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Olympic National Park for families
Exploring wilderness coast, mountains, and temperate rainforest west of Seattle
If we are being completely honest here, getting out in nature is not something I always have enjoyed. When I was younger and in my rebellious teenage years, my mantra used to be, “I don’t do dirt.” The last place I wanted to be as a teen and young adult was the wilderness of a national park, hiking a mountain in the damp, dark forest.
That my friends, has changed. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older (and hopefully wiser), or if it’s because I now live in the city of Seattle, where getting out in nature is a way of life. Whatever the reason, my family and I now hike all the time, and I’m digging our new pursuit of seeking out kid-friendly day hikes in the Northwest. I like how getting out in the wilderness forces me to get off the hamster wheel of connectivity to slow down and be present in every moment. Being outdoors also has opened a new chapter to more active, family travel experiences.
In the spirit of seeking new trails to blaze around Seattle, I recently sat down with my long-time friend and Northwest hiking expert, Craig Romano. Craig is a passionate wilderness explorer. As a best-selling author of countless Northwest hiking guides, including Day Hiking the Olympic Peninsula), Craig is my go-to-guy for great Northwest hikes with the kids. He has spent the last 25 years exploring the natural world of flora and fauna in our beautiful national parks around the Northwest. When we met, I asked him for some insights into family-friendly hikes in Olympic National Park, about four hours west of Seattle. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Craig Romano in his happy place
What is unique about hiking in Olympic National Park?
Olympic National Park is home to one of North America’s only temperate rainforests, which makes it pretty special. The park also is unique because of its diversity; in one day, you can be hiking in the mountains, exploring tide pools on the wilderness coast, and traversing that temperate rain forest.
What are some of the common mistakes visitors make when visiting for the first time?
The biggest mistake I see first-time visitors make when visiting Olympic National Park is that they try to see it all in one trip. In the last 25 years, I’ve been exploring and writing about this rugged landscape, and I still haven’t explored the whole park. I always encourage hikers to take their time, walk the park, smell the forest, enjoy the trails, and come back to enjoy it again.
When is the best time to visit the park?
What’s great about visiting Olympic National Park is that unlike the other Washington national parks (Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park), which are covered with snow in the winter months, you can visit Olympic all year-round. I typically recommend visiting Olympic National Park in the spring and fall. Winter also is a great time to see beach wildlife, and experience the rain amid the monster trees dripping with moss. There also are thousands of elk that fill the Enchanted Valley, so you are sure to see lots of wildlife during that time of year.
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re driving the northern route, be sure to stop in Forks, Washington, the town in which all of the Twilight novels were set.
What are good hikes for school-aged kids?
I recommend the Ozette Triangle Trail, a 9-mile loop southwest of Neah Bay. The loop includes three miles in the forest, three miles along the wilderness coast, and three miles back into the forest. It includes fun boardwalks for the kids, tide pools during low tides, and the opportunity to explore the beach “Wedding Rocks,” petroglyphs carved by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. These rock drawings illustrate the sun and moon, ships of western explorers, and native Orcas. Depending on the season, you also likely will see migrating whales, sea lions, and an abundance of coastal birds. If you are hiking with younger kids, you may want to hike just a portion of the Ozette trail, or consider the shorter Second Beach trail, a breathtaking 4-mile hike with limited elevation to a long stretch of sandy beach. For more active families, Sunrise Ridge and Hurricane Hill trails also are great choices, depending on the ages and skill levels of your kids. Both hikes offer spectacular mountain views.
How to get to Olympic National Park from Seattle
Traveling by car from Seattle to Olympic National Park will take you about four hours. My favorite way to get there is to take a Washington State Ferry to Kingston or Bainbridge Island, get to U.S. 101 outside of Port Townsend, and head west (past Sequim) from there. If you’re coming from south of Seattle, drive State Route 8 west from Olympia to Aberdeen and head north on U.S. 101 from there. No matter which route you choose, you will enjoy the scenery on your journey to one of North America’s most treasured national parks.
Where do you like to get out and explore nature?
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