Encapsulating three distinct ecosystems, Olympic National Park in the state of Washington covers an enormous amount of land that includes glaciated mountains, fertile temperate rain forests and picture-worthy coastlines. Altitudes grow from sea level to well above 7,900 feet at Mount Olympus.
With a Greek name like that, it is easy to see why this “home of the gods” is included in the national park system. From shining seas to moss covered old growth forests and pristine mountain lakes, Olympic National Park harbors many of God’s most stunning landscapes.
History of Olympic National Park
Native Americans were the first to enjoy the abundant fish and game of the region, doing so for thousands of years before European settlers brought devastating diseases with them. So, by the time these outsiders arrived, the indigenous peoples were all but gone. These new pioneers established logging operations in the late 1800s, as growing communities in the west required more construction material.
It only took a few years of clear-cutting for locals to realize their natural resources needed protection. Talk of making the Olympic Peninsula a national park started in 1890, and by 1897 the Olympic National Forest had been named, giving the forests some safeguards against overuse. Even President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk in the region by designating Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909.
It took more public pressure to convince Franklin Roosevelt to finally sign the Olympic National Park declaration into law in 1938. Today arguments still continue over logging rights outside the park boundaries, but the old growth forests, rocky beaches, and snow-covered mountain peaks are on display for all to enjoy.
Why Visit Olympic National Park in Your RV?
Olympic National Park covers three different ecosystems. What better way to see pristine coastlines, temperate rain forests and awe-inspiring mountain vistas than by RV? Several of the 15 campgrounds inside the park have room for RVs that range in size between 21 feet and 35 feet.
Park your motorhome and then jump in the toad or tow vehicle and dash off to explore over 900,000 acres of wilderness, wildlife, and wonder. Then return home for a great meal and a good night’s sleep in your own bed, before heading out again the next morning!
Places to Go
There are plenty of fantastic must-visit places inside Olympic National Park. Here are just a few of them.
Olympic National Park Visitor Center
Open year-round, the main visitor center has exhibits, a “Discovery Room” for children, ranger-led programs, and the Wilderness Information Area, where those wishing to venture into the backcountry can get information and permits.
Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center
With a stunning vantage point overlooking the Olympic mountains, this visitor center offers a park movie, information, a gift shop and snack bar, restrooms, and ranger-led hikes. The area has numerous picnic tables and trails, as well.
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center
Open daily in summer and Friday through Sunday in the off-season, this center provides information on the rain forests throughout the park, along with self-guided nature trails.
Find your way to the Ozette region of the park by following Hoho-Ozette Road from Highway 112. Here travelers will discover the still waters of Lake Ozette and plenty of history dating back more than 2,000 years.
The Ozette Loop Trail will take hikers along the coast in solitude, with three-mile boardwalks where migrating whales and seals can be viewed.
Kalaloch and Ruby Beach
Accessed directly from Highway 101, visitors can hike and camp along this southwest portion of Olympic National Park. Birds like bald eagles and gulls are popular here, and hikers will find starfish and anemone in tidal pools along the way.
See the top of the world from this major roadway in the mountainous portion of the park. Open daily in the summer and Friday through Sunday each week in winter (dependent upon weather conditions), Hurricane Ridge has a variety of hiking/snowshoeing trails.
When possible, the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club runs two rope tows and a Poma lift for downhill skiing enthusiasts.
Hoh Rain Forest
If ever there was an enchanted forest, this is it! Hike through deciduous and coniferous trees dripping with moss, the result of 170 inches of rain each year. The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the park’s most popular destinations and can be accessed via Upper Hoh Road from Highway 101.
Things to Do
There’s more than just places to visit in this wonderful national park. There’s plenty of activities to do, too. Here are a few of them.
There are more than 4,000 miles of streams, 600 lakes, and 75 miles of ocean coastline that is protected within the boundaries of Olympic National Park. That’s a lot of trout, salmon, and char for those who like to cast a line.
Keep in mind that the park manages angling activity to preserve native fish, while providing recreational fishing for park visitors, so adhering to fish and shellfish regulations is a must. Check the brochure for opening and closing dates on rivers and licensing requirements.
