Olympic National Park, nestled in the northwestern corner of Washington state, is a natural wonderland that has beckoned outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and adventurers for generations. This diverse and expansive national park encompasses nearly a million acres of pristine wilderness, featuring everything from rugged coastlines and dense rainforests to towering alpine peaks and awe-inspiring glaciers. With a tapestry of ecosystems and landscapes, Olympic National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering an array of trails and adventures for all levels of expertise.
We are embarking on a virtual journey through this natural wonder, exploring the finest hiking trails that this national treasure has to offer. Our focus will be on the top 16 hiking routes, delving into the details of each trail, providing insights, tips, and stories to inspire you in planning your own Olympic National Park adventure.
Lake Crescent Trail: A Serene Prelude
Our journey begins with the enchanting Lake Crescent Trail, a serene path that meanders along the crystalline waters of Lake Crescent. This trail is perfect for those seeking an easy introduction to the park’s beauty. The lake’s mirror-like surface reflects the surrounding mountains, creating an idyllic scene. Birdsong fills the air, and the scent of pine trees wafts gently on the breeze.
Lake Crescent Trail is a relatively short hike, measuring about 4 miles round trip, and the trailhead is easily accessible from the main road that traverses the park. It is an ideal choice for families and individuals looking for a leisurely walk with picturesque views. Along the way, you can expect to find picnic spots, perfect for a mid-hike break to savor the stunning vistas and perhaps dip your toes in the cool waters of Lake Crescent.
As I embarked on this tranquil trail, I was struck by the park’s pristine wilderness. Tall conifers created a lush canopy overhead, and the glistening lake, flanked by steep, forested slopes, stretched as far as the eye could see. The sense of peace and connection with nature was profound. Keep an eye out for native wildlife; deer, eagles, and various bird species are often spotted along the trail.
Blue Glacier: The Challenge of the Cascades
For those seeking a more challenging and adventurous experience, the Blue Glacier hike awaits. This trail leads you through a diverse range of ecosystems, from dense cedar forests to high-alpine meadows, culminating in the spectacular sight of a vibrant blue glacier. The hike is strenuous and should not be underestimated, but the reward is a mesmerizing experience that will be etched in your memory forever.
To reach the Blue Glacier, one must traverse the heart of the Olympic Mountains. The trailhead is accessible from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, a popular starting point for many park adventures. The journey involves an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet, which requires stamina and proper hiking gear, including layers for changing weather conditions. The trail itself is well-maintained but can be rocky and uneven in places.
As I began my ascent, I was struck by the stark contrast between the lush lower slopes and the raw, rocky terrain that lay ahead. Towering peaks and valleys stretched out before me, their slopes adorned with wildflowers that painted the landscape in vibrant hues. It was an intoxicating blend of rugged wilderness and alpine beauty.
After hours of hiking and a sense of anticipation building, the glacier came into view. The Blue Glacier’s iridescent shades of blue were an astonishing sight. The glacial ice was striated and punctuated with crevasses, a testament to the dynamic nature of this frozen giant. It was a humbling moment, standing in the presence of such ancient and magnificent forces of nature.
Hoh River Trail: A Journey Into the Rainforest
Olympic National Park is renowned for its verdant rainforests, and the Hoh River Trail is your gateway to this enchanting ecosystem. The Hoh Rainforest is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States, and a hike along this trail is like stepping into a fairytale world where emerald mosses cloak ancient trees and the air is thick with moisture.
The trailhead for the Hoh River Trail is situated at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center, a gateway to this lush and captivating wilderness. The hike begins gently, with a well-maintained path leading you into the heart of the rainforest. Hikers are greeted by towering spruce and hemlock trees, their trunks shrouded in hanging mosses.
What struck me most about the Hoh Rainforest was its silence. Despite the teeming life all around, the forest floor cushioned with ferns and nurse logs supporting new growth, there was a profound stillness. The river’s gentle murmur provided the only consistent sound, and I felt like an interloper in a world that had existed for millennia.
