To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, I spent three days discovering magical forests, dramatic beaches, and wildlife in Washington state’s Olympic National Park. It is one of the rarest and most photogenic landscapes in America, home to the only rainforests in the continental United States! The Olympic Peninsula is quite large, but you can easily experience the park in a long weekend. Here is my guide to Washington’s Olympic National Park.
What to See
This place is the stuff dreams (and Avatar movies) are made of. The unique microclimate of this 24-acre rainforest make it a lush wonderland. Vivid green moss drips from ancient trees, clovers and ferns blanket the ground, and neon colored mushrooms pop through the tree bark. Oh, and the elk. There were two grazing on some greens as soon as we entered the park. Inside the forest you’ll find an eerie silence. The only sounds are a few drops of water cascading from the trees.
The road that takes you around Olympic Peninsula hugs the majestic Lake Crescent for several miles, giving you many chances to witness the lake in all of its grandeur. Rainbows are common in Olympic National Park and we were treated to this spectacular one right over the lake.
As lumber from the surrounding forests washes into the Pacific, the tides bring the giant trunks ashore Rialto Beach and batter the branches until they look like this. The beach is strewn with giant logs and trees making it hard to walk but incredibly dramatic. It is one of my favorite stops in the park.
Forks Elk Herd
Rise with the sun and you’ll be treated to an incredible sight. Just a mile or two outside of the town of Forks (yes, the same Forks as the Twilight Saga) you’ll come to pasture where a herd of elk can commonly be found grazing. At dawn, the fog and sunlight create epic conditions for photos.
As orcas and grey whales migrate north, they pass right through Puget Sound, making this a perfect whale watching destination. Drive to the adorable town of Port Townsend and hop on the Puget Sound Express for a half-day whale watching tour. We spotted two grey whales that were both over 40 feet long!
Where to Stay
The Olympic Peninsula is 3,600 square miles. The interior of the peninsula is National Forest and there is one main road that takes you around the coast of the peninsula so it could take several hours to make your way around. I recommend breaking up your stay into two strategically located accommodations. First, Domaine Madeline just outside of Port Angeles.
Viewfinder Tip: The town of Port Angeles only a two and a half hour drive from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
It’s a charming waterfront bed and breakfast overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I can say with confidence that Domaine Madeline has the most comfortable beds in the entire Olympic Peninsula, largely due to the buttery sheets by Comphy. You’ll awake up to the sound of your fireplace crackling and the birds chirping. Not much else. Domaine Madeline is a prime home base to explore Sol Duc Falls, the quaint town of Port Angeles, and it’s close to Port Townsend from which many whale watching excursions depart.
As you make your way around the peninsula to the Western coast, you’ll reach Olympic National Park’s stunning beaches. One of the most beautiful is Kalaloch beach, home to the Kalaloch Lodge. Your rustic cabin is situated on a bluff overlooking a driftwood-covered beach where you’ll soak in sweeping sunset views. Wi-Fi is intentionally scarce in this remote stretch of Olympic National Forest, which encourages guests to enjoy the simple joys of this unforgettable property. Kalaoch Lodge is an ideal location to explore the Hoh Rainforst, Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach, and La Push.
After two days of adventuring throughout Olympic National Forest you should take a day to rest on the heart of Seattle, Washington. My hotel pick is the Palladian Hotel, a Kimpton Hotel. It was recently named one of Travel & Leisure‘s top urban hotels in the country, and for good reason. My king suite was adorned with a glorious clawfoot tub, luxe linens and throw pillows depicting Brad Pitt and Bill Murray as military generals. In the lobby, Shaker + Spear dishes out seafood and exquisite cocktails from ex-Chateau Marmont chef Carolynn Spence.
All of these accommodations were easily booked on the fly using Expedia’s mobile app!
Where to Eat
To fuel up before your trip inside Olympic National Park, stop at The Blackbird Coffeehouse in Port Angeles. Of the several coffee shops I tried in town, it’s the best.
Also in downtown Port Angeles, I indulged for both lunch and dinner at the Nextdoor Gastropub in downtown Port Angeles. It’s a central gathering place for foodies to eat locally sourced food, drink a wide selection of craft beer, hear live music and enjoy the good vibes.
As if the view wasn’t enough, delicious local wine and food is served at Kalaloch Lodge’s Creekside Restaurant. Be sure to make a reservation on the early side as the restaurant stops seating at 9 p.m. in the summer and 8 p.m. in the winter.
After you get back from whale watching off the coast of Port Townsend, grab some sunshine and wine at Doc’s Marina Grill happy hour. It’s right on the marina and has a gorgeous outdoor deck and fire pit where you can swap stories about your day’s adventures.
What’s your favorite stop in Olympic National Park?