A family guide to road tripping the Olympic Peninsula, Washington
When it comes to family-friendly national parks, Olympic National Park in Washington is undisputedly one of the best. Where else can you witness snow drifts in mountainous meadows, go boating on lowland lakes, enjoy stunning rainforest waterfall trails, finished with sunset on the beach, all in one day!?
The Olympic Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse locations in the world. The national park covers nearly one million acres, and is filled with fun and adventure for families who love the outdoors.
Now, to fit it in one day on a road trip would be a squeeze for any family itinerary. We do suggest you spend at a very minimum 3 to 5 days exploring the Olympic National Park and the entire Olympic Peninsula.
In this family road trip itinerary, we’re going to take you through:
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How to Get to the Olympic Peninsula
Olympic National Park is located west of Seattle in Washington state, in the Pacific North West of the USA.
The Olympic Peninsula is the mass of land across the Puget Sound from Seattle. It is surrounded by the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north (separating the USA from Canada), the Hood Canal to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The Olympic National Park covers 1,406 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula, along with the 70 miles of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The remaining lands are largely made up of the Olympic National Forest and the Quinault Reservation.
To explore Olympic National Park to it’s fullest, you will need your own vehicle, and, of course, a National Parks pass.
Most will start their road trip journey to Olympic National Park by either flying into Seattle, or as part of a greater tour of Highway 101 and the West Coast.
Either way, Highway 101 is the main route you are heading for as it circumnavigates the entire National Park. Due to the mountainous terrain, there are no through routes in the park.
Seattle Airport to Olympic National Park
If you are picking up your vehicle from SEA airport or nearby, it takes at least 2 hours to drive around the Puget Sound, down I-5 before crossing to the Olympic Peninsula.
If your plan is to take the entire of Highway 101 along the east coast, you’ll pass Tacoma and Olympia before reaching the start of the 101. It is, however, a little quicker if you make the cut through State Route 16 after Tacoma, it will join you back to the 101 closer to Sequim.
Sequim or Port Angeles are where we recommend you start your Olympic National Park journey when coming from the east. Spend the night in either of these two towns stock up on supplies (you’ll want to BYO lunches etc.).
Just outside of Port Angeles is where you’ll find the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Make sure you have your National Park Pass ready, as well as your junior ranger booklets, before under taking the itinerary we’re going to step you through below.
Ferry to the Olympic Peninsula
It is possible to also take the ferry from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. Depending on where you’re coming from in Seattle, or even if you are crossing from Canada, it can be the fastest route to Olympic National Park, cutting out a lot of freeway driving.
When taking your vehicle with you, the easiest choice is the Bainbridge Island ferry. From Bainbridge Island, it is a further 70-miles by road to Port Angeles.
From the north, another option to consider is the Edmonds-Kingston ferry to the Kitsap Peninsula.
Heading North Along Highway 101
Coming by road on the 101 from the south, the lower entry point to the Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault is about 2.5 hours (120 miles) from Astoria, Oregon.
You’ll cross the stunning Astoria-Megler Bridge then can decide if you’ll take the 101 all the way, or a a slightly faster route is to take State Route 401/4 via Knappton/Naselle.
Aberdeen is your last sizeable town to pick up supplies if you are starting your Olympic National Park journey from the south.
Getting around Olympic National Park
As we mentioned above, there’s no through route, you’ll be following Highway 101 and making turn offs throughout your journey.
Theoretically, you can make a lap of the park and a few stops within a day, but honestly, why rush it?
The beauty of exploring Olympic National Park is to get out on foot and explore, so do factor in how long each highway turn off point takes, as well as trail lengths at each stop when working out how much you can fit in each day.
We’d recommend choosing a couple of different points to base yourself if you are only planning a short 3 to 5-day trip, ideally positioning yourself somewhere in the north for a couple of nights and somewhere east for best access to key points. More on where to stay below!
