also get to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula directly via ferry from Victoria, British Columbia and there’s also a ferry service from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend if you’re coming south from the San Juan Islands.
To get around Olympic National Park you really need a car. Buses are few and far between and the area the national park covers is vast. To be able to access all the points of interest with just 2 days in Olympic National Park and to get in from Seattle you really need a car.
There are many places to rent a car in downtown Seattle and at Sea-Tac airport. To search for the best car rental deals in Seattle use the form below.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
There are quite a few hotels, campgrounds and unique vacation rentals to check out when heading to the Olympic Peninsula.
With a few exceptions, most hotels and resorts are located in Port Angeles and Sequim.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort– One of the best places to stay in the park Sol Duc is a lovely resort where you can rent a cabin or suite for the night right by the Sol Duc River. They also have a campground if you want to camp instead. Staying here means that you’re able to make the most of the Sol Duc Hot Springs as soon as you wake up or have a soak under a star-filled sky in the evening. Unfortunately, the resort is closed during winter.
Olympic Lodge by Ayres – The best place to stay in Port Angeles, the Olympic Lodge feels like a real mountain chalet with a wood-burning fire, beautiful decor and a cosy atmosphere. Rooms are spacious and with sea and mountain views and facilities include a gym, pool and hot tub.
Find out more and book here booking.com
A-Frame of Mind– A deluxe A-frame cabin surrounded by nature with an outdoor patio and hot tub. This two-bedroom rental is perfect for families or small groups. Book it here.
Eagle Ridge Chalet – Ultimate ski-chalet vibes in this well-decorated wooden cabin located between Port Angeles and Lake Crescent. Can fit up to 6 people. Book it here
Lake Sutherland – A stunning cabin located right on the water at Sutherland for a couple. It has some gorgeous lake views, a wood-burning stove to keep warm in winter and a one-bedroom that’s perfect for a couple. Book it here
Cottage Cove– A beautiful 6-person cottage on Lake Quinault, perfect for relaxing in and admiring lake views, especially in the summer. This is the kind of place you won’t want to leave after just one night. Book it here.
Campgrounds are located throughout Olympic National Park. Facilities vary but they all have bathroom and toilet facilities and a varity of different places to pitch a tent. If you’re following this 2 days in Olympic National Park itinerary the campgrounds you’ll want to consider check out are:
- Heart O’ The Hills Capground (near Port Angeles)
- Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort Campground
- Fairholme Campground ( near Lake Crescent)
- Klahowya Campground
- Hoh Rainforest Campground
- Second Beach (permit required)
- South Beach Campground
Most campgrounds can be booked ahead of time at the recreation.gov website. If you plan on camping in the fall, winter or early spring make sure to plan your trip in advance as most campgrounds are closed at this time. I’d also personally advise against camping at this time because it’s seriously cold and wet.
2 DAYS IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY
Olympic National Park is big, really big and is located towards the northern central part of the Olympic Peninsula, around the National Park, in pockets in the West, East and the South you’ll find the Olympic National Forest. It’s a beautiful area with miles upon miles of pine forest, dark moody coastline and beaches as well as the towering, snow-capped Mt Olympus. Olympic National Park is also home to the Hoh Rainforest, one of the last remaining temperate rainforests in North America.
With just 2 days in Olympic National Park, you’ll be able to see some of the park’s highlights and main viewpoints but you probably won’t have time for too many treks. If you prefer to prioritise trekking over seeing the main highlights then I’d recommend choosing a couple of your favourite hikes and maybe a couple of the main sights to visit once you’ve finished hiking.
Note that if you’re visiting during the fall, early spring or the winter daylight hours will be significantly reduced and you probably won’t have time to visit all the places suggested before the sun goes down so you might need to prioritise. I highly recommend starting the day as soon as possible and being at your first stop of the day for sunrise.
If you’re coming over from Seattle on the classic Washington ferries then don’t miss the opportunity to explore the lovely quaint town on Bainbridge island before moving into the Olympic Peninsula.
