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Hiking and Backpacking in Olympic National Park

The greenery of Olympic National Park is striking. Long strands of moss, giant trees, and some of the country’s most diverse plants and ecosystems are all located in Olympic. It is a diverse landscape with many different ecosystems. Between Olympic National Park’s mountains, beaches, and rainforests, there is a perfect trail for any visitor.

Pros and Cons of Hiking in Olympic National Park


  1. Access to four different bioregions

  2. Diverse and abundant wildlife

  3. Many different trails and hikes of all distances


  1. Extremely rainy. Wettest spot in the lower 48

  2. Difficult to access the interior of the park

  3. A long drive from any major city

My first trip to Olympic National Park was for the Pacific Northwest Trail. It was a five-hour drive from my hometown up to the northwest corner of Olympic National Park. The drive took all day, but my reward was camping on the beach. The sun set spectacularly over the ocean, and the dull thud of waves crashing into the beach was the perfect white noise. My first night in Olympic National Park was magic.

My first trip to Olympic National Park was to start the Pacific Northwest Trail. Any route that explored so many different environments rose to the top of my list.

Exploring on foot

Growing up, we were never the family to drive a loop in a national park and check it off the list. We were the family that backpacked three miles into a lake, stayed three days, and then did so three years in a row to ensure we thoroughly experienced the location. Immersing myself in a landscape is still my preferred way of experiencing somewhere new, but I have expanded my daily miles.

In the mountains of Olympic National Park while on the Pacific Northwest Trail

In the mountains of Olympic National Park while on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks

On my west-to-east traverse of the national park, I carried tide charts and waded through saltwater along the coast, camping with a beautiful view of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. My route left the sand for the rainforests, and I was glad I packed an umbrella. The green was vibrant, and water was everywhere. Strands of moss dangled off massive trees. But, then, I climbed higher, and the moss disappeared with snow in its place. There were views of Mt. Olympus, alpine lakes, and Hurricane Ridge down to old-growth forests on the east side.

Hiking and Backpacking in the Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is in the northwest corner of Washington. It is on the Olympic Peninsula and a long drive from any major city. Planning even before the hike begins is paramount. A visit and even the individual trails in Olympic can range from sand to snow, with rain in between. The weather changes quickly, and the climates and ecosystems end abruptly. It is an unforgiving landscape with very little connectivity. Some trails have ladders and ropes to compensate for the continual washout of the routes.

But don’t be deterred by the warnings. By stepping out on the Olympic National Park Trails, you will be blown away by the beauty, uniqueness, and solitude that rarely are found within a national park. Here are a few of my favorite hikes.

Recommended Hikes in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Hill via Hurricane Ridge provides views in every direction.

This is one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park to get a glimpse at how massive its size. The views start before you even leave the parking lot. Early glimpses of the weathered tips of the Bailey Range are filled in with a 360-degree view of the entire upper Olympic Peninsula. At the top of the three switchbacks that take you to the top of the 5,757-foot hill are sights of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, Port Angeles, and even Canada.

It is a gentle but continuous climb, 1.6 miles up the exposed route and 1.6 miles back down, gaining about 650 feet along the way. But, the views from the top are worth it. The exposure, altitude, and landscape offer no escape from any hazardous weather, so packing enough for anything is recommended.

Hurrican Hill via Hurricane Ridge is a great first hike in the national park not only for its moderate length and steepness but also because of its well-signed length. Both trail intersections and interpretive signs are plentiful to help you enjoy this hike and others you complete in the national park.

Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall 

A trip to Olympic National Park isn’t complete without a hike on the beach. From Rialto Beach to Hole-In-The-Wall, there is no real trail. The beach is the pathway, and the footprints of others lead the way. It is a flat hike, but bring a map because other islands and notable rocks sit off the coast, waiting to be identified.

On my way to Hole-In-The-Wall, I took off my shoes and enjoyed the sand between my toes. Bald Eagles perched in trees and crashing waves under the blue sky made it the ideal day to visit. When I got to the arch, the tide was out so I could walk through its rugged interior.

This four-mile out and back brings the possibility of seeing whales, sea lions, otters, and eagles and getting your feet wet. A small creek runs down the sand to the ocean roughly halfway to the arch and requires either walking across a log or trudging through the sandy water. But, if you visit on a day as perfect as the day I did, you will welcome the cool water.

Sunset over Olympic National Park Beach

Sunset over Olympic National Park Beach

High Divide Trail and Seven Lakes Basin Loop

To start, Seven Lakes Basin has more than seven lakes. But that only adds to the magic of this epic backpacking route (or hike if you push it in one day). I most enjoyed Lunch Lake and Heart Lake Basin. The view of Mt. Olympus popped out above the clouds, and it felt like a completely different place than spending the previous day on the beach.

