Even though I've lived near enough Olympic National Park to see it regularly, I've rarely had the chance to go there. Because of it's location on the Olympic Peninsula, it is a combination of long hours of driving and time on a ferry to get there.
Even still, I have had the chance to visit Olympic National Park on two separate occasions. The park is huge, covering nearly 1500 square miles (or nearly 4000 square km.) It encompasses three distinct ecosystems: the alpine zone, the rainforest, and the coastline.
My first visit to the park was a sunny, hot weekend in early July of 2011. It was a spontaneously planned trip and gave us just a taste of what the Park has to offer. We stayed at Elwha Campground, down the Elwha River from the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams. We learned over our weekend that the dams were due to be removed in a massive river restoration project, starting that fall. As such, the Elwha Campground would be closing that fall, and still remains closed five years later due to the flooding caused by the dam removals.
Our second day in the park we drove up to Hurricane Ridge. We did the short hike to Hurricane Hill and enjoyed the amazing 360 views around us.
We had planned a two-night backpacking trip with friends to Toleak Point along the South Coast Wilderness Trail. It was an easy start, hiking 1.5 miles from the trailhead to Third Beach. After that the trail got a bit more rugged, hiking along the sandy beach for a bit and then going overland through many muddy sections. By the time we made it to the campground at Toleak Point we were quite worn out and ready to relax, instead of continuing further south.
It turned out to be the right choice. It was a very wild spot, with eagles and ravens nesting overhead, seals off shore, and amazing tide pools to explore at low tide.
Olympic National Park is best described in three words: wild, remote, and rugged. There are three separate ecosystems to discover, and three unique areas of the park to explore. Because of it's isolated location, visiting the park is best done over multiple days, and even then you'll only be getting a brief taste. There are good front country activities for families, such as visiting Hurricane Ridge, walking through the Hoh Rain Forest, or enjoying one of the many beaches of the Kalaloch area. There are also endless backpacking options through the mountains or along the coast. Be prepared for all sorts of weather and plan to make the best of the rainier days.
Now it's your turn to share. Have you been to Olympic National Park? What has your experience been like? What would you recommend to a first-time visitor? Please share in the comments below!