Olympic National Park offers over 900,00 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 all within two hours of Seattle, Washington.
History of Olympic National Park
A British Captain gave Mount Olympus its name back in the 1700s though the Native Americans, like the Quinault and the Hoh, lived and hunted on the peninsula for a millennia before. Theodore Roosevelt protected the Olympic Peninsula as a national monument in 1909. After a visit in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the monument a national park in 1938.
Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, The United Nations designated Olympic National Park a biosphere reserve in 1976 and later proclaimed it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
The Beaches of Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park touches the Pacific Ocean on the west side. Tide pools and rugged beaches dominate the landscape. Stop by the Kalaloch Ranger Station (open seasonally) for a special Junior Ranger booklet to complete while exploring the beach.
Rudy Beach and Beach 4 offer tide pool opportunities. Be sure to check on the low tide times at the ranger station. My kids loved exploring the tide pools looking for ribbed limpets, acorn barnacles and giant green anemones even more than hiking in the rainforest.
Kalaloch Beach offers a campground, lodging and a restaurant along with an expansive sandy beach. Ruby Beach offers the more parking than Beach 3 and Beach 4. All beaches are conveniently located along U.S. Route 101.
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.
Storm King Ranger Station offers information and a starting point for several hikes. Hike to Marymere Falls (.9-mile trail, one way) from 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.
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.
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. Both are equally as stunning and offer family hikes.
Be sure and hike to the world’s largest Sitka spruce on the .3-mile trail, located close to the Lake Quinalt post office.
Sol Duc Hot Springs
After a long day of hiking, I stopped for a soak in a mineral-rich hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. A family-friendly environment offers a fresh-water swimming pool (78F) for the kids and three small soaking pools (99F – 104F) along with 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 could keep an eye on them 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 $15.00, kids 4 to 12 is $10.00 with kids 3 and under entering for free.
Hurricane Ridge offers visitors the only accessible viewpoint of the the Olympic Mountains. A 17-mile drive from Port Angeles, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center offers an introductory film and concessions are located nearby.
The towering peak of Mount Olympus rises up 7,980 feet as the tallest point in the Olympic National Park. Part of the Olympic Mountain Range, it’s home to 266 glaciers. Alpine wildflowers that sway in the mountain breezes make Hurricane Ridge a favorite with visitors.
Lodging in Olympic National Park
During my visit to Olympic National Park, I stayed at Lake Quinault Lodge, located on the southern edge at Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Forest. Featured on the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks, it offers modern amenities and kids’ activities in a family-friendly environment.
The north side of Olympic National Park offers several options from the rustic to the refined. Lake Crescent Lodge also offers gracious rooms in a historic lodge. Log Cabin Resort offers family-friendly camping cabins and kayaks. Sol Duc Hot Springs offers lodging close to the Hot Springs pool.
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 a visitor center or ranger station. Both are about a two-hour drive from Seattle.
Olympic National Park with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program offers families a way to discover a national park site together in about 2 hours. Olympic National Park offers kids several Junior Ranger patches and badges to earn during their visit.
I found Olympic National Park Junior Ranger booklets at visitor centers and ranger stations. At the visitor center, kids can check out a Discovery Packet, a backpack filled with field guides, binoculars and magnifying lens to 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.
Where’s 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.
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.
Know Before You Go:
- Olympic National Park doesn’t have roads that bisect the 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.
- The Sol Duc Hot Springs have a faint sulfur smell that might bother some kids.