Although it’s possible to do a driving tour and get a quick peek at some of the splendors, Olympic National Park is not easy to corral into a day trip. No roads go through the park, travel is slow, and many of the treasures lie off the beaten path. We started our explorations this time with four days at the southwestern corner of the park, camped high on a bluff overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean.
A Campground Overlooking The Pacific Ocean
At first glance, South Beach Campground doesn’t look all that appealing—it’s a primitive campground within the national park and the sites are staked out in the open. But the expansive views of the Pacific and our sightings of gray whales spouting offshore and sea otters frolicking in the waves far outweighed the lack of water, electricity, or privacy.
The Beautiful Tide Pools Of Ruby Beach
The campground is just 10 miles from Ruby Beach, which we were told has extraordinary tidepools. It lived up to its reputation, with dozens of pools filled to bursting with sea stars and anemones. We were thrilled to see hundreds of orange and purple ochre sea stars—they’re making a healthy comeback after a devastating virus several years ago. There’s something mesmerizing about tidepools, offering a glimpse into the lives of creatures that endure the radical extremes of changing tides twice a day. The anemones look so delicate, but they’re obviously resilient.
Exploring The Rainforest
During our stay at South Beach, we made two trips into the rainforest. Olympic National Park contains four temperate rainforests, defined by moderate temperatures and a staggering amount of rainfall—somewhere around 14 feet per year. The result is a primeval world of ancient giant trees draped with curtains of lichen, and a landscape lushly upholstered with ferns and mosses.
Given that the Hoh Rain Forest is an iconic feature of the park, of course we needed to see it for ourselves. In the heart of Olympic National Park and almost 40 miles from our campground, it was a long and winding drive. Once there, we endured hordes of tourists at the visitor center focused more on snapping selfies than admiring the wonders of the rainforest. But stepping onto the trails, we left the crowds behind. We looped together the Hall of Mosses Trail with the Spruce Trail for three miles of mossy splendor—it felt as though we were hiking in a forest cathedral.
Lake Quinault Lodge
On our second foray into the rainforest, we drove 30 miles south to Lake Quinault on a misty day. Built in 1926, Lake Quinault Lodge is the quintessential national park lodge, with a cozy seating area, crackling fireplace, and stuffed elk decor. The grounds are lovely, with gently sloping lawns dotted with Adirondack chairs, a tranquil view of the lake, and a chimney adorned with a totem-pole rain gauge that measures rainfall in feet.
We hiked from the lodge to the Gatton Creek Trail, picking up the Quinault Loop Trail for a six-mile hike. We finished out our day with a cup of tea in the lodge, followed by a drive on the 31-mile scenic road that loops around Lake Quinault and along the Quinault River. The scenic drive passes by several beautiful waterfalls, no hiking required.
About The Campground
We loved our stay at South Beach Campground. The views are unsurpassed, even if you don’t score a front-row seat. We had to juggle sites to find one that we could get level in, but then life was grand (even on the day it rained non-stop for 24 hours). First-come, first-served, no hook-ups, bathroom with flush toilets but no potable water. Fresh water and a dump station are available at Kalaloch Campground, 3 miles up the road. Surprisingly, there was excellent Verizon coverage. $15 night/$7.50 for seniors.
Always love your adventures and pictures…..
Next month for 3 1/2 weeks we will be in motorhome & Jeep on Highway 395 Eastern Sierras here in CA.
From Lone Pine up to Twin Lakes above Bridgeport, CA One of my new annual events—began last year! Is a hike completely around Mono Lake. Takes about 20 hours. But is all fun with great & different scenery.
Wow, that sounds like a great adventure! We’ll have to check out that hike next time we’re at Mono Lake. We love it there!
Oh niiice! Glad your renewed adventuring is going so well! Also like this photo layout! 👍🏼😘
Kim, we’re very happy to be back adventuring. Glad you like the photo layout — I appreciate your artistic eye. :-)
So glad you didn’t stand still too long and get sucked up by mosses. Lol…I love it up there and hope to explore like you are.
