Imagine primal, windswept Pacific coastlines, hot springs steaming between old-growth evergreens, remote peaks hidden deep in the forest, draped with ancient glaciers. The Olympic National Park, located in the northwest corner of Washington state, covers almost a million square acres. 95% of that area, designated as the Olympic Wilderness, is undisturbed by roads or buildings. So while the park receives three million guests annually, most of those visitors only see a tiny fraction of the park’s unique environment. And the best part? These vast stretches of untouched wilderness are only three hours by car from the city of Seattle.
The park features four distinct environments: pacific coastline, temperate rainforest, alpine tundra, and drier forests created by the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. With 75 miles of wilderness coastline, 490 offshore islands and sea stacks, and 18 feet of rain each year, the Olympic National Park is consistently described as one of the most awe-inspiring parks in the United States. If you’re new to the park—or just want an excuse to explore off the beaten path—check out these highlights.
If you want sand between your toes:
Head toward the Olympic Wilderness Coast. The 73 miles of sand and headland are the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the United States outside of Alaska, and hikers can walk for miles along the rugged, sandy shore. Some routes require a shimmy over the occasional headland, but you’ll be rewarded with colorful tidepools of starfish and anemones, breathtaking views, and the park’s permission to set up camp wherever you can find a spot above the high-tide line. Hikes can be scaled up or down depending on each party’s ability and available time, but the northernmost 15 miles of wilderness between Shi Shi Beach and Cape Alava are world-renowned—just be sure to watch the tides.
If you want to see wildflowers:
Visit the Hurricane Ridge, which is nearly a mile high. Start at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center, where informational exhibits, an orientation movie, and restrooms are available year-round, then ask the rangers to point you toward the best views. In the summer months look for sub-alpine flowers like lupine, avalanche lilies, and Indian Paintbrush, and consider a hike to Hurricane Hill for a breathtaking panoramic view of the Straights of Juan de Fuca. For more solitude, climb the Mount Angeles trail to Sunrise Ridge—and keep an eye out for marmots!
If you want to go climbing:
Check out Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park. At 7,980 ft, it’s one of the most heavily glaciated peaks outside of the Cascade Range—but climbers have to work hard to earn the summit. The massif is positioned in the heart of the Olympic Mountain Range, guarded by a 17½-mile hike from the trailhead. The approach, which takes most parties two days, leads climbers through the lush Hoh Rainforest to a camp at Glacier Meadows at the toe of the Blue Glacier. The summit day involves glacier mountaineering, snow climbing, and a short pitch of rock on the summit block. Tenacious climbers are rewarded by spectacular 360-degree views of the park and the Pacific Ocean. As the English navigator John Meares wrote, “If that not be the home where dwells the gods, it certainly is beautiful enough to be, and I therefore will call it Mount Olympus.”