The park is equipped with 15 campgrounds, some of which are open year-round but do not have running water during the winter season. None of the campgrounds have electric or water hookups or showers available, with the exception of Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground:
- Hoh Campground – 78 rain forest campsites with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- Deer Park Campground – 14 sites for tents only
- Dosewallips Campground – hike in campsites for tents only
- Fairholme Campground – 88 lakeside campsites with room for RVs of 21 ft. or less
- Graves Creek Campground – 30 streamside sites, no RVs or trailers allowed
- Heart O’ The Hills Campground – 105 sites with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- Kalaloch Campground – 170 oceanside sites with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- Mora Campground – 94 campsites with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- North Fork Campground – 9 rain forest sites, not recommended for RVs or trailers
- Ozette Campground – 15 lakeside campsites, room for RVs of 21 ft. or less
- Queets Campground – 20 sites, not recommended for RVs
- Sol Duc Campground – 82 riverside sites, with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- South Beach Campground – 55 sites overlooking the ocean with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- Staircase Campground 29 forested sites with room for RVs from 21 ft. to 35 ft.
- Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground and RV – privately run campground with 17 full hookup sites on a paved parking lot
There is also backcountry dispersed camping throughout the park. A permit is required.
The wilderness is so vast within Olympic National Park that hiking opportunities abound everywhere you look. Here’s a breakdown of trails based by ecosystem:
- Temperate Rain Forest Trails are found in verdant valleys throughout the park
- Coastal Regions include hikes on beaches and topography overlooking the Pacific Ocean
- Mountainous Trails include peaks, ridges, and clear mountain lakes
Many enjoy exploring the extreme terrain within Olympic National Park, but these adventures come with some caution. The geologic makeup of the Olympic Mountains contains rocks that typically fracture easily, and they hold few cracks to anchor rock climbing gear.
Helmets should always be worn, and participants should be experienced climbers. Topographic USGS maps and the Olympic Mountains: A Climbing Guide can be your best friend when planning routes.
There is so much unspoiled wilderness within Olympic that backpacking to extend your excursion makes perfect sense. Bring a pack and a bedroll and plan a trip using the Wilderness Trip Planner to find suggested campsites, trails, regulations, and safety measures.
The park is host to many species of wildlife, and with a little knowledge and luck, visitors can catch glimpses of marmots, gray whales, black bears, Roosevelt elk, and mountain goats, among others. Check with rangers to discover recent animal sightings and habitats.
When to Visit Olympic National Park
The park is open year-round. However, mountainous terrain accumulates a good deal of snow, so campgrounds and roads are sometimes closed due to weather. The most popular time of year is the summer when high mountain valleys fill with wildflowers, animals can be observed in their natural habitat, and beaches are just begging to be combed.
With winter comes less access, but a plethora of outdoor activities like snowshoeing and skiing can be enjoyed with the beauty of the Pacific Northwest serving as a striking backdrop.
Where RVers Can Stay
Olympic National Park has 10 campgrounds that accept motorhomes and trailers. Some sites can accommodate rigs up to 35 feet in length. These are all located within the park’s boundaries.
Only Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground and RV has hookups and showers, however. So, if you would prefer to stay at a campground with all amenities, here are a few close to the park from which to choose:
- Elwha Dam RV Park – located less than 10 miles from the park entrance, this campground has 51 full hookup sites, along with cabins and tent space.
- Olympic Peninsula/Port Angeles KOA – just a few miles from Olympic National Park, this campground has both 30 amp and 50 amp full hookups with all the amenities.
If you would like to splurge with some time away from the RV, the park has numerous lodges and cabins available, as well.
Getting To and Around Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park incorporates more than two-thirds of the Olympic Peninsula, but Highway 101 encircles almost the entire park. Enter Olympic from this highway from virtually any direction. The park is separated into ten sections, and roads leading from Highway 101 will give visitors access to hiking trails, campgrounds, and activities.
Some roads and destinations close with winter weather, so check road conditions before entering the park.
With virgin wilderness from forest to peak, Olympic National Park stretches its tendrils from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains for which it is named. Visitors here experience all aspects of the perfect getaway: sunset walks on the beach, wildflower-filled meadows and mountain vistas as far as the eye can see.
With such idyllic settings, it’s a wonder that more travelers haven’t discovered this gift from the gods.
Have you ever been to Olympic National Park? What were your experiences there?