If you look at a map, you’ll see that the park is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes it somewhat of an ecological island. More than 95 percent of the 922,000 acres is remote wilderness. No roads cross the expanse, although two-lane Highway 101 (aided by a few miles of connecting highways) makes a 320-mile loop around the park. A dozen spur roads lead into the park, with visitors centers, rustic campgrounds, lovely lodges, and numerous trails to scenic destinations just a few miles from the park’s perimeter.
In just one day you can do a speed-tour that includes mountains, lakes, forests, and coastline. But that’s not our style. We like to take our time, sinking in and savoring the essence of a place. And so we chose just a couple of activities, heading into the park for hikes and happy hour (yes, really). We had a wonderful taste of the park—just enough to entice us to return, sooner rather than later.
We explored Olympic National Park while staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area, 15 miles west of Port Angeles. Here, our adventures in the park:
Hiking Hurricane Ridge
Just 17 miles south of Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the most accessible mountain area in the park. The views of the distant mountains and glaciers are outstanding, even from the visitor center, and a network of trails offers the opportunity for more in-depth exploration.
We chose the Hurricane Ridge trail, a 3-mile round trip hike with enough elevation gain to make it feel like a decent trek. The trail winds through alpine meadows and traverses a ridge with spectacular views along the way. The trail leads to a really spectacular 360-degree view at the top—a panorama that includes the Olympic Mountain range with glaciers shimmering in the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island in Canada. It’s called Hurricane Ridge for good reason—the winds are crazy.
We had a picnic on top of the ridge (while holding everything down to keep it from blowing away) and enjoyed the views far below of hillsides cloaked in their fall attire of crimson and gold.
Exploring Lake Crescent
Nestled into the valleys of Olympic National Park are some of the largest stands of ancient forests left in the country. These venerable western forests are filled with Douglas firs and Western hemlocks. Many of the trees are more than 200 years old, and up to 300 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is a quieting experience to stand among those beautiful giants.
We chose to explore the Lake Crescent area of the park, a 20-mile drive southwest from where we were staying at Salt Creek Recreation Area. A two-mile round trip hike leads to Marymere Falls, which although pretty, is not spectacular in the world of waterfalls. The hike, however, is a gorgeous trail through old-growth forest rich with the spicy scent of fir and spruce.
The Lodge at Lake Crescent is one of the loveliest we’ve seen anywhere. Situated on the shore of the glacially carved lake with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting. Vintage 1916 and charmingly simple, it’s the kind of place we would stay if we didn’t have our little home on wheels.
It was late afternoon when we finished our explorations of Lake Crescent, and we enjoyed the sunset over the lake from the glassed-in porch of the lodge. A delicious plate of steamed Penn Cove mussels and a platter of local cheeses with lavender honey accompanied by drinks was the perfect ending for our brief forays into Olympic National Park. We can’t wait to return.
Wonderful pictures and it sounds like you had a very great experience.
Thanks, Christine — we’re already planning a return visit! Maybe in the late spring, when the wildflowers are blooming.
Magnificent! We did the speed tour ourselves about a dozen years ago. Would love to return and explore at our leisure.
Marcia, we had a hard time holding ourselves back from trying to do a lot more! We definitely need a couple of weeks to really do the park justice.
Ahhhhh…my ole beautiful back yard many years ago when I was attending high school in Sequim. The trouble was that I didn’t appreciate all that beauty back then like I would now. I’ve never even been to The Lake Crescent Lodge. Geez. Time to take a trip, I suppose! I did do a long hike one day years after I came back to visit. I started at Hurricane Ridge and walked down a few miles to that park building where you first stop before you drive up to the Ridge. That was a nice, quiet hike!
I’ll bet you would really enjoy returning to explore the park, Janet. The lodge is just lovely and well worth a visit. (The wine and appetizers were really good, too!) :-)
The colors are amazing! Looks like fall is a perfect time to visit Olympic NP! You got some wonderful wildlife shots…I do love marmots!
Fall is a wonderful time to be there, Lisa — the gold of the hillsides on Hurricane Ridge were just gorgeous. We’re looking forward to a late spring/early summer visit, too — we hear the wildflowers are spectacular. And there are so many more hikes waiting for us!
Fabulous pictures as always! Love the header and that enormous tree is just fantastic. Sure wish I could get my arms around it for a big hug. Olympic NP is one of my very favorite spots. Will you stay in the park when you come back? And who are those other two perhaps singing marmots on the trail??? :-)
Sherry, I thought about you when we were hiking at Lake Crescent, knowing how much you love to hug the big trees. We will definitely stay in the park when we return because it will make it so easy to explore. But we loved Salt Creek so much, we’ll have to spend time there, as well! The two people on the trail had been trying to see marmots, and were so excited when one crossed right in front of us. Their expressions were hilarious. :-)
Wonderful blog and pictures. #17 knocked me out!!
Thanks, Fred — that means a lot, given that you’re such a fine photographer! Those glaciers were pretty amazing from up on Hurricane Ridge.
Lovely views and beautifully written! You make me want to go back!
Thanks, Carol — we want to go back, too!
I love seeing places that we’ve visited at different times of years. Makes me realize that we must visit everywhere during more than one season. We went at the beginning of September when it was more like summer than fall. I guess we’re due for a return trip later in the year to see those fall colors!Love all your photos, but the marmot one’s are the best. They’re so cute :)
I agree, Amanda — our list just keeps getting longer and longer, because there are so many places we want to see in various seasons! We were there the third week in September, and the fall colors were peaking. We saw several marmots on the Hurricane Ridge trail — they certainly don’t behave as though they’re “rare” — they aren’t wary of people at all.
# 17 is a killer shot! but of course the rest are just as good, Laurel.
Do you think Betsy will fit where you stayed? We have not been to the Olympic Peninsula and you have showed us this is a great place to explore.
ML, Betsy will easily fit at Salt Creek Recreation Area in the RV section — it was convenient for exploring at least some of Olympic National Park. We want to return to Salt Creek because it was so beautiful, but we’ll also check out staying in the park for adventures further away. Not sure if they can accommodate big rigs in the park.
This is an area we haven’t visited yet. Between your post and Hans and Lisa, we need to get there. I love the idea of visiting in the fall. The fall colors are beautiful. Great view of the mountains in the distance. There’s still a lot of snow up there.
That marmot is too cute. I really enjoy marmots.
That is tree is certainly dwarfing you, Laurel:)
Mussels and a local cheese plate…oh, yum!! Perfect ending to a great day:)
Pam, I think fall is the perfect time for the Olympic Peninsula — there are few people traveling, the weather is generally good, and the autumn colors really add to the beauty. I definitely recommend a visit to Lake Crescent Lodge, too. The food was terrific. :-)
Every time I read another post about Washington, I find myself wondering how we are going to manage to squeeze everything in next year (sigh). I am thinking that autumn may be the best time to visit Olympic NP.
LuAnn, I’m wondering how we’re going to squeeze everything into this lifetime! I agree, fall is a wonderful time in Olympic NP, but we’re also looking forward to a spring visit.
what a great place, but glad you two are back with the tribe for awhile, Luv K
Kyle, we’re happy to be back with the tribe, too!
We love, love, love Salt Creek. We spent a few days there in August when we first started our fulltiming adventure. Beautiful photos!
We had been wanting to stay at Salt Creek for years, and are glad we finally did. It’s one of our favorites now, too! Thanks for commenting, Linda — glad you enjoyed the photos.