Indicative Driving Distances in Olympic National Park
To work out how much you can fit in a day, this will give you an idea how far it is between key attractions and accommodation towns in Olympic National Park and accommodation:
- Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge – 20 miles (40 minutes – windy, mountainous driving)
- Port Angeles to Lake Crescent – 22 miles (27 minutes)
- Port Angeles to Sol Duc – 43 miles (1 hour)
- Port Angeles to Forks – 56 miles (1 hour 5 minutes)
- Lake Crescent to La Push – 47 miles (55 minutes)
- Lake Crescent to Hoh Rainforest – 66 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Sol Duc to Forks – 40 miles (52 minutes)
- Forks to La Push – 15 miles (21 minutes)
- Forks to Hoh Rainforest – 31 miles (48 minutes)
- Forks to Ruby Beach – 27 miles (33 minutes)
- Hoh Rainforest to Ruby Beach – 32 miles (48 minutes)
- Ruby Beach to Quinault Rainforest – 42 miles (50 minutes)
- Hoh Rainforest to Quinault Rainforest -73 miles (1 hour 40 minutes)
- Quinault Rainforest to Staircase – 112 miles (2 hours 30 minutes)
- Quinault Rainforest to Seattle – 147 miles (2 hours 40 minutes)
- Staircase to Port Angeles – 90 miles (2 hours)
NB timings are indicative only and do not take into account queues and road works, both highly possible around teh entire Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park!
The Best Time to Visit Olympic Peninsula
Summer is the best season to visit Olympic National Park, although don’t discount visiting in the off season too. Some roads are closed seasonally, but most of the park is accessible year round.
An Olympic Peninsula tour in the early fall can be ideal, too, especially if you want to experience the colorful forests. Visit from mid to late October if you want to see the Roosevelt elk when it’s most active or the fall foliage.
During winter, the temperature at sea level hardly gets below freezing point. In the mountains, it’s rarely above 30°F. You can tour Hurricane Ridge, which is family-friendly and adventure-packed during the cold season with tubing, snowshoeing and other winter sports on offer.
5 Day Olympic National Park Itinerary
It doesn’t matter if you approach the park in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, or start from the top or the bottom.
We are assuming a Seattle start point for this Olympic National Park itinerary and taking things at a relatively easy pace over 5 days in an anti-clockwise direction. You’ll just need to rejig the itinerary below to suit your direction of travel and number of days.
We’ve also assumed you are travelling during the warmer months of summer. Not everything we mention below will be possible during winter.
Day 1 – Olympic National Park Itinerary
Starting with arrival day, this is all about getting your bearings on the Olympic Peninsula – a scenic ferry across Puget Sound is the perfect way to start your journey to another land!
The Visitor Centre in Port Angeles is open from 9:00AM to 4:00PM – grab your National Parks Pass and Junior Ranger Booklets. Get acquainted with all the walks and trails, confirm weather conditions and any trail closures.
If your timings permit, you can tackle the Hurricane Ridge drive straight away on day 1 or hold this over for day 2. From the Port Angeles Visitors Centre, allow 40 minutes – depending on traffic conditions to reach the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Centre.
From here, on a clear day enjoy spectacular mountain views of Mount Olympus to the south and over to Juan de Fuca and Victoria, Canada to the north. Several short trails suitable for all ages take you through the mountainous meadows – often still shrouded in snowdrifts right into the summer months.
Little animal lovers are in for a treat here as the mountains are rich in opportunities for wildlife spotting, including black bears, massive elk, Blacktail deer and mountain goats. Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to have too many close encounters unless you’re hitting the backcountry, but there are plenty of smaller critters, too, such as voles, moles, squirrels and chipmunks.
During the winter season, the road is scheduled to be open Friday through Sunday and holiday Mondays for vehicles carrying tire chains only. Check the road status beforehand (360) 565-3131.
If you’re short on time and just want a brief introduction to the park and the area day 1, there’s Madison Falls waterfall near Port Angeles, a very easy trail.
Exploring close to town and around Port Angeles, the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge on Dungeness Spit is a great bird spotting spot on opportunity to stretch the legs. Families will enjoy an evening stroll on the ODT (Olympic Discovery Trail), or hire an electric scooter, taking advantage of the long summer evenings in PNW.
If you didn’t arrive by water, you may also want to allow a half day in your Olympic Peninsula itinerary to head out into Puget Sound for a whale watching tour if you’re there at the right time of year.
