Figuring out how to see the most of Olympic National Park can be daunting to a first time visitor. With nearly a million acres of park to explore and encompassing four majestic and varied ecological regions, there is just so much to see. Although many people choose to backpack into the more remote sections of the park (with the appropriate permits), there are so many wonderful day hikes that are of easy or moderate grade and that show off what makes the Olympics one of the crown jewels of the Pacific Northwest.
Here are 10 hikes that shouldn't be missed. Some are short enough that they can be combined with others for a good day of exploration. And most, if you choose, can be extended into overnight backpacking trips or just longer day hikes in the area.
Located in the coastal and intertidal section of Olympic National Park, this loops takes you along the coast and the temperate rain forest that borders it. Cape Alava is rich in petroglyphs and artifacts of the native people who have lived in the area for over 2,000 years. Wildlife abounds, as it does in much of the park.
Hike into the dense coastal rain forest amongst old-growth trees and numerous waterfalls. The trail is wet and muddy for most of the year, but that just gets you into the setting in the best possible way. The Quinault forest receives almost 150 inches of rainfall in a year. Hikers can continue deeper into the Enchanted Valley that drains the East Fork Quinault River.
The hike up Hurricane Hill is one of the most popular trails in Olympic National Park, but don't let that dissuade you. The views are truly majestic, encompassing the Olympic Mountains, Elwha River Valley and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Summer wildflower blooms and wandering mountain goats are an added bonus.
Although this trail is nearly as popular as Hurricane Hill and leaves from the same place, it offers a bit more freedom from other park visitors and impressive views from Sunrise Point. The ridge is open and sun exposed, so bring your sunscreen if you get a chance to visit on a cloudless day, all the better for the endless vistas.
Both these short trails can be combined into one hike, and if you are visiting the wet, mossy, and almost always rainy Hoh Rain Forest, these trails take you into the scenery. Through the old-growth forest you'll see some huge western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and big leaf maple trees covered in deep blankets of moss. Don't forget to bring your rain boots and a water-resistant coat.
The Cedar Loop Trail is just outside of Olympic National Park in a recreation-oriented section of Quinault National Forest. The trail runs along Quinault Lake and deep into the surrounding old-growth forest. Another trail where mud will become your friend, come prepared for the wet and get lost in the surrounding beauty.
If you are visiting Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, you would be crazy to skip out on the short hike to Sol Duc Falls. The 50-foot falls cascade into a narrow canyon, and the effect is spectacular. A viewing deck and bridge over the falls make for beautiful photographs. Backpacking trips to the High Divide Trail continue from here as well.
On the eastern, or Hood Canal, section of Olympic National Park, the Staircase Ranger Station is the starting point for a short, beautiful hike along the Skokomish River. It's drier over here than on the western side of the peninsula, but that doesn't mean the trails aren't muddy. Cross a suspension bridge and hike to the Staircase Rapids, where you'll have lots of places to move about to enjoy the river views.
Reaching Lena Lake requires a bit of a climb, but it isn't too arduous, and it's well worth the effort. Lena Lake is in Olympic National Forest, just outside of the national park. Yet the forest still features extensive old-growth and impressive views. Many hikers make the trip to Lena Lake in the summer, and there are options to continue deeper into the forest and the nearby Brothers Wilderness.
The hardest of the day hikes featured on this list, the hike to Royal Basin Falls requires a hefty 2,650 feet of elevation gain. It also requires getting a permit to visit it. But with that, you'll get a less crowded chance to see Olympic National Park at its finest. After visiting the beautiful waterfall and surrounding Royal Lake, if you have it in you, continue hiking for another 500 feet of elevation to Upper Royal Basin for a truly spectacular, almost primordial, experience in the heart of the Olympics.