Haha, yeah, it’s a bit worrisome when EVERYTHING is covered with moss! Get that Casita packed up and head up here!
Love it. Leaving in a couple days to head up there. As usual I’m marking up my map with your spots.
Thanks, Pam. Have a wonderful trip! There are so many beautiful places along this route — I’m happy if our posts are helpful for you.
I’m back on the east coast but your posts have me fondly remembering our trip through the Olympic penninsula last August- I can’t wait to return- perhaps spring 2018
Pat, we’ve found that late spring is a wonderful time to be on the OP. Our weather was great (only one or two rainy days) and the wildflowers were fabulous in the mountains!
Those are some amazing tide pools and critters. Even though we spent three months in that area, there is so much more to see. Tea at the Lodge, very nice.
Debbie, we could easily spend three months on the Olympic Peninsula. There’s so much to do — we already have our list of things we want to return for. Tea at the lodge was very relaxing. :-)
Gotta love the hoh….stumbling around keeping an eye out for velociraptors. Sea stars back yeah…thanks for the time and effort to share your adventures…love traveling with you. Happy trails…until we meet again! Diana
Diana, if there are velociraptors still around, this is definitely the place they would be. Only you would think of that! L0L. So happy, as always, that you’re traveling with us via the blog until we meet up again. oxoxo
We loved South Beach Campground and being right on the coast. Did a ranger-led 8am hike at Ruby Beach one morning, and it was absolutely calm with clear skies and no fog. Just perfect! One of those places I will never forget.
We loved both South Beach and Ruby Beach and will definitely return! The ranger-led hike sounds wonderful — we were a couple of weeks too early for the scheduled hikes, but maybe that’s a good thing, because there weren’t many people on the beach.
Love your pics, we spent the past few weeks an hour from Jenner CA and never caught low tide. And on crowds,our rule of thumb is that most places clear about a 1/2 mile in.
Thanks, Leah. So glad you enjoyed the pics! We’ve found the same thing, that we mostly have trails to ourselves once we get about a half-mile in. (How great is that??) We were lucky with the low tide at Ruby Beach — the morning low was at a reasonable hour, sometime around 10 a.m.
This post is right on time since we head to Forks tomorrow. So glad you included two hikes for us…thanks! I can’t wait to see the true rainforest and so hope for colorful mushrooms. Glad you didn’t stand too long under that arch!! I’ve heard to expect crowds:( Ruby beach here I come!! I am so excited to see sea stars in the tide pools and we have low tide in the afternoon!!
Oh goodie, glad I managed to get the post out in time for your Forks adventure! I know you guys are going to discover all kinds of hikes during your week there. You are going to LOVE tidepooling at Ruby Beach. So glad the tides are at a reasonable hour!
How absolutely magnificent all those sea creatures are and how well you photographed them! I am amazed at the bright colors and envious you got to see those so close up!! What an incredible part of the world you are exploring. The rain forest just looks heavenly, oh what bliss!
Terrific post! Love traveling there vicariously with you – you guys do such cool stuff!
Peta, the tidepools truly are mesmerizing! The Pacific Northwest is an incredible part of the world; we’re lucky that it’s in our backyard. As much as we love exploring new places, we never tire of the PNW.
Love seeing the rain forest in it’s wet state! When we visited a few years ago it had been dry for weeks!
Love that the sea stars are coming back! I cannot wait for the super minus tide that is happening next weekend…
Lisa, the rainforest was lush and green after all of the rains this past winter and spring. Exactly how a rainforest should be! We’re thrilled about the return of the sea stars. I was worried they might not be able to make a comeback after that devastating virus. Have fun tidepooling!!
I LOVED this post Laurel! We were in this area many years ago, some of the places you visited were familiar, but you covered it so much more completely. I can’t wait to plan a trip back in this non-working lifestyle with plenty of time. We laugh about standing still too long in Florida, for fear of being covered with mold! Thanks again.
