Olympic National Park - Washington

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Native Americans were living in several villages along the Olympic Coast when explorer Juan de Fuca stopped by. He is thought to have been the first European to have landed on these shores. Later, in 1774, Juan Perez sailed along this coast, followed by British, Spanish and American explorers, including Capt. George Vancouver, a representative of the British Crown, and American Robert Gray.

The first expedition into the Olympic interior was led by Lt. Joseph P. O'Neill, in 1885. In 1889-1990, James Christie led a north/south expedition, taking five and one-half months to complete the difficult crossing. Lt. O'Neill completed an easier east/west crossing in 1890, moving up and down river valleys.

Today, more than 900 miles of hiking trails take visitors into virtually every valley, forest and meadow, as well as glaciers and several mountain peaks. A few of the trails are remnants of former logging roads. Most are trails constructed by the parks and forest services, or hard packed paths tramped out by hikers who have long known the Olympic peninsula to be just about the finest hiking country in America.

Although hiking is the only way to see most of what the Olympic Mountains have to offer in scenery, geology and wildlife, there are several accessible areas in the national park which offer recreational opportunities, and for getting a feel for the majesty of the mountains, woodlands, meadows, and rain forests.

How to Get There

The Olympic Peninsula lies west of Seattle and Puget Sound, and northwest of the state capital of Olympia. It's possible to get to the peninsula from almost every direction by car, except from due north from which you have to take a ferry from Victoria, B.C..

From the South and the Oregon Coast

From Astoria, Oregon, cross the Columbia River on the Astoria Bridge (toll), and take either U.S. 101 which leads toward the Long Beach peninsula, or take State Route 401 to join State Route 4 and Highway 101, arriving in Aberdeen. Highway 101 leads north, and is the major highway route around the Olympic Peninsula. Should you wish to sample some more southern Washington shoreline along the way, take Highway 109 west from Aberdeen to Ocean City, Pacific Beach and/or Moclips, before heading east to join Highway 101.

From Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington

There are two routes, both scenic, to get you to the southern part of the Olympic Peninsula from the Portland/Vancouver region. From Portland, take U.S. 30 northwest along the southern bank of the Columbia River to Astoria, cross the Columbia River Bridge and take the suggested route, above.

Another route uses Interstate 5 north from Portland and Vancouver, exiting to take Washington State Route 4 near Kelso. Route 4 leads west along the north bank of the Columbia River, past several quaint old communities including Skamokawa and Gray's River, meeting Highway 101 a few miles east of the Long Beach Peninsula and Willapa Bay. Then take the prescribed route north via Highway 101 to Quinault, Forks, and Port Angeles. The rain forests lie between Quinault and Forks.

From Olympia and Interstate 5

Take State Route 8 and U.S. 101 west from the city of Olympia. Highway 101 is the main route for the Olympic Peninsula, leading along the western shore of the Hood Canal to Hoodsport, Brinnon, Quilcene and Port Angeles. Highway 101 continues, in a counter-clockwise direction, circling the Olympic Mountains.

From Seattle and Interstate 5

Highway lovers would drive south on I-5 to Olympia and take Highway 101 to Port Angeles (see above). The more scenic and shorter way to reach Port Angeles is to drive north from downtown Seattle on I-5 and take the turnoff to Edmonds (just north of the Seattle city limits). A ferry will take you and your vehicle to Bainbridge Island. Following this short cruise, you'll drive northwest on State Route 104, to Poulsbo, joining Highway 101 north of Quilcene. Continue on Hwy. 101 to Sequim and Port Angeles.

From Victoria (BC) by Ferry

The Black Ball ferry company operates a car ferry with several sailings per day, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, from the capital of British Columbia to Port Angeles. For information, call (360) 457-4491 (Port Angeles), or (604) 386-2202 (Victoria).

The Victoria Express is a ferry for foot passengers only. It operates from May to October. For information, call 800-633-1589 (U.S. and Canada), or (604) 361-9144 (Victoria)

What to See & Do

Here are the major areas within the national park, beginning with Hurricane Ridge, near Port Angeles, and then working in a counter-clockwise direction through the river valleys on the north and west sides of the park. The final areas covered are Dosewallips and Staircase, found on the eastern flank of the mountains, just west of the Hood Canal and accessed via Highway 101 and forest roads leading into the range.

Port Angeles Museum & Hurricane Ridge

The best way to begin a tour of the Olympic Peninsula is to visit the Olympic National Park Visitor Center and Pioneer Museum, located in downtown Port Angeles. Not only will you get an overview of park attractions and the history of the area, but there is a wealth of printed material available to help you along your explorations. The shop stocks detailed topographic maps, and has updated hiking trail information. Hurricane Ridge is less than a half-hour's drive from the museum. Take Race Street to reach both the visitor center and Hurricane Ridge.