The Hoh River Trail is fairly level and makes for a relatively easy hike, but its length varies depending on how far you wish to go. Some hikers opt for a day trip to the Hoh River, a round trip of about 13 miles. Others venture deeper into the rainforest, tackling the 17.4-mile round trip to the Glacier Meadows, where the Hoh Glacier can be seen.
The Hoh Rainforest is home to a rich tapestry of wildlife, including Roosevelt elk, Pacific tree frogs, and countless species of birds. It’s also an ideal location for botany enthusiasts, with unique flora adapted to this damp and mossy environment. One highlight of my hike was the Hall of Mosses, a loop trail near the visitor center that showcases the forest’s most spectacular moss-draped trees.
As I wandered deeper into the rainforest, I marveled at the gigantic nurse logs, fallen trees that serve as nurseries for new trees and plants. It was a humbling reminder of nature’s ability to renew and regenerate.
Olympic Mountains: A Feast of Peaks
The Olympic Mountains, the rugged heart of Olympic National Park, are a haven for hikers and mountaineers. This region is a showcase of diverse landscapes, from rugged alpine peaks to serene, crystal-clear lakes nestled in high basins. The Olympic Mountains offer a cornucopia of trails to explore, each with its own character and charm.
The stunning landscape is accessible from various entry points, including Hurricane Ridge, Obstruction Point, and Deer Park. Each area offers its own unique hikes and panoramas. I had the opportunity to explore a few of these trails during my time in Olympic National Park.
Hurricane Ridge is a popular starting point, and the Hurricane Hill Trail is a great introduction to the Olympic Mountains. The trail provides jaw-dropping views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. On a clear day, you can see Mount Olympus, the park’s highest peak, standing majestically in the distance.
Obstruction Point is another entry point into the mountains, and the Obstruction Point Trail is a must for those seeking a high-elevation adventure. This trail traverses alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, and the views from the ridge are simply breathtaking. Keep an eye out for marmots and mountain goats, which are frequently spotted here.
Deer Park, on the park’s northern side, offers sweeping vistas of the surrounding peaks and valleys. The Sunrise Point Trail provides a relatively easy hike with stunning views, especially at sunrise and sunset. This is a fantastic spot for stargazing, as the park is designated as a Dark Sky Park.
While my exploration of the Olympic Mountains was limited to a few trails, it was abundantly clear that this region is a treasure trove of natural beauty. The varied landscapes and dramatic vistas make it a paradise for those who revel in the beauty of the great outdoors.
Sol Duc Falls Trail: A Natural Wonderland
A visit to the Sol Duc Falls is a must for anyone exploring Olympic National Park. The Sol Duc Falls Trail is a short and easy hike that leads you to the spectacular Sol Duc Falls, one of the park’s most famous waterfalls. The hike is just over a mile round trip, making it perfect for hikers of all levels.
The trailhead is conveniently located near the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, where you can soak your weary muscles after the hike. As I began the trek, the forest enveloped me in a sense of tranquility. Towering Douglas firs, red cedars, and western hemlocks loomed overhead, and the path was lined with vibrant ferns and mosses.
After a leisurely stroll, I arrived at the stunning Sol Duc Falls. The waterfall is a captivating sight, with its four separate channels of cascading water crashing into the rocky riverbed below. The mist from the falls cools the air, creating a refreshing microclimate. It’s not uncommon to see rainbows forming in the mist on sunny days.
After soaking in the beauty of the falls, I made my way back to the trailhead and then to the nearby Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Here, I indulged in a soak in the hot springs, a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. The resort offers a variety of mineral pools of varying temperatures, allowing visitors to unwind while surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.
The allure of the Hoh Rainforest drew me back for a second visit. This time, I was determined to explore deeper into this enchanting world of greenery and tranquility. As I set out, I was already familiar with the lush mosses, towering trees, and the whisper of the Hoh River.
One of the advantages of a return visit to the Hoh Rainforest is the ability to delve further into the trail network. The Hoh River Trail continues far beyond where I had previously ventured, and the Glacier Meadows Trail branches off into the high country.
