Coastal Day Hiking
There are lots of day hikes to choose form in Olympic National Park, but hiking on the shore is perennially popular. This might seem counterintuitive, since the Olympic shoreline is marked by dense forestation, poor footing due to slippery rocks, and tides that can make hiking along the shore rather tough. Hikers should know the tides and plan on doubling their travel times when traveling on coastal trails.
The most popular trail along the coast is the Ozette Loop. This nine-mile trail is divided roughly into thirds, including six miles of boardwalk and three miles of headland path that neatly avoid tides along the beach. Campsites are located at Sand Point and Cape Alava. Reservations are required for campsites between May 1 and September 30. Campfires in this area, where allowed, may only burn driftwood — don’t worry, there’s plenty of it.
An easier hike to Rialto Beach is open from April to October. It is one mile away from the Hole-in-the-Wall camp areas, named for a natural arch that’s right on the beach. No reservations are required for this campsite. Be sure to check out the unique sea stacks that line the shore on the three-mile hike between Rialto Beach and Mora.
Mountaineering and Alpine Hiking
If you’ve ever wanted to climb a glacier, Olympic National Park might not be the place to start. It’s a 4-6 mile trek from Glacier Meadows to the summit, with an elevation change of almost 3,600 feet. The summit of Mount Olympus is a tough climb that requires an ice axe, crampons, and the skills to use them, even into early summer. Previous experience with glacier travel and crevasse rescue training are a must for anyone looking to scale the summit’s rock faces.
Other summits popular among mountaineers include Mount Constance and Mount Deception. Due to the rock composition — shale, sandstone and soft basalts — and exposed surfaces, conditions can be hazardous even when climbing isn’t highly technical.
The 13-mile Hoh River Trail to Glacier Meadows is a better alternative for less hardened travelers. The elevation change is about the same, but it’s more spread out. This long, gradually rising trail moves through several of the park’s ecosystems, beginning in temperate rainforest and moving up into subalpine and alpine meadows and forests. These diverse biomes offer plenty of opportunity for wildlife watching, and reward hikers with great views of Blue Glacier and Mount Olympus from Glacier Meadow at the end.
Olympic National Park’s coast and waterways make for excellent sport fishing, whether you’re angling on its more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, casting off its 73 miles of shoreline, or launching a boat on one of its hundreds of lakes. Regulations apply to catching fish and shellfish, and special restrictions are in place for coastal rivers. Trout, steelhead and salmon live in the park’s waters. Dam removal on the Elwha River, which began in 2011, is projected to vasty increase the area’s fish population as well.
Olympic National Park’s system of access roads connect all of its major points of interest, and make it relatively easy to get around, provided that conditions like snow, construction and flooding don’t lead to closures. While this is bound to happen from time to time, auto touring is still rather popular at the park. If you think of the park’s roads as wheel, then Highway 101 is the rim and the access roads are the spokes. A mileage chart helps plan car trips, but as can be expected from a national park, most of the fun takes place outside of your vehicle.
The National Park Service maintains 16 campgrounds in Olympic National Park, many of which are suitable for recreational vehicles up to 21 feet in length, and include amenities such as running water and pit toilets. Campgrounds are open seasonally, and do not have electrical hook-ups or showers. Fees vary by campground.