Olympic National Park inspired me to sing The Sound of Music’s The Hills are Alive at the first glance of Mount Olympus from the alpine wildflower meadow at Hurricane Ridge. Along its trails, we hiked in a seemingly fairytale world of giant trees dripping in moss on a land covered with fern. My heart beamed seeing my kids’ excitement when we discovered tiny tide pools teeming with marine life. On a recent cross-country trek with my three kids, I found all this in farthest northwest corner of the continental United States in a wilderness that meshes three different ecosystems.
Olympic National Park offers over 900,000 acres of wilderness for families to explore. The year-round outdoor destination boasts rugged coasts dotted with tide pools, hidden trails meandering through temperate rain forests and mountaintop meadows perfumed with wildflowers all within two hours of Seattle, Washington.
History of Olympic National Park
A British Captain gave Mount Olympus its name back in the 1700s. Even though, the Native Americans, like the Quinault and the Hoh, lived and hunted on the peninsula for millennia before the British arrived. Theodore Roosevelt protected the Olympic Peninsula as a national monument in 1909. After a visit in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the monument as a national park in 1938.
Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, The United Nations designated Olympic National Park as a biosphere reserve in 1976, later proclaiming the park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Lake Quinault and Hoh Rain Forests
The temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park offer shaded trails dripping with moss in every shade of green. My kids (8, 12 and 13) loved hiking along the rain forest trails where streams and small waterfalls break the silence of the spruce and cedar forests.
To fully experience Olympic National Park, explore a rainforest trail; my kids loved it. If limited on time, Lake Quinault offers more trails, a shorter drive, and a general store for snacks. Hoh Rain Forest offers a visitor center though no concessions. You can’t go wrong with either as both are stunning and offer family hikes.
The Beaches of Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park touches the Pacific Coast on the west, 45 minutes north of Lake Quinault. Tide pools and rugged beaches dominate the landscape and delight families. Stop by the Kalaloch Ranger Station (open seasonally) for a special Junior Ranger booklet to complete while exploring the beach and earn a patch.
You’ll get tide pool options at Rudy Beach and Beach 4. Check for the daily tide times at the ranger station. My kids scampered over rocks and waded through shallow water to explore the tide pools. We found ribbed limpets, acorn barnacles, and giant green anemones; my kids loved this experience and talked about it for days.
Kalaloch Beach offers a campground, lodging and a restaurant along with an expansive sandy beach. Ruby Beach offers more parking than Beach 3 or Beach 4. I took a picnic basket and we enjoyed lunch on the beach.
Lake Crescent is located in the northern part of Olympic National Park, 20 miles east of Port Angeles, Washington. The glacial blue water of Lake Crescent meets the surrounding evergreen forest for a picture-perfect location.
Ask for guidance at the Storm King Ranger Station, as an information station and starting point for several hikes. Hike to Marymere Falls (.9-mile trail, one way) from the Storm King Ranger Station for a stunning view of the 90-foot waterfall. The Moments in Time Nature Trail is a .6-mile loop that’s just the right length for little kids.
Sol Duc Hot Springs
After a long day of hiking, I stopped for a soak in the mineral-rich hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Dip your toes (and more) in the family-friendly, fresh-water swimming pool (78F) for the kids with its three small soaking pools (99F – 104F), changing rooms, a restaurant, cabins, and lodge rooms.
My kids spent the majority of their time in the fresh-water pool while I relaxed in the hot springs. I kept my eyes on my swimmers while soaking. Kids under 4 must remain in the coolest hot spring pool.
The Sol Duc Hot Springs is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer and closes at 8 p.m. during the spring and the fall. Admission for adults is $14.00, kids 4 to 12 is $10.00, kids 3 and under free admission; a twilight discount available during the last two hours.
Hurricane Ridge offers visitors the only accessible viewpoint of the Olympic Mountains. A 17-mile drive from Port Angeles, check out the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center with introductory film and concessions located nearby.
Alpine wildflowers sway in the mountain breezes making Hurricane Ridge a favorite with visitors. The towering peak of Mount Olympus rises up 7,980 feet as the tallest point in Olympic National Park as a part of the Olympic Mountain Range. Catch a glimpse of the Olympic’s 266 glaciers from this mountaintop vista.
Kids at Olympic National Park
The Junior Ranger Program offers families a way to discover a national park site together. Olympic National Park offers kids several Junior Ranger patches and badges to earn during their visit.
Pick up Olympic National Park Junior Ranger booklets at visitor centers and ranger stations. Kids can check out a Discovery Packet at a visitor center, a backpack filled with field guides, binoculars, and magnifying lens to help explore Olympic National Park more thoroughly.
For the National Park Centennial, Olympic National Park launched a new patch for Junior Rangers to earn. The Ocean Stewards Patch guides kids 4 and up through the diverse marine life in the park.
Lodging in Olympic National Park
During my visit to Olympic National Park, I stayed at Lake Quinault Lodge, located on the southern edge of Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Forest. Featured in the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks, it offers modern amenities and kids’ activities in a family-friendly environment.
Accommodations on the north side of Olympic National Park include options from the rustic to the refined. Lake Crescent Lodge offers gracious rooms in a historic lodge. Log Cabin Resort offers family-friendly camping cabins and kayaks. Want to stay closer to the hot springs pool? Sol Duc Hot Springs will fit that bill.
Olympic National Park in One Day
Due to the immense size of the park, don’t try to see it all in one day. Instead, concentrate on one area for the day, like Hurricane Ridge or Lake Quinault. Each offers hiking, concessions, and visitor center or ranger station. Both are two-hour drive from Seattle.
Getting to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, Washington. Port Angeles and Forks, Washington, offer services for travelers, like gas, groceries and lodging outside of the park.
Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station at the southern entrance of Olympic National Park is 146 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA or SeaTac as the locals call it). Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in the northeast portion of the park is 147 miles away from the airport.
A car is preferred to explore the park, no reliable public transportation around the park, including Amtrak. Though private tour companies offer tours.
Getting Around Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle.
Olympic National Parks is not a drive-through park, meaning roads don’t bisect the park. U.S. Route 101 wraps around the Olympic Peninsula and park roads dead-end at ranger stations or visitor centers.
Tips from a TravelingMom:
- Roads do not bisect Olympic National Park.
- Be prepared for rain, carry rain jackets at all times.
- If swimming at Sol Duc Hot Springs, limit the time kids soak in the hot springs pools, usually an hour is enough.
- A swimming pool (78F) is located next to the soaking pools — great for cooling off.
- The Sol Duc Hot Springs has a faint sulfur smell that might bother some kids.
- Olympic National Park is a year-round destination through some visitor centers may close seasonally.
- While tide pooling, watch for rouge waves and incoming tide when exploring with kids.