The trail begins at Sol Duc Falls trailhead and immediately begins climbing through the old-growth forest. A river flows nearby, and the large trees mute any sounds from outside. Further up you go, past Deer Lake and eventually out of the forest. The trail gets more rugged as you gain a ridge, and then the wonder and the epicness begin.

This is a difficult route. The trail can be steep and is exposed up on the high divide. Weather moves in quickly, but these same factors lead to impressive views. Forests full of wildlife, wildflowers, and tranquility perfectly describe this hike.

The hike is a 19-mile permitted route that may be the worst-kept secret of Olympic. But, since it is permitted, an epic campsite is waiting if you snake through the reservation process. While up there, consider tagging Bogachiel Peak with a short side trip. Most people complete the hike in a counterclockwise direction, which offers the best logistics for arriving at the lakes to camp on the first night.

Seven Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park 

Seven Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls is the shortest and the most accessible hike on this list. But that does not mean that it is not an essential part of a visit to the Olympics. A short 1.8-mile round-trip hike to the falls will redefine what you consider a lush, old-growth forest. And, while short, it still gains 200 feet from the parking lot to the falls.

This easy, family-friendly hike starts just past the site of the Sol Duc Hotel (destroyed by fire in 1912). Shade encompasses the majority of this hike, with a thick forest canopy overhead, and the solitude is only broken up by the roar of the falls.

The unique part of Sol Duc Falls is that it is ever-changing. The falls will split into multiple channels and cascades with increased water levels. Often lined with photographers, numerous points offer great views of the massive natural force.

Hoh River Trail 

The moss is magical throughout the Hoh Rainforest. The green is so vibrant it requires sunglasses on this unique route. The Hoh River Trail is an out and back that can be extended as far as you would like, with the option to camp along the way, or cut it short after enjoying the wet old growth forests.

On my backpacking trip, I was fortunate to see the giant Roosevelt Elk and even enjoyed a few breaks in the rain. This is one of the only times in my life I backpacked with an umbrella. The forest gets over 200 inches of rain a year and is the wettest forest in the United States. That stat alone made me consider carrying a little extra reprieve while logging miles outside of the sanctuary of my tent.

As I hiked the length of the Hoh River Trail, I enjoyed finding the largest leaves possible and taking photos using them as umbrellas in the rain. The magnitude and scale of the trees, growth, and greenery make the forest look as though there could be a secret colony of dinosaurs living within it.

If the rain doesn’t get your feet wet, a crossing or muddy section probably will. If I didn’t already mention, the trail is very wet. But, it is also popular. It is the most bio-diverse trail I have ever hiked, and that seems to intrigue many backpackers. Reservations for campsites can be made ahead of time, and be sure to pack a very waterproof tent. At one extreme, the trail can be hiked 19 miles up to Blue Glacier, which means it is 19 miles back down.

Shielding myself with a large leaf on the Hoh River Trail

Shielding myself with a large leaf on the Hoh River Trail


The diversity of Olympic National Park is unmatched. The chance to hike on the beach and in the mountains within the same national park is unique, and with such well-maintained trails and campsites, this national park does not disappoint. My favorite part was camping in Olympic National Park. Seeing the sunset over the Pacific Ocean one day and then rise behind the mountains the next made it a magical experience. There is a hiking trail in Olympic National Park for everyone.

Tips for hiking in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park has multiple climates

Depending on when you are planning on visiting, craft your itinerary carefully based on the conditions. Because the national park ranges from sea level to nearly 8,000 feet, it is important to consider packing four seasons worth of gear. Snow, rain, and baking sunshine are all possible on the same day.

Backpacking Olympic National Park
Exploring Olympic National Park

Stereotypical Fog at altitude in Olympic National Park

Where to sleep near Olympic National Park?

There are a number of campgrounds in Olympic National Park that range from walk-in to full-service drive-in campgrounds. In addition, wilderness permits can be obtained for backpacking in the park. With a permit, you can camp on the beaches of Olympic National Park, and with reservations, there are spots at more traditional campgrounds. I really enjoyed camping at Hoh Campground. There was access to the small town of Forks as well as giant mossy trees all around on the edge of the rainforest. Free dispersed camping is also available on the patches of national forest land.

Do you need Bear Canisters in Olympic National Park?

Bear Cans are required to camp in Olympic National Park and are recommended for others. The entire coast, Seven Lakes Basin, Enchanted Valley, Royal Basin, and Sol Duc River all require Bear Cans for storing food anywhere that it cannot be hung at least twelve feet high and ten feet from a tree. Bears, mice, and raccoons all have a history of getting into the food of backpackers in Olympic.

Parking and Passes in Olympic National Park

National Park Passes are required and can be purchased prior to your visit. Once inside the park, there are designated spots and parking lots for each hike.

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