Thanks, Sue! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. We love the Olympic Peninsula. There’s so much to explore, and so much variety. Even after two weeks of adventures, we still want to return for more. Maybe we can meet up with you there! :-)
Thanks for this awesome post! We’ve been in ONP several times, but have yet to spend time in the rainforest area, mostly because I was never sure about where we could stay. Your photo and description of the campground really helps! If not 2018, then 2019…. so many places to see, so little time. Your photos are amazing!
Thank you, Ellen — I’m so glad this was helpful. We really liked staying at South Beach because of the location. We ordinarily would choose a more private campsite, but it felt good to be out in the open instead of deep in the rainforest. We would definitely return!
I LOVE your photos! Everything is so green and lush and colorful! Just beautiful! I’m glad you guys were able to get away from the tourist masses. It’s become a bit of a life goal for us. :)
Laura, getting away from the masses is usually high on our list (unless we’re deliberately going to a big city, like San Francisco or New Orleans). It’s pretty easy to find spaciousness in the PNW. So glad you enjoyed the photos!
I really like that area, beautiful photos as usual .
It was a treat for Karen and I to go to
the Lodge and Lake Quinault several years ago
when we met at Seabrook which is about 40 miles
south . This year we will meet up at Seabrook in September, a warmer time of year so
perhaps a trip to the ocean to look at all the creatures
is in order. Hugs, Peggy
Peggy, how fun that you and Karen went to the lodge! We really enjoyed having tea there and relaxing by the fireplace. I hope you can get to some tidepools to see all of the beautiful creatures when you’re on the coast in September.
I so wanted to see those colorful sea creatures at low tide but no low tide for me. I will just have to content myself with your beautiful post and photos. Eric looks good!
Mona Liza, I hope you’re putting the PNW on your return-to list so that you can do some tidepooling. I know you would love seeing all of the beautiful sea creatures. Eric is feeling great, thanks so much. :-))
Looks like that campground would give you a real feel for the power and beauty of the coast. Love all the color and variety you found in the tidepools. Thank you for the beautiful Raven :-)) We loved the Hoh Rainforest, but didn’t make it to the other one. We must go back!!
Jodee, I’m glad you noticed the raven. I think that is my favorite rainforest photo. :-) Olympic National Park is most definitely a place we will return to — in our two weeks there, we found so much more we want to explore. I know you would enjoy Lake Quinault.
I’m not sure why your posts are showing up so long after you post them on my blog roll which is where I access them but I am sure late for this fantastic party. Olympia reminds me of Acadia in having so many aspects and things to do in a great temperature during the summer. It’s got Acadia beat in snow capped peaks and beat in spades with its tide pools. Acadia may have the edge on ease of access.
Sure wish Acadia had a campground with the views you had at South Beach. We have to do a whale watch tour to see them. So happy to see the sea star come back. I was worried I might never get to see them. Your pictures of Ruby Beach and the tide pool critters are just outstanding!!
We loved the Hoh but didn’t make it to Quinault. Love the raingauge in FEET. What beautiful waterfalls. Wonderful to see Eric soaking up those ions. Thanks for this terrific post.
Sherry, I’ve been thinking the same thing while reading your posts, that Acadia and Olympic National Park have a lot in common. The tidepools in the Pacific Northwest are really outstanding, though. I can spend hours happily tidepooling. :-)) The rain gauge puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? Fourteen feet of rain per year is a LOT of rain!
We absolutely loved Olympic NP. We visited back in 2013 when we only had a week to explore. We are looking forward to returning in the RV and taking it all in for a much longer period. Thank you for the pictures and the park information.
You’re welcome! I hope the information is helpful for your next visit. There’ll be a next time for us, as well. There’s more to explore!
This post was like taking a step back in time Laurel. Terry and I followed this same path when we traveled through Olympic NP. The year we were there the Hoh Rain Forest was so dry that it didn’t resemble a rain forest at all. It looks much more lush from your photos.
LuAnn, I think we were fortunate to visit after such a rainy winter. The rainforests were lush, green, and wet, just as they should be! Your adventures inspired our hike to Sol Duc Falls.:) This won’t be our last trip to Olympic National Park. There’s so much more to explore!