Bainbridge’s main town is immediately there as you get off the ferry and the main thoroughfare is lined with delightful bakeries, cool cafes and boutiques that certainly deserve a glimpse.
If you are coming from Seattle in the early morning then Bainbridge island is also a great place to have some breakfast before continuing. You might want to try friendly and hip Cafe Hitchcock for good coffee and breakfast sandwiches or the Blackbird Bakery for pastries, cakes and oatmeal. For a more hearty breakfast try the legendary Streamliner Diner, a longtime popular local spot. If you’re passing through at lunchtime definitely stop by Emmy’s Vege House for the best vegetarian fare on the island.
There’s also the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art if you have more time and want to check out some local culture.
While these first two stops aren’t exactly in Olympic National Park, they certainly are worth a few extra hours of your time. From Bainbridge Island drive north to Port Townsend, a lovely artistic hot spot with amazing views of Puget Sound, especially on a clear day. There isn’t too much to do here apart from walking along the main street and checking out the lovely array of boutiques, stores and cafes. Grab a coffee at Better Living Through Coffee and take a seat outside to enjoy views of the Sound.
Make sure not to miss the quintessential Palace Hotel, Nifty Fiftys Soda Fountain for a unique 50s diner experience and Port Townsend Antique Mall if you’re a vintage lover.
If you have more time then you can also visit Rothschild House State Park and Heritage Site as well as the Jefferson Museum of Art and History before moving on to the Olympic National Park.
One of the first places worth stopping heading West on Highway 101 is Madison Falls. It’s a short walk from the trailhead to the falls, a small yet beautiful waterfall set around towering pines, native trees and a calming little stream. There aren’t too many waterfalls in the Olympic National Park so this is a lovely alternative. Stopping here doesn’t take too much time out of your itinerary either so it’s a great place to just stop by on your way through to Lake Crescent.
Lake Crescent is the largest lake in the area and probably one of the most beautiful. Luckily Highway 101 snakes right around the south side of the lake so there’s no way you’ll miss it but it’s still worth getting out and exploring the area.
There are a number of hikes to do in the area that vary in length. The Spruce Railroad Trail runs around the north side of the lake and the hike from the parking lot to Devil’s Punchbowl is a great one to do and the only pet and bike-friendly trail around the lake.
You can also trek through old forest to Marymere Falls- a 90ft waterfall. For something more challenging opt for Mt Storm King to follow the switchbacks partway up the mountain for incredible lake views or for a full day hike why not try Barnes Creek which climbs up the Aurora Ridge through old forest. Another option for great views is the Pyramid Mountain hike which climbs steeply to a WWII spotting tower.
Whatever hike you decide to do in the area, spending a few hours around Lake crescent and its crystal clear reflections is well worth it. To find out more about hikes around Lake Crescent as well as have access to maps check the NPS website here.
For sunset head to Hurricane Ridge. Unfortunately, when we visited we couldn’t access it due to heavy snowfall so make sure to keep this in mind when visiting in late fall and winter. You can check the webcams on the NPS website ahead of your visit to check the conditions.
From Port Angeles, you’ll pass the Olympic National Park Visitor Center before heading up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. On a clear day, the view from here is mind-blowing. You can see snow-capped Mt Olympus and all the park’s peaks from this one spot. Watching the sunset and that golden light being cast over this landscape is just a beautiful experience.
If you have some time and arrive well before sunset, it’s worth considering treking to Hurricane Hill or Sunrise Ridge. The 3.4-mile round trip, moderate hike to Hurricane Hill rewards you with vast views, you can even see all the way to Canada. Sunrise Ridge is also another less crowded option. With 5 miles round trip it has similar views but just a tiny bit harder and longer.
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Start the day early and head straight to Sol Duc Hot Springs or even better stay the night at this wonderful resort before taking advantage of the springs in the morning.