As I hiked deeper into the forest, I was struck by the seemingly endless variety of plant life. Epiphytic mosses clung to the trees, creating hanging gardens that dripped with dew. Ferns of all sizes carpeted the forest floor, their delicate fronds unfurling in every shade of green.
One of the highlights of this visit was the opportunity to observe the Roosevelt elk that roam the Hoh Rainforest. These massive herbivores are a true emblem of the park’s wild character. My heart quickened as I saw a small herd grazing in a meadow near the trail. I observed them from a safe distance, respecting their need for space and minimal disruption.
As I continued to hike, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the preservation of places like the Hoh Rainforest. They serve as a refuge for countless species of plants and animals, and they remind us of the importance of protecting the planet’s most vulnerable and valuable ecosystems.
Ozette Triangle: Coastal Wonders
The Olympic National Park is a unique confluence of land and sea, and the Ozette Triangle hike is a captivating way to experience the park’s rugged coastline. This loop hike takes you along the Pacific Ocean’s edge, where you’ll find sea caves, tide pools teeming with life, and breathtaking vistas.
The trailhead for the Ozette Triangle hike is located at the Ozette Ranger Station on the park’s west coast. This relatively flat, well-maintained trail is about 9 miles in total and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels. The loop consists of three distinct segments: the Cape Alava Trail, the Sand Point Trail, and the boardwalk connecting the two.
I began my hike on the Cape Alava Trail, which led me through coastal forest and soon emerged onto a rugged stretch of shoreline. Here, the Pacific Ocean stretched as far as the eye could see, and the roar of the waves filled the air.
As I continued along the trail, I came across several fascinating sea caves carved into the sandstone cliffs by the relentless waves. The caves were a wonder to explore, and I marveled at the unique ecosystems within them, from anemones and mussels to sea stars and barnacles.
The trail then led me to a stretch of rocky shoreline, where I encountered numerous tide pools. These mini-ecosystems were filled with life, from colorful sea anemones to scuttling crabs. I took my time exploring this intertidal world, being careful not to disturb the fragile creatures living there.
After reaching Cape Alava and taking in the sweeping views, I retraced my steps and continued along the Sand Point Trail. This part of the trail offered even more spectacular views of the coastline, with towering cliffs and sea stacks rising from the sea. The rugged beauty of the Olympic Coast was truly mesmerizing.
The connecting boardwalk between Sand Point and the trailhead was an engineering marvel. It traversed through lush coastal vegetation, protecting the fragile ecosystem while allowing hikers to experience the park’s coastline safely. It also provided a unique perspective of the lush, moss-draped trees and ferns that thrived in the coastal environment.
My hike along the Ozette Triangle left me with a deep appreciation for the dynamic and ever-changing coastal environments of Olympic National Park. The raw power of the Pacific Ocean, combined with the incredible biodiversity of the tide pools and sea caves, made it a hike to remember.
Mount Ellinor: Summit Glory
Mount Ellinor, located in the southeastern part of Olympic National Park, offers a thrilling mountain hiking experience. This trail is known for its steep ascent and spectacular panoramic views, making it a must-do hike for those seeking an adventure.
The trailhead for Mount Ellinor is accessible from Forest Road 2419, which can be reached from Highway 101. The hike is challenging, with an elevation gain of approximately 3,300 feet in just over 3 miles. It is considered one of the steeper trails in the park, and the terrain can be rocky and uneven, requiring careful footing.
As I embarked on this ascent, I was immediately struck by the steep incline. The trail quickly led me into a dense forest of conifers, and the climb began in earnest. The hike was punctuated by switchbacks that made the ascent more manageable, but it was still a demanding uphill journey.
After hours of exertion, the trail opened up, revealing breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and forests. The summit, at an elevation of about 5,944 feet, offered a dramatic 360-degree panorama. Mount Rainier and the Olympic Range stood out prominently, their snow-capped peaks contrasting with the rugged landscape below.
