You might think Seattle’s the hot spot for a vacation, but Olympic National Park in Washington is an absolute treasure. It has incredible hiking trails, relaxing hot springs, and a rainforest that looks straight out of a movie (and probably why the Peninsula has been the home to quite a few famous films!), which is why it’s a must to spend at least one day in Olympic National Park.
I’m your go-to guide for all things Olympic National Park. As a local who heads to the park multiple times a year, I’ve done it all, from overnight backpacking to relaxing in a hotel to spending many long day trips from Seattle exploring the park. I’ve been all over Washington, but Olympic National Park is the one place I just can’t stay away from.
It’s one of my all-time favorite parks in the country and should be on your Washington to-do list. I was there last in June 2022, and I have multiple plans to check out some new hikes this upcoming summer.
If you’ve only got one day in Olympic National Park, you’ll want to make it count. That’s where I come in – I’m here to give you all my expert tips based on my many trips there to help you plan your trip and a list of must-do things in the park. Whether you’re driving from Seattle to Olympic National Park or elsewhere, this guide will help you get the most out of your time there.
This post was first written in 2018 and last updated in May 2023.
This post promotes travel to a national park, the traditional land of the Coast Salish and S’Klallam people. I make a formal land acknowledgment showing my respect and appreciation to the people of these lands. You can learn more about this on Native Land.
Tips for Visiting Olympic National Park in One Day
Here are a few tips to help you plan your Olympic National Park one day trip. I always recommend checking the official website before you go so you’re aware of any potential closures and know how to see Olympic National Park in one day.
For example, there may be closures due to excessive snow or slides across the road. I’ve had many times where I was about to set out on a hike, only to see the area got unexpected weather and the hike was no longer safe. Checking ahead of time will save you both time and frustration.
How to Get to Olympic National Park From Seattle
Many people may wonder can you see Olympic National Park in one day, and the answer is yes! Depending on your route, the trip takes about three hours from Seattle to Olympic National Park. Similar to a day trip to Mt. Rainier from Seattle, it’ll be a long day, but you can definitely do it.
Here are the most common routes.
- Route 1 – take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island (the most common route if you live in Seattle)
- Route 2 – take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston (the fastest route if you live north of Seattle)
- Route 3 – drive up the peninsula without taking a ferry (easiest if you’re headed to the west part of the park or coming from the south)
You’ll want to take into account the time it takes you to wait in line for the ferry, as well as the time you’re actually on the ferry. When you go during a busy season, such as summer, I recommend checking out how bad traffic is as well as ferry wait times online to pick the best route home.
The park takes up a large portion of the northern part of the peninsula, and there are multiple entrances. You’ll want to check out an Olympic National Park map first to see where you want to visit during your Olympic National Park day trip.
A common mistake first-time visitors make is thinking they can drive through the park. No roads go through the park, so you’ll need to plan where you’ll be stopping in advance. This is especially important to know if you only have one day in Olympic National Park.
Don’t feel like driving yourself? No problem! An easy way to take a day trip to Olympic National Park is to book a tour from Seattle. They’ll do all the driving and take you to all the top spots on your Olympic National Park day trip from Seattle.
The Best Time for an Olympic National Park Day Trip
You can visit the park anytime during the year, but you should note that it gets snow during the winter. This means some hikes won’t be accessible, and you’ll need to bring the right gear if you do any winter hiking. In addition, most of the animals will also be hibernating, so keep that in mind.
The best time for a Seattle to Olympic National Park day trip is during the spring and fall, in my opinion. There will be fewer crowds than in summer, and you’ll be able to go on wildflowers hikes in the spring and see foliage in the fall.
You should just plan on arriving at the park early to get a parking spot, especially for hikes. You’ll also have to wait longer if you take a ferry over instead of driving around, so leave plenty of time in your Olympic National Park itinerary for that.
