Olympic NP RV Travel Guide
Olympic National Park was originally designated Mount Olympus National Monument in 1922. It’s easy to see why it was named after the home of the ancient Greek gods.
Olympic is the most diverse national park in America, with terrain ranging from lowland forests to glacier-capped mountains, alpine lakes, temperate rainforests, and over 70 miles of rugged coastline. The Hoh Rain Forest is the largest temperate rainforest in North America and gets over 12 feet of rain per year!
Though the park does get heavy traffic in peak season, it is one of the least visited national parks, likely due to its size (nearly 1 million acres) and remote location. You probably won’t see bears or moose here (Mount Rainier and the North Cascades are better for that), but mountain goats are everywhere at higher elevations. You’re also likely to see elk and salamanders—and if you’re lucky, you might see some sea otters.
The park has four main sections: the Pacific coastline, the alpine region, the temperate rainforest, and the eastern mountains. Here’s a quick tour of the park’s different “quadrants”:
- Northeast: Hurricane Ridge, one of the park’s most iconic spots, and Deer Park are in the northeast corner of the park.
- Northwest: Lake Ozette is one of the largest lakes in the park and boasts stunning beaches. Mora includes Rialto Beach, famous for its rocky beaches, large logs, and offshore islands.
- Southwest: Kalaloch is one of the most visited areas of Olympic National Park. Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are on the southwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
- Southeast: The old-growth forests of Quinault Valley, Staircase, and Dosewallips are all in the south or southeast sections of the park.
- Stay as long as you can: This park is huge—seriously. Plan to stay at least 5 days if you want to get a solid feel for the different regions of the park and do a few hikes or water activities along the way. Olympic is not a park you can experience in a weekend.
- You’ll be driving: Did we mention this park is huge? It takes hours to travel from one region of the park to another, so don’t be fooled by the map’s scale. It may look like the park’s most famous sights are all right off the highway that circumnavigates the park, but each one is actually about an hour off the main road. If you only have limited time to enjoy the park, focus on one or two regions (Hurricane and Sol Duc are the most popular) so you don’t waste all your time in the car. Check the mileage chart for distances between popular destinations.
- Use 4WD: Most roads are dirt and/or heavily pot-holed, so plan accordingly when choosing your adventure vehicle. 4WD isn’t required to access most locations in the park, but it can make for a more comfortable drive.
- Permits required: Olympic crosses into Native American Reservation land, and accessing beaches and trails (like Shi Shi Beach) in these areas will require permits.
- Visit during the week: Locals from Seattle tend to come to the park on the weekends, so you’ll experience lower crowds if you visit during the week.
- Don’t miss the national forest: If you travel with pets or just want to explore less crowded trails, Olympic National Forest (which borders the national park) is a great option. Leashed pets are welcome, the scenery is still stunning, and you won’t get quite the same crowds as you will in the park.
- Check trail conditions: High-elevation trails may be impassable due to snow or heavy rainfall, even during the summer months, so check trail conditions before you set off.
Where to stay in the park
There are 15 campgrounds in Olympic National Park. Most are first-come, first-served campgrounds best suited to tents and small vans (under 21 feet).
Fairholme, Kalaloch, Mora, and the Hoh Rain Forest are the only park-operated campgrounds that accept reservations (in the summer). Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort RV Park & Campground also offers reservations at recreation.gov, and Log Cabin Resort RV & Campground offers reservations by phone only (888-896-3818). All other campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
Note that most campgrounds have a maximum vehicle length of 21 feet. Some allow RVs up to 35 feet long in select sites, including: Heart O’ the Hills, Hoh, Kalaloch, Log Cabin, Mora, Sol Duc, South Beach, and Staircase.
Most campgrounds have no water or electrical hookups. Sol Duc and Log Cabin, both concessionaire-operated, are the only exceptions. Only Log Cabin offers showers and laundry facilities.
For more information and reservations, visit the NPS website here.
Where to stay outside the park
If you have a bigger rig or can’t get into one of the in-park campgrounds, there are lots of area RV parks on offer, including several in the nearby national forest.