The summit was also an ideal location for wildlife viewing, and I spotted a family of mountain goats that were equally curious about the hikers. These iconic park residents are often seen in the alpine regions of the Olympics, and they are a true symbol of the area’s wild character.
My descent was a welcome respite from the steep climb, and I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of accomplishment. The challenging hike was undoubtedly worth the effort, as the summit’s beauty and the close encounter with wildlife left a lasting impression.
Murhut Falls Trail: A Family-Friendly Stroll
While Olympic National Park offers its fair share of challenging hikes, it also boasts easier, family-friendly trails. The Murhut Falls Trail is one such hike, perfect for those seeking a leisurely walk through the park’s lush forests.
The trailhead for the Murhut Falls Trail is located near Lake Cushman, a picturesque lake on the eastern edge of Olympic National Park. The trail itself is just over 1 mile round trip and is suitable for hikers of all ages and skill levels. The path is well-maintained and clearly marked, making it an accessible choice for families.
My hike began in a forest of towering conifers, their thick canopies creating a cool, shaded environment. The path led me gently uphill, and it wasn’t long before I heard the sound of rushing water. The anticipation of seeing Murhut Falls added an element of excitement to the walk.
As I reached the falls, I was greeted by a picturesque cascade of water tumbling over moss-covered rocks. The falls stood at an impressive height of 130 feet, framed by vibrant greenery. The sight was a reminder of the park’s diversity, as even its shorter hikes offered captivating natural beauty.
The falls provided a wonderful backdrop for photographs, and it was an ideal location to rest and enjoy a picnic. The trail’s relatively short length made it a pleasant experience, and it was clear that this hike was designed for families and those looking for a casual day in the park.
Mount Storm King Trail: Conquering the King
The Mount Storm King Trail is a challenging hike that rewards adventurers with breathtaking views of Lake Crescent, the pristine jewel of Olympic National Park. This trek is an excellent choice for those looking for a strenuous yet rewarding day on the trails.
The trailhead for Mount Storm King is accessed from the Storm King Ranger Station, located on the shores of Lake Crescent. The hike covers about 4 miles round trip and involves an elevation gain of roughly 2,000 feet. While the distance may seem modest, the trail’s steep and rocky terrain can be a significant challenge, so hikers should come prepared with proper footwear and gear.
The trail began with a moderately steep climb through the forest, leading me toward the heart of the Olympic Mountains. The lush undergrowth and towering trees provided shade and a sense of seclusion, creating an immersive experience in the wilderness.
As I continued, the trail took a dramatic turn. It transitioned into a series of steep switchbacks, testing my endurance and balance. The terrain demanded caution, particularly when navigating rocky sections and root-covered paths. However, each challenging step was rewarded with stunning glimpses of Lake Crescent below.
The summit of Mount Storm King presented an awe-inspiring view of Lake Crescent. The sapphire waters stretched out as far as the eye could see, framed by the surrounding mountains. It was a vista that left me breathless, a testament to the park’s pristine beauty.
While this hike is not for the faint of heart, the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the summit was undeniable. It was a reminder that Olympic National Park’s diverse range of trails offers something for hikers of all levels of experience and fitness.
Lake Quinault Loop: Towering Giants
The Lake Quinault Loop is a delightful hike that takes you around the shores of Lake Quinault, a stunning glacial lake surrounded by old-growth rainforest. This hike provides a unique opportunity to explore the largest Sitka spruce and Douglas fir trees in the park, as well as enjoy serene lake views.
The trailhead for the Lake Quinault Loop is located near the Lake Quinault Lodge, a historic hotel that provides accommodations and dining for park visitors. The hike covers about 3.8 miles and is relatively level, making it an accessible option for hikers of all ages and abilities.
I set out on the trail with the sun filtering through the towering trees, casting dappled shadows on the forest floor. The path led me alongside the glimmering waters of Lake Quinault, which reflected the lush greenery and the towering peaks in the distance.
The true highlight of this hike is the opportunity to see some of the world’s largest trees. Olympic National Park is home to numerous champion trees, and many of them can be found along the Lake Quinault Loop. The Sitka spruce and Douglas fir trees are massive, with some exceeding 300 feet in height and over 1,000 years in age.