Lodging Near Olympic National Park
You can easily do a day trip to Olympic National Park. However, you may decide you want to stay late and spend the night to make it a short Seattle weekend trip instead of driving back. Here are a few recommendations when looking for where to stay near Olympic National Park:
- Lake Crescent Lodge – This is one of the few places you can stay that’s actually in the park. There’s no better place to rest your head during your Olympic National Park vacation than this lodge on a beautiful lake. (rates start at $139 per night; book your room on Hotels.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor)
- Port Angeles Inn – You’ll have a view of the water and Canada while being only about 30 minutes outside of the park. (rates start at $72 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Quality Inn Uptown – Another great choice that’s close to the water and the park so you won’t have to drive too far after your day of exploring. (rates start at $86 per night; book your room on Hotels.com or Booking.com)
Prefer a vacation rental? Here are a few options.
- Spectacular Waterfront House – The perfect cozy waterfront home on Hood Canal awaits your visit and sleeps up to six people. (rates start at $230 per night)
- Hideaway Home – This hideaway hut has an unobstructed water view looking toward the northwest and sleeps up to four guests. (rates start at $200 per night)
- Adventures Base Camp – This home sleeps up to five guests and is on one acre of land with a view of the mountains. (rates start at $175 per night)
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Top Things to Do With One Day in Olympic National Park
Only have 1 day in Olympic National Park? You’ll find plenty of activities for what to do with one day in Olympic National Park. You can also choose to go on an Olympic Peninsula loop drive.
Stop at the Visitor’s Center to Learn About the Park
Every time I visit a national park, I make sure to stop at the visitor’s center first. This is a great way to get a feel of the park and look at the map of where you want to go in any national park in Washington.
I also highly recommend speaking with one of the rangers first to be informed of any closures. For example, I’ve often found out from the helpful ranger that several trails weren’t currently accessible. If you’re spending only one day at Olympic National Park, stopping here to plan your trip will help you make the most of your time.
If you collect national park stamps, this is also the place to collect them. They’re often in the back of the center, but just ask a staff member if you don’t see them.
Unfortunately, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center completely burned to the ground in May 2023, so the Hurricane Ridge area is closed indefinitely.
Admire the Spring Wildflowers
During the spring in Seattle, the wildflowers in Olympic National Park are some of the best in the state. I love the contrasting purple and yellow flowers with the green forests in the background, which make it an ideal time for a day trip from Seattle to Olympic National Park.
You’ll see thousands of these as you drive on the roads leading into the mountains, and I recommend adding this to your list of what to see in Olympic National Park in one day.
Animals also tend to come out of hibernation around this time of year, so you may see some furry faces in the park. Just use caution and keep your distance from them, especially black bears.
Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.
Visit a Lush Rainforest
One of the most interesting fun facts about Seattle is that we have a rainforest here! The Hoh Rain Forest is where you’ll want to head to experience this unique climate in the Pacific Northwest. It rains up to 170 inches per year here, and you’ll feel like you’re in a movie (Ferngully, anyone?) as you walk through all the moss-covered trees and ferns.
This is on the park’s west side, so allow some time to get here if you come from Seattle to Olympic National Park. I highly recommend putting this on your one day Olympic National Park itinerary, though, as it’s unlike anything else in the state.
You should note that it may rain here even if it’s dry and sunny in other places of the park, so you might want to throw a light rain jacket in your car just in case.
Relax at Lake Crescent
While I love visiting Crater Lake in Oregon, Lake Crescent is also a stunning lake to visit in this area. You can easily do an Olympic National Park day trip, but I recommend spending several days here to see the entire area. Book a stay at Lake Crescent Lodge, which may have one of the best views on the Olympic Peninsula and is one of the most popular family vacations in Washington.
Can you imagine waking up to this view and having coffee in that chair? This is also a dog-friendly vacation if you stay in certain cabins while you explore Olympic National Park.
There are plenty of hikes to do here, and water activities like canoeing are also popular. You can even go sailing on this lake on days with enough wind. Lake Crescent is also a great area to have a picnic during the warmer months.
One of my top recommendations for when people want to know how to spend one day in Olympic National Park is to go on a hike. You all know how much I love hiking as much as I can, and this is exactly why I come to the park multiple times yearly. My goal is to explore all the hikes eventually, and I have a good handful done so far!