In the 1930s, the Forest Service built a road to Hurricane Hill, a marvelous meadowland sitting high above Port Angeles, accessible until that time only by a trail from the Elwha Valley. The trail is still there, offering a wonderful climbing hike with great views, but most people save time by driving to the Hurricane Ridge site, now the most visited area in the national park. The eighteen-mile drive from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge is filled with scenic views as the road twists and turns up the mountain. Heart O' the Hills Campground is just inside the park boundary, with 105 sites, at an elevation of 1,807 feet. The road continues, running beside Klahanie Ridge to climb to the Hurricane Ridge parking lot. Here, you'll find a ranger station, a snack bar, picnic area and several trails, both short and long. After the first snowfall or two, the cross-country ski center is opened, with skis and snowshoe rentals. Ski lifts are nearby.

This is an excellent place for those driving wheelchairs to get a taste of the park. Most other locations (with a few notable exceptions) require a significant amount of hiking to scenic viewpoints.

Hurricane Ridge Day Hikes

Hurricane Hill Trail begins at the Hurricane Ridge parking area. The trail leads 1.5 miles to the top of the hill, providing views of the nearby mountain peaks, plus a look at Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. This area of alpine meadows offers wildflower displays in early summer. The first half-mile is paved and suitable for wheelchairs.

The Meadow Loop Trails begin near the Hurricane Ridge visitor center and offer walks through prime wildflower areas, in a sub- alpine environment. Black-tailed deer are frequently seen, as are the unique Olympic marmots, often seen sunning themselves near the trail.

Heart of the Forest Trail begins at Loop E of the Heart O' the Hills Campground, offering a 4-mile round-trip hike through a dense lowland forest.

Backcountry trails leading from Hurricane Ridge are covered at the end of this chapter. Trails lead from the Meadow Loop trails to Klahanie Ridge and Mt. Angeles.

Elwha Valley

Because the Olympic Mountains are dome-shaped, rivers fan out in every direction from the central peaks. The Elwha River flows in an approximate south-to-north direction, with its mouth on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, at Angeles Point. Its source is in the Elwha Snowfinger, between Mount Queets and Mount Barnes, flowing through the Elwha Basin and then turning north toward the strait. Along the way, it drops into narrow canyons, cascading through rapids, and then forming deep, quiet pools. What used to be a fine salmon stream is now fished only for trout. Two dams were built before the national park was established, cutting off the salmon from their spawning waters. The Parks Service is now preparing to have the dams removed, and after much future public consultation and planning, the salmon will return. The lake now held back by the Elwha Dam is called Lake Aldwell. The reservoir impounded by the Glines Canyon Dam is called Lake Mills.

The only access route into the valley is Elwha River Road. The road has its junction with Highway 101 at the Elwha River, 8.5 miles west of Port Angeles. The road provides access to the Elwha Campground, which sits at the base of the Elwha River Range. There's a park amphitheater near the campground, with regular summer interpretation sessions. The Elwha Ranger Station is located another mile along the road. Whiskey Bend Road branches to the left, just beyond the ranger station. The river road continues and crosses the Elwha, providing access to Altaire Campground. While the Elwha Campground has sites suitable for trailers and RVs (up to 21 feet), the Altaire Campground has sites which are better for tenting, although trailers are permitted.

The river road, now called Boulder Creek Road, then climbs to pass by the Glines Canyon Dam and continues above Lake Mills. There's a good view of the valley from Observation Point. The road follows Boulder Creek until it ends at a parking area near Olympic Hot Springs. There is a paved path to the Boulder Creek (walk-in) Campground.

Olympic Hot Springs was quite a popular resort in its day. The commercialization of the springs, discovered by Andrew Jacobson in 1892, began in the early 1900s when a trail was blazed. A Forest Service Road was constructed in the 1930s. A resort was built, attracting hot spring fans from far and wide. Now, only the seven pools remain.

Day Hikes in the Elwha Valley

Cascade Rock Trail leads east from Elwha Campground, to a high point with views of the small Elwha River Range. The trip involves a four-mile, round-trip walk.

Griff Creek Trail begins behind the Elwha Ranger Station, offering a round-trip hike of 5.6 miles. The trip out involves a steep climb, with more than 30 switchbacks, from the ranger station at 390 feet, to the end at 3,300 feet. There is no water available along the route. Rising from river level, the trail passes through old-growth conifer forest, with some madrone (arbutus) trees, and a thick understory of mosses, sword ferns, and Oregon grape. A short side trail leads left to a lookout hill, with views of the Elwha, the Highs Creek Valley, and Lake Mills. The trail levels (more or less) beside large moss-covered rock formations and again enters the forest. Crossing a ridge, the trail ends with a view of Griff Creek Valley, Unicorn Peak (to the left at 5,100 feet), and Griff Peak (5,120 feet).

Krause Bottom Trail is taken from its trailhead at the end of Whiskey Bend Road which leads south from the Elwha Campground. The trail follows a ridge above the Elwha River. The full trail involves a round-trip of four miles. A spur trail (at 1.5 miles) leads to Krause Bottom, and down to the river. The main trail continues for another half-mile to Humes Ranch, an old cabin built by homesteaders.

Madison Falls Trail This short trail (0.2 mile, round-trip) is wheelchair-accessible. It follows Madison Creek after passing through a meadow and forested area, running through a narrow cleft to the falls, which cascade from a 100-foot-high cliff.

Olympic Hot Springs Trail This is a short path leading from the west side of the parking area, at the end of Boulder Creek Road, to the seven hot pools. The round trip is one mile long.

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