As I marveled at these ancient giants, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of awe. These trees are living monuments to the enduring power of nature and the importance of preserving these fragile ecosystems. The forest, a testament to the diverse life that thrives beneath the towering canopy.
The Lake Quinault Loop was a gentle and peaceful hike, with ample opportunities to take in the natural beauty that surrounds Lake Quinault. It’s an excellent option for those seeking a tranquil and meditative experience in the park.
Olympic Coast Backpacking: A Multi-Day Expedition
For those with a sense of adventure and a love of the coast, a multi-day Olympic Coast Backpacking expedition is the ultimate way to explore the park’s rugged and remote coastline. This journey allows hikers to immerse themselves in the dynamic and diverse landscapes of Olympic National Park.
The Olympic Coast, characterized by its rocky headlands, sea stacks, and pristine beaches, can be accessed from various trailheads. Popular starting points include Rialto Beach and Ozette, each offering different routes and opportunities for exploration. While the hikes can range from several miles to over 20 miles in length, this multi-day adventure allows hikers to experience the full breadth of the park’s coastline.
I embarked on a five-day backpacking journey along the Olympic Coast, setting out from Rialto Beach. The route followed the rocky shoreline, offering close encounters with marine life, captivating tide pools, and the haunting beauty of sea stacks silhouetted against the horizon.
The coastline is ever-changing, shaped by the powerful Pacific Ocean. It is a place where nature’s forces are on full display, from the relentless waves that carve sea caves to the shifting sands that reveal hidden treasures. Each day of the journey brought new wonders, from secluded pocket beaches to headlands with sweeping views.
One of the most memorable moments of this journey was camping on the beach, with the roar of the ocean as a constant companion. The sunsets over the Pacific were nothing short of breathtaking, and I felt an unparalleled connection to the wild and untamed nature of Olympic National Park.
The Olympic Coast Backpacking experience was a physically demanding adventure, but the rewards were immeasurable. It allowed me to explore remote and rarely visited sections of the park and provided a deep appreciation for the resilience of the coastal ecosystems.
Lion’s Head: Coastal Vista
Lion’s Head, located on the northern coast of Olympic National Park, is a hidden gem that offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding coastal beauty. This moderate hike provides a unique perspective on the park’s rugged shoreline.
The trailhead for Lion’s Head can be accessed via the Oz
ette Ranger Station, on the park’s western edge. The hike covers about 3 miles round trip and is relatively level, making it a suitable choice for hikers of all levels. The trail leads to a rocky outcrop that offers sweeping vistas of the coastline.
As I began my hike, I was greeted by the characteristic sights and sounds of the coastal environment. The trail led me through dense forest before emerging onto a rocky headland. Here, the rocky terrain was interspersed with vibrant wildflowers, their colors contrasting with the muted tones of the sea stacks and coastal cliffs.
The real treat of this hike, however, was the view from Lion’s Head itself. The outcrop provided a dramatic perspective on the rugged beauty of the Olympic Coast, with sea stacks, tide pools, and the ever-present Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. It was a perfect location for both sunrise and sunset photography, with the sky illuminated by brilliant colors.
I marveled at the immense power of the ocean and the resilience of the plants and animals that thrived in this harsh coastal environment. Lion’s Head was a place of beauty and contemplation, offering a sense of peace and a unique connection to the natural world.
Tubal Cain Mine Trail: A Glimpse into History
The Tubal Cain Mine Trail is a unique hike that combines natural beauty with a glimpse into the park’s historical past. This trail takes hikers to the site of an old gold mine, where remnants of the mining operation can still be seen today.
The trailhead for the Tubal Cain Mine Trail is accessible from Forest Road 27, located in the northeastern part of Olympic National Park. The hike covers about 9 miles round trip and involves an elevation gain of approximately 2,000 feet. While the trail is moderately strenuous, it offers a mix of natural beauty and historical interest.