While summer is the most popular time to visit, there are many great Washington winter hikes you can do here as well (just make sure to pack your winter hiking clothes!). This gives Olympic an advantage over the other parks in the state, as all North Cascades hikes are inaccessible during this time, and many Mount Rainier hikes are snowed over.
There are many Olympic National Park hikes to choose from, depending on the length you want. You can do everything from short, easy hikes to long, steep hikes. The park’s website has a full list of where to go hiking in Olympic National Park.
I absolutely love hiking in the park because you can choose from mountain hikes, exploring some of the best waterfalls in Washington, or even going on beach hikes! It’s such a diverse park, which is why I keep coming back to it.
Here are a few I recommend:
- Hurricane Hill – This is one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park, and it provides incredible views of the mountains and valleys below. (3 miles roundtrip)
- Sol Duc Falls – This short leads to a stunning waterfall, so most skill levels will be able to access it. (1.6 miles roundtrip)
- Ozette Triangle Loop – If you’re mainly visiting Olympic National Park to go hiking, you’ll love the challenge of this long hike. (9.5 miles roundtrip)
Spot Wildlife Throughout the Park
There are many animals in Olympic National Park that you can spot depending on your time of year. Deer are everywhere, and you may also spot black bears, so you can put that on your Olympic National Park itinerary.
However, those who go deeper into the park during the summer will want to be aware of this. This is another reason to stop at the visitor’s center first, as they’ll let you know where bears were recently spotted (don’t worry – they don’t usually bother humans, but it’s good to be aware of).
When I went backpacking here in 2020, I saw three black bears on my hike back. We made sure they were aware of us and gave them plenty of space, so they didn’t feel threatened, and we could all go on our way.
You can also see giant elk and mountain goats in the forests when you visit Olympic National Park. When you get closer to the water, you might see seals, otters, and even whales if you’re lucky.
Take a Swim
On the same day you hike to the top of a mountain that may still have snow, you can swim in Olympic National Park. Lake Crescent has dedicated swimming areas so people of all ages can enjoy taking a dip.
One of the best places to go swimming is at Fairholme Beach. You’ll have access to bathrooms, a cafe, and a general store for any small needs you may have.
I like stopping here after a morning of hiking to relax for a little bit before exploring the rest of the park. Having lunch here is a great option if you want to eat somewhere scenic during your one day in Olympic National Park.
Visit a Waterfall at Marymere Falls
If you’re looking for an easy hike in Olympic National Park with a beautiful reward at the end, head out to Marymere Falls. This trail is 1.8 miles roundtrip and greets you with a giant waterfall at the end. Marymere Falls is also one of the best waterfall hikes in Washington, as it’s easily accessible by most people when you visit Olympic National Park.
Due to the ease of this trail, it often gets crowded during the summer. If your goal is to take pictures of it or get pictures of your family in front of it, I recommend going early in the day. The last time I went midday, I had trouble not having other people in my photo.
This is largely covered as you walk in the forest, so you can easily make it a rainy day hike that’s enjoyable (as it’s impossible to predict the weather in Seattle!).
Visit the Coast
One of my favorite reasons for coming to Olympic National Park is that you can go hiking on top of a mountain and then head down to the beach on the same day. Rialto Beach is a popular place on people’s Olympic National Park itineraries, and this area is a beautiful place to catch the sunrise or sunset.
Hole-in-the-Wall is a unique sea arch structure about 1.5 miles north of Rialto Beach that’s fun to visit. You can also walk in the sand at Mora Beach to visit a slightly less crowded beach.
This part of the Pacific Ocean is a popular place to surf in Washington, so you may see some surfers putting on a show while there.
If you’re feeling adventurous, I highly recommend getting a backpacking permit and spending the night on the coast. My friend and I did the Ozette Triangle Loop a few years ago and camped overnight at Camp Alava, and it was so beautiful to pitch our tents right next to the Pacific Ocean. I hope to do many more overnight backpacking trips in the park!
Enjoy Views of Canada
You’ll be so high up when hiking at places like Hurricane Ridge that you’ll be able to see Canada! It’s close enough that my cell phone provider switched to ROGERS (a Canadian company), and I had to turn my data roaming off while hiking.
