Family Vacations to Olympic National Park, Washington

Second Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Second Beach, Olympic NP (PhotoDisc)

Olympic National Park Family Travel Tips

  • Drive along the shores of scenic Lake Crescent.
  • Take an easy walk to a spectacular 90-foot waterfall.
  • Hike through wildflower-dotted meadows, through dense rainforest, and along wilderness beaches.
  • Soak in mineral hot springs.
  • Raft the Elwha River.

Three distinct ecosystems—snowcapped mountains, ocean shore, and temperate rainforest—await visitors to the nearly one-million-acre Olympic National Park. Your family can venture into misty forests where Sitka spruce and Douglas fir loom over mossy footpaths, go river rafting, and explore tidepools on Pacific beaches. Indeed, the park contains the largest section of wilderness coast—more than 60 miles—in the contiguous lower 48 states, offering plenty of space to roam.

Pick up information on organized park activities at the visitor center, including the schedule for the naturalist-led tidepool or woodland walks. For scenic views in the northern rim section, drive Highway 101, which skirts the southern shore of glacier-carved Lake Crescent. Get out of the car to walk the easy Marymere Falls Trail, which leads through old-growth forest to the spectacular 90-foot waterfall. For a challenging hike, try the Mount Storm King Trail, a 4.2-mile path that climbs steeply for 1.7 miles. If you've brought your bikes, the Spruce Railroad Trail on the northeastern shore of Lake Crescent offers the best opportunity for pedaling.

Hurricane Ridge is the northern rim's most popular area. Take the1.5-mile Hurricane Hill Trail for views of Port Angeles, mountain peaks, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With little kids, walk part of the Meadow Trail, a loop winding through flower-filled meadows and woods populated by deer.

If you're looking for a good day hike, walk the 9.3-mile Ozette coastal loop, a combination of three trails. But before you begin, know when the high tide arrives so that you won't be trapped and plan accordingly. Start on the 3.3-mile Cape Alva Trail through lowland coastal forest. From there pick up the three-mile Sand Point Trail to the beach, and then stroll another three miles along the sand. Besides exploring tidepools for marine life, take a look at the sea stacks, eerie eroded remains of coastal cliffs that rise from the water alongside the path.

The Hoh Rain Forest, 91 miles from Port Angeles, receives 150 inches of annual rainfall, creating a beautiful, lush landscape that nurtures some mighty arboreal specimens. The three-quarter-mile Hall of Mosses Trail leads past moss-draped maples; on the 1.25-mile Spruce Nature Trail, follow the Hoh River as you pass under towering trees and over the fern-covered forest floor. After hiking, head to the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, where you can soak in mineral springs and soothe away any aches.

Olympic Raft & Kayak operates raft trips in Olympic National Park. Choose either the Elwha River, a scenic Class II+ outing through forested valleys with views of snowcapped mountain peaks, or a milder float on the Hoh River through the lush rainforest interior.

Tip: Each summer, the Olympic Park Institute (www.yni.org/opi) operates several day and weekend programs for families, with courses including hiking, fishing, canoeing, and photography camps.

Recommended Side Trips: Seattle, Olympia, Victoria and Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada)


Away.com's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from Amazon.com.

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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