Enter the world of Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula, just West of Seattle. It is one of the rarest and most photogenic landscapes in America, home to the only rainforests in the continental United States! To celebrate the Centennial of the National Parks Service I spent four days discovering magical forests, dramatic beaches and more wildlife than you can imagine. Here are the must-see places you have to visit in Washington’s Olympic National Park.
Hoh-ly. The Hoh Rainforest is the stuff dreams (and Avatar movies) are made of. The unique microclimate of this 24 acre rainforest make it a lush wonderland. Vivid green moss drips from ancient trees, clovers and ferns blanket the ground, and neon colored mushrooms pop through the tree bark. Oh, and the elk. There were two grazing on some greens as soon as we entered the park. Inside the forest you’ll find an eerie silence. The only sounds are a few drops of water cascading from the trees. Spectacular.
As lumber from the surrounding forests washes into the Pacific, the tides bring the giant trunks ashore Rialto Beach and batter the branches until they look like this. The beach is strewn with giant logs and trees making it hard to walk but incredibly dramatic. One of my favorite stops on the peninsula.
Sol Duc Falls
The Sol Duc Falls are a great beginner’s hike, only about 2.5 miles in each direction. Giant trees flank the trail, which meanders over trickling brooks and bridges. After your hike, relax in the pools and hot tubs at Sol Duc Hot Springs!
Forks Elk Herd
Rise with the sun and you’ll be treated to an incredible sight. Just a mile or two outside of the town of Forks (yes, the same Forks as the Twilight Saga!) you’ll come to pasture where a herd of elk can commonly be found grazing. At dawn, the fog and sunlight create epic conditions for photos.
La Push, Washington. Population 371. Head all the way to the Quileute Marina and you’ll come to River’s Edge Restaurant. It was the only restaurant I saw in the entire town. Grab a booth with huge picture-window views and watch sea lions, beavers and bald eagles while you dine on local smoked salmon and delicious clam chowder.
The road that takes you around Olympic Peninsula hugs the majestic Lake Crescent for several miles, giving you many chances to witness the lake in all of its grandeur. Rainbows are common in Olympic National Park and we were treated to this spectacular one right over the lake.
So much small town charm to be enjoyed in Port Angeles, Washington. Grab an amazing coffee at The Blackbird, grub at The Nextdoor Gastro Pub and do some shopping at the vintage spots along First Street. You may score big, like I did with this leather jacket for only $85! At sunset, drive out along the Ediz Hook bird reservation until you see a giant driftwood heart on your left side. Canadian artist, Sahrah Brown created this masterpiece to remind visitors to connect with their own heart. This locally-loved landmark is the perfect place to watch the sunset!
Another amazing sunset spot is Ruby Beach on the West coast of Olympic Peninsula. Take your walking stick and spend and spend magic hour exploring the tide pools and expansive stretches of black sand.
As Orcas and Grey Whales migrate north, they pass right through Puget Sound, making this a perfect whale watching destination. Drive to the adorable town of Port Townsend and hop on the Puget Sound Express for a half-day whale watching tour. We spotted two grey whales that were both over 40 feet long! After you get back to port, grab some sunshine and wine at Doc’s Marina Grill happy hour.
For the best view of the Olympic National park, head 5,242 feet in elevation to Hurricane Ridge. Call the Olympic National Park hotline to make sure the roads up to Hurricane Ridge are open. Unfortunately the roads were closed due to weather so we weren’t able to visit it but typically you can access Hurricane ridge by a short car ride from Port Angeles, and then hike or ski from there!