This travel guide for Olympic National Park /Forest is packed with things to do, what to see, where to stay and eat. Tips for making the most of your vacation.
If you are visiting Seattle, a great side trip is to visit the Olympic National Forest and the Olympic National Park. The drive from Seattle to the Olympic National Park is about 3 hrs and there is a lot to see and do and you can easily spend a week exploring the area.
The Pacific Northwest Coast is known for its lush greenery, the ever present fog and rain which gives the region an incredible moody ambience, which makes it the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of our trip, check out the vlogs on our YouTube channel.
Olympic National Forest or Olympic National Park?
This is not an easy distinction to make when visiting this area. The Olympic National Park is surrounded by the Olympic National Forest and while we visited some areas that were technically inside the National Park, we never had to pay a fee.
You can see in the map above the green is the Olympic National Park and the Yellow is the Olympic National Forest. I circled the places in this guide.
3 Things to Do in the Olympic National Forest
Stay at a Lake Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge
Presidents have stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge and its history and location make this lodge optimal for your first night, specially if you are arriving at the Olympic National Forest later in the day as it is located towards the Southern edge of the of Olympic National Park.
There are several falls located within a couple miles from the Lake Quinault Lodge and the property offers a full service restaurant – with lake views of course – and a very inviting and relaxing lobby to snuggle up by fireplaces, have a drink, read or enjoy a board game.
Only one mile up the road, you can find a convenience store that sells snacks and drinks for your day trips’ needs.
Lake Crescent Lodge
Lake Crescent Lodge is on the opposite side of the park, but equally as breathtaking! It is a much smaller property, but the rooms are bigger and its sunroom has the best view of the lake. We had an amazing dinner at here and loved watching the ducks at the lake.
Staying in a park lodge turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip for a few reasons.
- The lodges are located in absolute stunning locations that are super relaxing and offer many activities and amenities. You can just spend a few days there without ever venturing out.
- Lodges are close to several trails and major attractions.
- If you plan it right, you can drive the entire West side of the Olympic National Forest without having to backtrack, making it a much more enjoyable vacation.
- Prices are much lower during the off season and there is quite a lot of availability. Although I recommend you have reservations in advance, I saw quite a few people arrive without. Ask for an off season discount or senior discount if you qualify.
See the Falls: Merriman and Marymere
The hike to Merriman Falls can’t even be considered a hike. You literally drive to it and walk a few paces to the falls. Absolutely spectacular and a very short drive away from the Lake Quinault Lodge. It is not to be missed!
Marymere Falls is an easy 1.5miles, roundtrip hike. Mostly flat through fern, moss covered trees with only a sharp ascent on the final loop to the fall. I took a shortcut and went straight to the waterfall without doing the whole loop.
The falls are gorgeous, but most impressive was the hike there. I just love the different shades of green, the different textures of foliage and moss and the tiny mushrooms growing everywhere.
If I had more time, I would love to hike more trails in the Olympic National Forest.
The only drawback is the rain. Prepare to be wet and hiking through mud a lot. It’s just how it is. If you prepare yourself mentally, as well as dress appropriately, you will find it quite enjoyable!
Beachcomb on Ruby Beach
The Pacific Northwest Coast is moody, humid, full of driftwood and grey most of the time. A photographer’s dream!
There are several beaches along the coast, but if you have limited time, stop at iconic Ruby Beach.
Ruby Beach requires a short hike down to the beach, but the views are amazing!
Check on the tides before you go. During low tide, you will able to see starfish and anemones on the rocks and you will be able to walk around the outcroppings. Unfortunately, we were there at high tide, but it was still worth a visit, don’t you think?
If you have more time, you can explore other beaches along the Pacific Northwest Coast such as Rialto Beach or venture into the Olympic National Park to hike in the Hoh Rain Forest trails.
Have you been to the Olympic National Forest? If so, what was your favorite place?
For more posts on National Parks, check these articles below:
- Yosemite National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
Also don’t forget to read How to Spend a Day in Seattle.
Shop my favorite hiking gear!
This post was updated June 2020.