Many people don’t realize just how close the southern part of Vancouver Island and the north part of the Olympic Peninsula are (only about 25 miles). It’s fun to look over at Canada and take a few pictures before heading back down the hill.
If you decide to extend your Olympic National Park 1 day itinerary, you can take the Black Ball ferry from nearby Port Angeles to visit Canada (just make sure to have your passport on you!). The ride only takes about an hour, and then you’ll be in the heart of Victoria, British Columbia.
Hurricane Ridge is currently closed due to the visitor center burning down in May 2023.
Stop at All the Viewpoints
I dare you to drive all the way to Olympic National Park on your road trip from Seattle without stopping at least half a dozen viewpoints. I loved seeing the fog over the valley in the early morning. Every time you think you’ve seen something amazing, you’ll turn a corner and see another view you have to stop to take pictures.
One Day Olympic National Park Itinerary
When planning a one-day trip to Olympic National Park, you have to get strategic about it. Trust me, I’ve been there many times for just the day, so I know how to make the most of your trip. If you’re driving from Seattle to Olympic National Park, you’ll want to set your alarm for the crack of dawn to make the most of your day.
Olympic National Park is massive, so my top tip is to narrow your focus to one area of the park instead of trying to cram everything into a day, which can leave you more exhausted than excited.
For instance, you might decide to explore the coastal region and its magnificent features, delve into the enchanting Hoh Rainforest, or tackle a selection of mountain hikes. The point is, choose one and give it your all. You can always come back (and you definitely should!).
Here’s a loose itinerary to give you an idea of how to structure your day:
You’ll want to start your journey as early as possible, ideally reaching the park between 8 and 9 am. My first stop is usually the visitor center, where you can confirm your plans with a ranger. This is especially crucial if hiking is on your agenda, as they’ll give you the lowdown on trail conditions and any other essential info.
Now that you’re equipped with all the necessary information, it’s time to hit the trails or head out to the coast. Walking along the beach with the ocean waves crashing beside you is a refreshing way to start the day.
Depending on your preference, you can either pack your lunch to maximize exploration time or head over to Port Angeles. It’s the largest city nearby, boasting a variety of food options to satisfy your mid-day hunger. You can grab a delicious seafood lunch at the waterfront Downriggers Restaurant, or if you’re in the mood for farm-to-table cuisine, head over to my favorite, Next Door Gastropub.
As the day rolls into the afternoon, you might enjoy a leisurely visit to Marymere Falls or a gentle walk around Lake Crescent. It’s a perfect way to slow down the pace and immerse yourself in the park’s tranquility.
Keep an eye on the time, especially if you need to catch a ferry back to Seattle. If time permits, I highly recommend staying to watch the sun dip below the horizon over the Olympic Mountains. There’s nothing quite like a National Park sunset to cap off an amazing day. Just make sure you have your camera ready to capture the breathtaking views!
Other Things to Know About Planning a Day Trip to Olympic National Park
How far is Olympic National Park from Seattle?
It’s about a 2 to 3-hour road trip from Seattle to Olympic National Park, and it’s somewhere between 80 to 100 miles, give or take. But keep in mind, the park is huge, so how long it takes to get there really depends on where in the park you’re headed. Plus, part of the trip involves a ferry ride across Puget Sound.
Are there Olympic National Park tours from Seattle?
Yes, you can easily join a tour from Seattle to Olympic National Park if you don’t want to drive. Here are some I recommend:
–Best of Olympic National Park from Seattle
–Hoh Rain Forest and Rialto Beach Guided Tour
–Olympic National Park Luxury Small-Group Day Tour with Lunch
What is the Olympic National Park entrance fee?
You can visit parts of this US national park for free, but to get to the heart of the park, you’ll have to pay. Here are your different options:
–Private vehicle – $30 per vehicle (good for 7 days)
–Hiking/biking in – $15 per person
–America the Beautiful pass – $80 (good for a year, so if you plan on going to at least 3 parks anywhere in the United States in the next year, this pays for itself)
And that is how you can make the most of one day in Olympic National Park! Enjoy the adventure, and start making notes for your next visit, because, believe me, there will be a next time.