Few if any of America’s National Parks offer as diverse a landscape as Washington's Olympic National Park, which protects a vast wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula and boasts three distinct ecosystems. There are few roads in the park’s interior and the best way to discover it is in hiking boots. The best hikes in Olympic National Park range from delightful day hikes to extended backpacking adventures and take you from temperate rainforests and rugged beaches to the peaks of glacier-capped mountains.
Olympic National Park is a world heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve where scientists can study ecosystems that have barely been touched by humans. It has four regions each with a distinct flavor. To the west are temperate old-growth rainforests and to the drier eastern side are pine forests. The Pacific coastline region protects 70 miles of rocky shoreline and the alpine area has high snow-capped peaks offering views of the Olympic interior.
To make the most of your time here, plan ahead as the distances between regions and trails is vast. There are lots of permitted opportunities for camping and backpacking if you want to bring your tent and sleeping bag as well as lodging inside and near the park. While our list of the best hikes in Olympic National Park barely scratches the surface of this wild and wonderful place, we’ve made sure to cover some of the best beach walks, rainforest rambles and alpine adventures to get you started.
Hoh River Trail
Distance: 34 miles
Discovering the lush enchantment of temperate rainforest is the best reason to visit Olympic and one of the best ways to do that is on the Hoh River Trail in the southwest portion of the park. This canopied trail winds along the river from the visitor center all the way to Glacier Meadows and you can experience abundant giant ferns and moss thanks to the 12 feet of rain this area receives on average each year. Though the length of the trail lends itself to an unforgettable backpacking trip, you can of course hike for as long as you like for a day hike too. The trail is mostly flat for the first 13 miles until a steep climb takes you up to Glacier Meadows. Most of the rain falls from late fall to early spring so between May and September is the best time to explore this trail.
Distance: 34 miles
Rialto Beach is one of the most iconic – and photographed – spots in the park, where the trees meet the ocean and find a rocky shoreline, glistening rock pools and rugged sea stacks. Park at Rialto Beach and walk 1.5 miles north at low tide to Hole-in-the-Wall, a hole in a massive rock wall that you can walk through and snap photos. You can enjoy this as a short day hike or bring a backpack for a longer adventure and sleep in one of the designated campsites.
For an exquisite sunset, head to Ruby Beach, a wild stretch of beach in the northern part of the park’s southern coastline named for its ruby-like sand crystals. You can wander for hours if you like among the driftwood and admire the sea stacks and views of Destruction Island and lighthouse four miles out to sea.
Distance: 1.7 miles
This pleasant hike in the northwest region of the park made our list of best Washington waterfall hikes and offers great viewing of spectacular cascades. Begin at the Storm King Ranger Station and wind through lush, old growth forest and giant ferns alongside Barnes Creek before arriving at the viewing platform over the spectacular 90-foot falls over mossy rocks. Return the way you came or make a loop via the nature trail.
Sol Duc Falls
Distance: 1.6 miles or 5.8 miles
Sol Duc Valley is a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience, boasting lush rainforests and snow-capped mountains. Sol Duc Falls splits into multiple channels that dive almost 50ft into a gorge. The short, family-friendly hike here begins from Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resorts and the well-maintained path leads you through mossy forest under a dense canopy. You’ll hear the roar of the falls up ahead before arriving at them via a short, steep climb and will most likely get a bit damp as you get up close to the falls.
The hike to the falls is short and easy, but you can make for a longer adventure with Lover’s Lane Loop which takes you back to the trailhead on the other side of the river from your ascent.
Royal Basin Falls and Lake
Distance: 14.6 miles
Royal Basin Lake is fed by one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park and well worth the strenuous hike to get here. Begin on the Upper Dungeness Trail then take the Royal Basin Trail through dense rainforest. Enjoy stunning views from the pretty lake then continue another half mile past the ranger station to the mossy horsetail falls, which tumble 60ft and are almost as wide as they are tall.
High Divide and Seven Lakes Basin Loop
Distance: 19 miles
If you want to get up high, take one of the Pacific Northwest’s most popular backpacking trails up into the Olympic mountains to the summit of Bogachiel Peak where on a clear day, you’ll have views of Mount Olympus. Along the way, you’ll pass seven glittering alpine lakes, a waterfall and be treated to scenic ridgeline views and abundant wildlife viewing. This epic backpacking trip begins from the Sol Duc trailhead and of course, you can enjoy any amount of it for a day hike too.
Distance: 7 miles
This mountain hike takes you up to the summit of a small peak where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Olympic interior and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Maiden Peak lies between Obstruction Point and Deer Park. Starting from Deer Park trailhead, you’ll climb the several humps of Green Mountain before a short scramble to the summit.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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