Fuel up on food and supplies in Port Angeles for the next few days in the national park.
Day 2 – Olympic National Park Itinerary
If you didn’t tackle Hurricane Ridge day 1, you could make an early start day 2. In the summer months, it’s open 24 hours, so you can make the most of daylight hours and beat the string of cars that come after the visitor center opens or direct from Seattle for the day.
The short trail to Sunrise Point can be an awesome way to start your day in Olympic National Park.
Next, we’re going to head west towards Lake Crescent, one of the most easily accessible stops as it’s immediately off the 101. You can easily spend half a day at the lake and tackling the surrounding trails.
There are also rowboats and kayaks for hire if you want to explore the lake itself.
Marymere Falls is a popular trail for families to take from here. It is flat for the most part with only a short uphill at the end to view the falls. Plentiful picnic grounds here make it an idea lunch stop. This area is very popular into the fall too as one of the state’s top fall foliage spots!
Next up, drive onward to Sol Duc. If you’re interested in taking a dip in the hot springs, they’re open daily from 9:00AM to 8:00PM. Do be warned, the springs are mother nature at work, so they come with their own, ah, unique smell! This may put some reluctant bathers completely off but certainly a unique experience!
Alternatively, the Sol Duc Falls are another moderate hiking option at the end of this road that most little legs should be able to tackle. You can head to Salmon Cascades and turn back if they’re struggling or all the way to the impressive falls.
NB – since COVID the hot spring works on a timed basis only, you must come in person, first come first served on a daily basis. Pool access fees are $15 for adults, $12 for children ages 4-12 and $12 for seniors over 62 years old.
Spend the night either back at Sol Duc campgrounds or the Sol Duc Resort, Lake Crescent or double back to Port Angeles. Alternatively, head onward to your next adventure along the coast.
In the summer months you can still easily squeeze in a sunset trip to the beach by evening on Day 2 then stay overnight in Forks.
Day 3 – Olympic National Park Itinerary
Today we’re going to tackle temperate rainforests and beaches.
The order in which you do this may be tide dependent. Low tide at most Olympic Peninsula beaches will offer the best opportunities for exploring coastal tide pools, high tide can make certain beaches inaccessible. Don’t be mistaken into thinking you’re going for a beach swim though – even mid summer the Pacific Ocean waters can be icy cold!!
There are plenty of beaches you can explore along the Pacific Ocean coastline. They do range in challenge in terms of accessibility though, so it’s best to pick out a selection of beaches rather than visit them all. There’s a good guide here to the best Olympic beaches to visit with kids.
If you’re stretched for time we’d suggest just Rialto Beach or La Push Beach One near Forks, and then Ruby Beach further south for two different coastal experiences.
Whichever beach or beaches you choose, you’re bound to be spoilt with incredible driftwoods along with spectacular and dramatic cliffs, sea stacks and an abundancy of marine life.
The coast offers opportunities to spot sea otters, dolphins, grey whales, sea eagles and in the rock pools, you’ll almost certainly discover crabs, starfish and sea urchins.
Next up, we’re heading inland to Hoh Rainforest. We’d suggest heading here first in the summer months if timings do work. The queues do grow throughout the day, and if parking’s full, they’ll stop letting cars in.
This is among one of the few places where you’ll find temperate rainforests in the U.S, complete with dripping moss and massive ferns.
There’s a good choice of trails here to pick for your families hiking capabilities, the Hall of Moses Trail and Spruce Trail are easy going. For older kids you should be able to manage at least part of the Hoh River Trail, 2.5 miles will take you to the spectacular Mineral Creek Falls.
Hoh is a gorgeous spot to camp if you’re lucky enough to have nabbed a spot.
Alternatively, head onward to Kalaloch Beach on the coast, perfect if you love being right next to the crashing waves with the beach access right on your doorstep! You can also head back to Forks for the night if you’d prefer motel style accommodation.
Day 4 – Olympic National Park Itinerary
Today, we’re exploring around the southwestern corner of the Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest. The Quinault Valley offers a scenic loop drive and short hikes through temperate rain forests and around Quinault Lake.