- Hard Rain Cafe and RV Park: http://www.hardraincafe.com/
- Elwha Dam RV Park: http://www.elwhadamrvpark.com/
- Forks 101 RV Park: https://www.forksrvpark.com/
State parks/Department of Natural Resources (click here for more info):
- Minnie Peterson Campground
- Upper Clearwater
- Hoh Oxbow
- Bear Creek
- Bogachiel State Park: https://www.parks.wa.gov/478/Bogachiel
Harvest Hosts/Boondockers Welcome:
- Hoodsport Winery
- Red Hawk Stables
- Port Ludlow Community Church
Dispersed camping is also available near Forest Road 29.
Things to do
- Hike Mount Ellinor: With 3300 feet of elevation gain, this 8-mile round trip hike isn’t for the faint of heart. But on a clear day, you’ll see breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountain Range.
- See Marymere Falls: Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls are two of the park’s most popular sights. You can see both (and escape some of the crowds) by hiking Mount Storm King, the park’s best long day hike. It’s only 5.6 miles round trip, but a steady climb to the mountain’s summit. From there, you’ll see Lake Crescent below and can enjoy Marymere Falls on your way down. (By the way, avoid this hike on a rainy day; it’s very slick with mud and rocks.)
- Paddle on Lake Crescent: The water on the lake is incredibly clear, since there is no nitrogen to fuel algae growth. When the sun hits the water, you can see 60 feet straight to the bottom and the water glows an electric teal color.
- Watch the sunset from Hurricane Ridge: Hurricane Ridge is one of the park’s most iconic locations, and taking in the sunset here is a great way to experience it. The short High Ridge Trail is a nice walk and offers panoramic views for very little effort.
- Hit the beach: Beach 2, accessed by a short walk through the forest, looks much like Oregon’s Cannon Beach and is swimmable for those who want a dip. Shi Shi Beach (on tribal land) is the park’s most remote beach, and also its most famous. Rialto Beach and Kalaloch Beach are other stunning spots. With 70 miles of coastline, you pretty much can’t go wrong. Explore the tidepools, swim, paddle, or just take in the sunset from these gorgeous waterfront locations.
- Hoh River Trail: This 17-mile trail is perfect for backpackers who want to get deep into the park’s dense rainforest. But you don’t have to hike the whole thing to enjoy it. Start early to beat the crowds and walk as far as you like. This hike is a good one on a rainy day. The Hoh Rain Forest is also the quietest place in North America, so soak up the silence while you’re here. For a shorter walk in the woods, try the Spruce Nature Trail or the Hall of Mosses.
- See a waterfall: Sol Duc Falls is the most popular and is most impressive in spring and early fall. Murhut Falls (technically outside the park on the southeastern side of the peninsula) is more impressive and far less visited. Whatever you pick, make sure you see at least one of the park’s stunning waterfalls.
- Obstruction Point: The 14-mile hike up Obstruction Point Trail is one of the park’s most famous, so we couldn’t leave it out. As with many of the park’s longer hikes, you’ll still see some gorgeous scenery if you go as far as you want. You can also drive Obstruction Point Road, often called Washington’s scariest road. It’s a narrow gravel road with steep drop-offs and tight turns, but the views are phenomenal throughout.
Permits and closures
The Ruby Beach entrance road, parking area, and beach access trail will all be closed to public access through September 16, 2022, due to construction. You can still access the south end of Ruby Beach via Beach 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as the Kalaloch Campground.
Obstruction Point Road is closed at its junction with Hurricane Ridge Road through the rest of 2022; check back with the National Park Service for updates. Hurricane Ridge Road will close from September 16 to October 21, 2022, beyond the Heart O’ the Hills Entrance Station.
Visitors to Mora Campground will hear significant construction noise 7 days a week through October 2022. Work hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (north side of the river) and 8 a.m. to sunset (south side).
Visitors to Hoh Rain Forest can expect up to 30-minute delays through the work zone on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Permits are required for all backcountry camping in the park. You must also get a permit to visit beaches or hike on Native American Reservation land.