Olympic National Park is a vast wonderland of natural beauty, where you can enjoy a diverse range of landscapes on the same day. Located in the northeast of the US, between Seattle and the Pacific Ocean, the park is one of the biggest in the country and home to coastal beaches, rugged alpine peaks, and lush rainforests.
You can't drive directly through Olympic National Park but you can drive the 310-mile circular route around the park. The route takes in coastline views, gushing waterfalls, glacial lakes, and impressive mountains and is an outdoor lover's paradise.
With many entrances to the Olympic National Park, keep on reading to discover how to get there, more about the route around the park, top sights to see, and some useful travel tips.
Can you drive through Olympic National Park?
Covering a vast area of almost a million acres across the Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is split into four unique regions, each offering a different experience.
The areas have their own ecosystems and consist of the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west-side temperate rainforest, and the forests on the eastern side.
Sadly it is not possible to drive directly through Olympic National Park. However, there is a route allowing you to circumnavigate the park, with several entrance points giving access, allowing you to venture further into the park.
How to drive around Olympic National Park
Driving around Olympic National Park on the circular scenic loop is a straightforward drive, with much of the journey following US-101 along well-paved and well-marked roads. The majority of the route is along two-lane roads, although further south the Olympic Highway does stretch to four lanes.
The park itself has several entrances, which can all be accessed from the route circling the park. All of the entrances will be open during the summer months.
Although the park remains open all year round, severe weather in winter causes some of the entrances to close, and you may also encounter road closures at this time of year, so please check ahead of time to avoid any disappointment.
You can enter the park at the Hurricane Ridge Area in the north, close to Port Angeles, home to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, where you pick up your park pass and a map.
The Ridge itself has a number of trails, all offering stunning views across the vast wilderness. Hurricane Ridge is popular with winter sports enthusiasts, making this the best winter entrance.
The Heart O' the Hills entrance is popular during the summer months with its campground amphitheater offering a number of programs, along with a host of Junior Ranger forest activities.
The ranger station only operates over the summer period, as does the entrance at Lake Crescent. You can enter at the Storm King Ranger Station, and there are many hiking trails, with guided hikes also available along with evening activities on the Lake.
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center is the place to go to if you are looking to visit the world-famous rainforest. With up to 14 feet of rainfall each year, the forest is home to a rich and thriving ecosystem, and from here, you can also access the Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trail.
To the southwest of the park, you enter at Kalaloch, and this entrance is open all year round. Along with South Beach, Kalaloch is the only place to camp on the southern coast of the Olympic National Park, with over 175 campsites to choose from.
The area is one of the most popular along the route and with its incredible beaches, it's easy to see why.
Staircase Entrance on the southeast side of the park is a great place for hiking along the Skokomish River and Lake Cushman, and to the southwest of the park, the Quinault Entrance leads you to the Quinault Rainforest and Lake Quinault.
How long does it take to drive around Olympic National Park?
Driving around Olympic National Park can be completed in as little as 6 hours and 15 minutes, with the circular route covering around 310 miles.
However, this would almost defeat the object as a visit to the park should be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, and the trip is more suited to at least 5 days, and even then you'll find yourself longing to return and experience even more of this delightful destination.
|1 hour 40 minutes
|2 hours 30 minutes
|5 hours 30 minutes
|8 hours 40 minutes
|San Francisco, CA
|12 hours 10 minutes
Things you need to know about driving around Olympic National Park
A drive around Olympic National Park is a fantastic experience at any time of year, and you can witness the landscape changing through the seasons as the park is open all year round.
Summer is the most popular time to visit, as the good weather ensures fewer disruptions as you head through various landscapes and altitudes.
The temperature doesn't get overly hot during the summer months, with an average of 61 degrees Fahrenheit in the Port Angeles area, making it perfect weather for hitting the hiking trails, and spending a night or two at one of the many campgrounds.
If you plan to visit the park in winter, then you are more likely to experience road closures, and some of the entrances are also closed at this time of year.
The route is much quieter this time of year, although the higher regions will be popular with those heading to the area for some fun in the snow. Hurricane Ridge is the place to go for winter sports.
Exploring the Olympic National Park in spring or fall is the best time for seeing the wildflower meadows bursting into bloom, and the forests in fall truly are a sight to behold with their beautiful autumnal colors.
Early springtime can still see some road closures in place, and other visitor facilities may be open with reduced hours so make sure you check before embarking on your journey.
Whatever time of year you take your trip, an entrance fee is payable by visitors to the park. The rates are shown in the table below:
*Calculated at the time of writing
Tips to drive around Olympic National Park in the shortest possible time
Heading out on a journey through diverse landscapes with significant altitude changes offers unique challenges that you don't often encounter on a single road trip. This is what makes a trip around Olympic National Park so special, and it is important to plan ahead.
With that in mind, here are our top tips when it comes to preparing for a drive through Olympic National Park:
- Buy your vehicle pass online before your trip and save time queueing on arrival.
- If you plan to stay at one of the park campgrounds, make a reservation in advance, as they can be fully booked at busy times over the summer months.
- Remember to check the weather and road conditions before the journey. There can be road closures in winter, and it's always advisable to check ahead for any major roadworks. Call the Olympic National Park road and weather information service for the latest updates.
- Always stick to the main roads when driving in or around the park. Off-road driving isn't permitted.
- The park is home to a wonderful variety of wildlife, including Roosevelt Elk, black bears, mountain lions, and bald eagles. Be extra alert if you are driving the route at dawn or dusk when there is a higher risk of animals on the road.
- If you are making the journey from Canada or elsewhere outside the US, then don't forget your passport.
Things to see on a drive around Olympic National Park
When you are visiting an area close to a million acres in size, then you'll be spoilt for choice of things to see and do. To help you plan your itinerary, here are a few of our recommended places to visit:
- Hike the Hoh Rainforest - Situated on the Olympic Peninsula, Hoh is one of the largest rainforests in the US. Explore the lush and enchanting forest on one of the many hiking trails, with its towering moss-covered trees and crystal-clear streams.
- Hurricane Ridge - Make the drive to Hurricane Ridge during the summer months and experience fantastic views across the National Park. During the winter months, the Ridge is the perfect place to enjoy winter scenery and snow sports.
- Sol Duc Falls - Take a short hike to Sol Duc Falls and witness the spectacular cascading waterfall, and if you're feeling adventurous, take one of the longer trails and explore deeper into the Sol Duc Valley. Why not stay at Sul Duc Hot Springs Resort, and enjoy a relaxing soak in the mineral pool..
- Rialto Beach - See the rugged beauty of Rialto Beach with its stunning sea-carved Hole-in-the-Wall arch formation. Explore the tidal pools and discover its rich and diverse marine life.
- Lake Crescent - Enjoy the pristine waters of the glacially carved Lake Crescent, the second deepest in Washington. Explore the lowland creeks and forests that border the Lake, or take a refreshing swim or paddleboard on the pristine blue waters.
- Olympic Coastline - Catch a beautiful sunset at Shi Shi Beach, and enjoy a campfire as the sun goes down with the shadows of the incredible rugged sea stacks forming a memorable backdrop.
If you're looking for an adventure where you can encounter rainforests, waterfalls, wildflower meadows, snow drifts, and a glorious beach sunset all in one day, then a trip to Olympic National Park is the one for you.
With so much to experience, one visit may not be long enough, but it will live long in the memory, so mark your calendar today and start planning your trip.