The Sol Duc Hot Springs are man-made pools, three of which are mineral soaking pools and one is a freshwater pool. The mineral pools range from 99°F/37°C to 104°F/40°C while the freshwater pool remains at an atmospheric temperature of 85-50°F/30-10°C depending on the season. While the actual pools at the resort are man-made the heating process of the water is not. Meltwater and rain seeps through cracks in the bedrock where it meets gases coming from cooling volcanic rock. This makes the now mineralised water rise to the surface through large cracks or fissures in the bedrock.
The hot springs are a great way to wake up and start the day.
Sol Duc Falls
A little further down the Sol Duc river, you’ll find the Sol Duc Falls, a wonderful waterfall or shall I say 3 or maybe even 4 different streams of water. It’s a short, easy hike to the waterfall itself along the nature trail through old, native forest. Here, instead of looking up at the waterfall, you look down on it, falling through many levels before disappearing into the canyon below.
After a warm soak head to the West Coast beaches of Olympic National Park. While there might not be much sunbathing to be done on these beaches, there’s still something very beautiful about their wildness and rawness. One of our favourite things to do here was to just walk down the beach along the grey stones, checking out the towering pines on the shore.
There is little to do here apart from taking a walk, or in summer relaxing on the beach, perhaps with a few snacks and drinks.
La Push Beaches
Enter the heart of the Twilight Saga! The La Push beaches are the general, collective name given to the beaches just south of La Push, First, Second and Third Beach. You can visit each of them if you like but if you’re stuck on time and want to visit just one I recommend Second Beach.
It’s a short hike from the trailhead through native forest down to the spectacular beach. You’ll have to just dodge a bit of mud if it’s been raining and a few large drift logs. Here you’ll find some beautiful beach stacks and miles upon miles of golden sand beaches. These beaches can get crowded in the summer but it’s easy to get away from the crowds by walking further down the beach.
While researching your 2 days in Olympic National Park you’ll probably come across the possibility of camping on Second Beach and also Shi Shi Beach further up the coast. While it is possible, you’ll need to organise a permit to do so ahead of time. You’ll have to pick up a permit in person at either the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center or the Lake Quinault Ranger Station. There is a no reservation policy but spaces do fill up quickly, especially in summer so come early.
One of the absolute gems of being in the Olympic National Park for 2 days in the Hoh Rainforest. We could have spent hours in this area just walking the trails and gazing up at the pines and moss-covered trees had it not been tipping down with rain the entire time we were there.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the last remaining temperate rainforests in the United States so it’s definitely worth stopping to see this unique ecosystem. Most rain falls in the winter and contributes to the fast-growing canopy of coniferous and deciduous trees and mosses.
There are two main trails to follow at the Hoh Rainforest from the Visitor Center, The Hall of Mosses is an easy circular route of just under a mile that takes you to the most fantastic old forest of moss-covered Maple trees that’s almost spooky- kinda like something out of Jurassic Park. It’s also worth walking the Spruce Nature Trail which is a slightly longer 1.2-mile circular loop through enchanting spruce tree forest alongside Taft Creek and the Hoh River. If you have time definitely do both as they are short and easy walks.
Additional Things to do on the Olympic Peninsula
If you have more time there are many other viewpoints, waterfalls and towns to visit on the Olympic Peninsula. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Shi Shi Beach & Ozette Lake– This beautiful area right on the North West corner of the Peninsula is a great place to come for an overnight camping trip. Get a permit for camping at Shi Shi Beach and then spend the days exploring Ozette Lake and hiking in the area before spending the night under the stars at Shi Shi beach. Don’t get to bring firewood and all the supplies for s’mores.
Lake Quinault – Another gorgeous lake that’s perfect for a weekend in the forest. The best thing to do here is to rent a cabin by the lake in the summer and sip cold craft beer with friends on the porch. Around the lake, you can also visit the world’s largest Sitka Spruce tree.
Kalaloch Beaches – There are many beaches in the Kalaloch area, just south of the Hoh Rainforest once back on the 101. These beaches are wild, beautiful and sometimes less crowded than the ones around La Push.
To plan your trip in more detail click here for the National Park Service Map of Olympic National Park.
Are you ready for your 2 days in Olympic National Park? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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