If you want a more secluded spot during your visit, then this is the part of the park for you – but still, in the summer months, we’d recommend getting in early – not just to beat the crowds but because this is when it’s at it’s most beautiful!
The Quinault rainforest has some of the largest Sitka spruce, western red cedar, hemlock, and Douglas Fir trees. The Quinault Rainforest Nature Loop here is an easy hike of just 0.5 miles on flat terrain making it good for kids.
You can also try Big Cedar Trail and the Trail of the Giants if you want to extend your experience.
If you have longer to spend, you can also go swimming, boating, and fishing around the lake. Stay overnight at either one of the campgrounds or historic and rustic Lake Quinault Lodge.
Day 5 – Olympic National Park Itinerary
We’re heading onwards now to the see the less-explored side of the park, Staircase.
It takes approximately 2 hours to get from Lake Quinault around to the park’s eastern side and Staircase ranger station (manned in summer); there’s no through road here. (Likewise, you’re looking at about 2 hours from Port Angeles if tackling things in the other direction). Remote but worth it if you love the solitude when exploring outdoors – less than 1% of the parks visitors make it this far!
Staircase Rapids is a beautiful loop trail that will suit your older kids and more confident hikers. Arguably the prettiest in the park, this hidden gem travels though old-growth forests and across a gorgeous cable bridge, following alongside the Skokomish River.
Lake Cushman also offers kayaking, canoeing, and SUP, with fewer crowds than Lake Crescent.
From the eastern side of the Olympic National Park it is under 2 hours return to end your 5 day Olympic Peninsula Road trip back in Seattle.
A shorter Olympic National Park Itinerary
Only got 3 days? Look to make some earlier starts and take some shorter trails, this itinerary can easily be packed into a shorter time frame, why not try:
- Day 1 – Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc
- Day 2 – La Push/Rialto Beach, Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach
- Day 3 – Kalaloch, Quinault Forest, Lake Quinault
With only 4 days we’d drop the eastern most part of the park and head back to Seattle after visiting Quinault Valley.
Lodgings in Olympic National Park
What’s your road tripping style? Will you be looking to camp, have your RV or motorhome with you or require motor inn or lodge/hotel style accommodation?
The Olympic Peninsula offers the lot but if you have any strong preferences BOOK EARLY!
Many options, particularly popular campsites and lodges within the national park, will book out months in advance. DO expect even motor inns and motels to be fully booked in the peak of summer; we’d not turn up on spec in the Olympic Peninsula.
Olympic National Park Lodges
One of the best ways to experience Olympic National Park if you love having accommodation with full amenities is to stay at a lodge. The three main lodges to choose from attached to the Olympic National Park are Lake Quinault, Kalaloch, and Lake Crescent Lodge.
The best place to base yourself for exploring the northern highlight of Olympic National Park. The historic Lake Crescent Lodge offers spectacular waterfront and mountain views. For year-round enjoyment, the various accommodation choices from lodge rooms to cottages and cozy fireplace cabins.
It would be our top pick for families both for amenities and the choice of accommodation.
Situated on the southern coastal area, be preferred for an authentic Pacific Coast experience! Kalaloch Lodge offers rooms with incredible forest views, as well as seafront cabins and Seacrest House for an incredible oceanside experience.
If you’re looking for a classic national park lodge experience in nature, Lake Quinault Lodge will deliver on the tranquility and breathtaking scenery you desire with a lakefront setting.
Remember, lodges are not the same as luxury hotels! National park lodges are designed to help you connect with nature; there are no televisions and possible no cell service. Rooms do not come equipped with extras like microwaves and self-catering facilities, so you will also need meal reservations at the onsite restaurants.
Camping Olympic National Park
Camping in Olympic National Park is an incredible experience with the kids. Yes, weather in PNW can often disagree with your best laid plans, but do try it!
- Most campsites are unpowered but will provide access to bathroom facilities and potable water.
- Be aware of the need to book and pay well in advance.
- First come, first serve only operates at quiet off-peak season times.
- Peak bookings are only released six months in advance on a rolling basis.