As I hiked along the trail, I was immediately struck by the diversity of the landscape. The path led me through lush forested slopes, with the murmur of a creek serving as a constant companion. Towering trees created a cool, shaded environment, and the forest floor was covered with ferns and mosses.
The highlight of this hike is the opportunity to explore the remnants of the Tubal Cain Mine, which operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The mine site features old cabins, mining equipment, and the remnants of tunnels and shafts. It is a fascinating glimpse into the park’s history, a reminder of the human endeavor and industry that once intersected with this rugged wilderness.
The trail continues beyond the mine site, leading hikers to even more beautiful vistas. The alpine meadows and rocky outcrops provide sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s a perfect place for a mid-hike break, and it offers a chance to reflect on the intersection of history and nature.
As I hiked back to the trailhead, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection to the generations of people who had ventured into this remote part of the park in search of gold. The Tubal Cain Mine Trail was a unique blend of history and natural beauty, a hike that offered both adventure and education.
Cape Alava: Westernmost Point
The Olympic Coast is home to some of the most remote and untouched beaches in the United States, and Cape Alava is the westernmost point in the contiguous United States. The hike to Cape Alava is a true wilderness adventure, offering a chance to explore this rugged and remote coastal region.
The trailhead for Cape Alava is located near the Ozette Ranger Station, on the park’s western edge. The hike covers about 6 miles round trip and is relatively level, making it accessible for hikers of all levels. The trail leads to a stretch of coastal wilderness that is both serene and wild.
As I embarked on the hike, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the coastal forest. Tall trees, including Sitka spruce and western hemlock, provided a lush canopy overhead. The forest floor was a carpet of ferns, and the sound of the ocean waves in the distance created a sense of anticipation.
The trail meandered through dense forest before emerging onto a stunning beach. Here, the raw power of the Pacific Ocean was on full display, as waves crashed onto the rugged shoreline. The coastline was punctuated by sea stacks, some of which were home to nesting seabirds.
Cape Alava itself offered a serene and windswept viewpoint. As I gazed out over the ocean, I felt a sense of isolation and peace. This is a place where the elements have shaped the land for millennia, and where nature’s rhythms remain largely undisturbed.
Cape Alava is also known for its abundant wildlife. I spotted seals basking on the rocks near the shoreline, and bald eagles soaring overhead. The coastal environment is teeming with life, from the intertidal zones to the towering trees that line the shore.
Cape Alava was the perfect end to my journey through Olympic National Park, a place that embodied the raw and untamed beauty of the Olympic Coast. It was a fitting finale to a park that is a true testament to the diverse and dynamic landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.
Reflecting on the Journey
Each trail had its own unique charm and challenged me in different ways. Some were easy strolls, perfect for families, while others tested my endurance and rewarded me with breathtaking views. Olympic National Park truly is a gem of the Pacific Northwest, offering something for every nature lover.
Throughout my journey, I encountered a rich tapestry of ecosystems, from the lush Hoh Rainforest to the alpine meadows of the Olympic Mountains. I marveled at the power of the Pacific Ocean along the coastline and found serenity in the quiet beauty of Lake Quinault.
The encounters with wildlife were an added bonus, from seeing elk in the Hoh Rainforest to observing mountain goats on Mount Ellinor. The park’s biodiversity is truly remarkable, and every hike held the promise of an animal or bird sighting.
Olympic National Park is a place where nature remains unspoiled and untouched, where the forces of creation and erosion continue to shape the landscape. The park’s diverse trails offer adventures for hikers of all levels, from casual walkers to seasoned mountaineers.
While my journey may have come to an end, I know that Olympic National Park’s beauty and grandeur will continue to call to me. It’s a place that beckons visitors to explore its hidden corners, to embrace its natural wonders, and to protect its fragile ecosystems for generations to come.
Whether you’re planning your own adventure or simply dreaming of the pristine beauty of the park, Olympic National Park is a destination that can inspire and captivate you. It is a gem in the Pacific Northwest region, a natural sanctuary, and a place where every hiking trip offers the chance to experience the beauty of the wilderness.