Olympic National Park in 3 Days: 3 Parks in One

Photo by Craig Romano

Experience an ecological wonder in Olympic National Park

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Olympic National Park sprawls over much of the Olympic Peninsula in Northwestern Washington State and can be easily explored with this 3 day itinerary. Encompassing nearly a million acres of mountain tops, temperate rainforest valleys and a wild Pacific Coastline; it’s in essence three parks in one. Many first time visitors attempt to “see the park” in a day; soon to find that they will mostly just see is the road. Much of Olympic National Park is wilderness. To see many of the park’s popular accessible destinations, requires following winding US 101 for some distance to various park roads that probe the park’s periphery.

There are no roads through the park, nor are there quick ways around it connecting to its star attractions. If you only have one day to visit this crown jewel of the national park system, your best bet is to concentrate on one region like Staircase, Hurricane Ridge, or the coast. If you have three full days however, you can experience the park’s three main facets and get a great sense of this ecological wonder. And while there’s a fair amount of driving involved, much of the way is highly scenic providing an adventure within itself.

Day 1 in Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge

From your lodging at Port Angeles or Sequim, head to the Hurricane Ridge Road (also known as the Heart O the Hills Parkway). Stop first at Olympic National Park Visitor Center and Wilderness Information Center. Then set out on an exciting 18 mile drive winding one vertical mile to the subalpine meadows of Hurricane Ridge.

To fully appreciate this area and all of its grandeur, you’ll want to do some hiking. You can saunter on a series of easy to moderate paved and soft surface paths from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center; or drive a little farther to the Hurricane Hill Trail for a spectacular outdoor experience. Park rangers regularly conduct guided hikes and interpretive programs. Hurricane Ridge is open limited days in winter too for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Confidant drivers may want to also drive the gravel Obstruction Point Road (usually open from July to mid-October) across steep slopes to Obstruction Point at 6,100 feet. Here experienced hikers can set out across alpine tundra on some of the park’s most scenically stunning and wildlife rich trails. Sunsets and sunrises are breathtaking from anywhere along Hurricane Ridge.

===> Explore another Olympic National Park Itinerary

Olympic Peninsula Highlights: Nature’s Real Deal … Peaks, ports, and pristine settings for outdoor adventure on the Olympic Peninsula

Day 2: Elwha Valley and Lake Crescent

Leave your lodging in Port Angeles or Sequim or your campsite at Heart O the Hills and head 7 miles west on US 101 to the Elwha Valley. No begin another day of adventuring—this time exploring a deep glacier-carved valley cradling old homesteads, a prolific elk population, showy waterfalls, tempting hot springs, and a river restored to run wild and free once more.

Consider a hike from the Whiskey Bend Trailhead. Hike several miles up the Elwha River Valley, where homesteaders and trappers tried to eke out a living in one of the last mountain ranges in the Lower 48 to be explored. Check out Geyser Valley (it’s a misnomer), Humes Ranch, Grand Canyon of the Elwha and Goblins Gate.

You can find easier and shorter hikes at the Glines Canyon Overlook, where a dam was recently removed restoring the longest river on the Olympic Peninsula back to a wild state. At the end of the Olympic Hot Springs Road, hike to a series of hot springs, waterfalls or alpine lakes.

Later in the day, drive west on US 101 to Lake Crescent, a beautiful fjord-like body of water that majestically reflects the surrounding emerald mountains. Take to nature trails here or go for a run or bike ride on the paved Olympic Discovery Trail. Spend the night in the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, the rustic Log Cabin Resort; or head west to Forks for more lodging options.

Day 3: Olympic Coast and Hoh Rainforest

The small community of Forks is the perfect place to base for exploring the wild Olympic Coast and the world famous Hoh River Rainforest. This small town has a long and proud logging history; but to many folks the town is now synonymous with vampires thanks to the Twilight series.

Spend the first half of the day in the temperate rainforest valley of the Hoh River. Hike short easy nature trails among moss-covered old-growth giants; or head on a challenging multiple day hike to Mount Olympus, highest summit in the park.

Later, head out to one of several easily-accessible points on the wild Olympic Coast. Consider Rialto Beach where you can easily hike to Hole-in-the-Wall. Near La Push, short trails will take you to the wilderness Second and Third beaches. And at Kalaloch, miles of stunning shoreline await your wanderlust. Set up camp at one of the park’s campgrounds, or consider a comfortable night stay in the Kalaloch Lodge.

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