- Sites open between approximately March and June for the summer season (i.e. you need to start looking at booking slots from September to December the year before)
One of the most beautiful family camp sites in Olympic National Park, inclusive of a superb evening ranger program. The summer season here is short so the 72 sites here get snapped up fast. Each site is equipped with a fire pit and picnic table. Regular sites $24USD/night, group sites $48USD/night.
This popular beachside campground is close to both Rialto Beach and La Push with 94 sites. All sites are unpowered with fire pit and picnic table, note the RV dump only operates in summer (with additional charge). Regular sites $24USD/night, group sites $48USD/night.
Another good coastal option for families. This large campground has 168 unpowered campsites spread along the cliffs and beachfront. Advance reservations are a must in summer, whilst off-peak they run a first-come basis (some loops may be closed as inaccessible in winter). RV dump operates at a fee. RV & standard sites $24USD/night, group sites $48USD/night.
This campground is located on the shores of Lake Quinault, and it has 31 unpowered campsites. Bookings are open from May to mid-September. All sites here are unpowered $25USD/night.
Another sort-after option along Lake Quinault with only 21 campsites. There’s a slightly longer season here than other campsite from April to October, RV’s only up to 16ft. All sites here are unpowered, $25USD/night.
If you are traveling with a larger RV or motorhome, or prefer more facilities than you get at an unpowered campsite you’ll also want to check out:
With 82 tent camping sites and 17 RV camping sites (water/electric hookup), this campground sits just a quarter-mile from Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. The season here runs from mid-April to the end of October. Camping off-peak is permitted, but you may not have water & power.
The resort facilities include hot springs pools and swimming pools, onsite massage (additional charges), restaurant, poolside deli and gift shop.
Another option on the shores of Lake Crescent, offering a choice of rustic cabins, powered and unpowered sites. These sites can only be booked by phone – 888.896.3818.
Motor Inns, Motels & Hotels around the Olympic Peninsula
Surrounding Olympic National Park, there are several small towns offering family lodgings.
Accommodation Near Port Angeles
- Olympic View Inn –
- Quality Inn & Suites Olympic National Park
- Red Lion Hotel Port Angeles Harbor – easy walking distance to everything on offer in Port Angeles with onsite pool & dining
The only town of any real size on the western side of Olympic National Park is Forks, 15 minutes off the coast. You’ll be able to stock up on supplies here and find reasonably priced basic motel accommodation. We recommend:
- Woodland Inns – each room includes a kitchen and living area, accommodating up to 6
- Forks Motel – includes laundry facilities & heated pool, offers double rooms that can fit up to 5
- Pacific Inn Motel – larger doubles for families that can fit up to – even Twilight decorated rooms!
Olympic National Park Pass Fees
- Single entry -$30
- Olympic National Park Annual Pass – $55
- America the Beautiful Annual Pass (all national parks) – $80
- Every Kids Outdoors (4th Grader Pass) – Free
Camping permits cost extra as outlined above.
You can pay at several gated entrances to the National Park, at one of the visitor centers, or order your annual passes in advance – America the Beautiful is a must for a US Road Trip!
We recommend having your passes ready before arriving to save entry time. Whilst there is no timed entry permit required to enter like other busy national parks, in the summer peak long queues can be experienced at Hurricane Ridge and Hoh Rainforest.
More Tips & Inspiration For Road Tripping West Coast USA
Continue your family road trip adventure on the USA West Coast and the Pacific North West. Why not check out next:
- Washington’s most scenic drives – from Snoqualmie Falls to the San Juan Islands, these are the most stunning roads you need to drive, many are an easy day trip from Seattle.
- The Most Utterly Unmissable Scenic Drives in Oregon – from spectacular coastlines to mountain passes and waterfall trails, Oregon packs in the lot for nature-lovers in PNW.
- 12 incredible Scenic Drives in Northern California – discover a whole new side to California, far more than just sunshine and beaches you’ll explore California’s mining past, giant coastal Redwoods, and volcanic legacy with this selection of unmissable drives.
- Check real-time traffic conditions before you set out in Washington with WSDOT interactive map.
- Never forget an important road-tripping item again! Download our essential family road trip checklist before your travel.
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