There's no doubt that Road Trip Planners know that National Parks offer some of the best family summer vacations. They also know that millions of other travelers are hitting the massively popular parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite during the summer. So where do you go when you want to experience the great outdoors, be immersed in natural settings but not too far from the amenities that makes family travel easier and yet feel like you're away from the crowds? Well, if you're west of the Mississippi, set your sights on the Olympic National Park in Washington, where the green will astound you.
What sets this park apart from the rest is that Olympic National Park is divided into three distinct regions: The rugged Pacific coastline, the Olympic Mountains, and the lush rainforest. Three distinctly different biospheres; one fantastic vacation. Actually, it does draw over 3 1/2 million visitors a year and yet, you can easily find yourself alone on the beach or hike on trails for miles without seeing other hikers.
The most popular (hence, probably the most populated) area is the 9-mile Ozette Loop. It features 3 miles each of a coastal forest, ocean beaches, and camping at Ozette Lake. It's well maintained with a boardwalk and is an easy hike as the elevation change goes from sea level to 100 feet.
If you've got smaller children, I'd recommend doing a combination resort and camping vacation. Consider filling your road trip planner with the activities found in this Family Fun Trip to Olympic National Park. This road trip includes staying at Kalaloch Lodge in Forks, a family-friendly resort that sells kites in their gift shop and has other amenities like a gift shop, dining, and groceries store onsite. Nearby, you'll find another popular resort, the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, which has 3 mineral pools and 1 freshwater pool. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has the added attraction of providing RV sites as well as cabins (tent camping is nearby at the Sol Duc Campground with 80 sites).
Coastline: The coastal portion of the park is a rugged, sandy beach along with a strip of adjacent forest. The beach has unbroken stretches of wilderness ranging from 10 to 20 miles.
Mountain zone: The Olympic Mountains rise from the center of the park, dominated by the peak of Mount Olympus, which rises to 7,965 feet. It has several glaciers, the largest of which is the Hoh glacier, nearly five kilometers in length. Looking to the East, the range becomes much drier due to the rain shadow of the western mountains. Here, there are numerous high peaks and craggy ridges. The tallest summit of this area is Mount Deception, at 7,788 feet.
Rainforest: On the peninsula is the largest and finest expanse of temperate rain forest in the western hemisphere, declared a National Monument in 1909. The park is 95% wilderness, encompassing the mountains and the sea, with a rain forest in between. We're talking virgin, old-growth forests and untouched land. You won't find many roads and your best accommodations are campsites, but most visitors will agree that the experiences these trails offer are worth the effort. At the Hoh Rainforest's Hall of Mosses, you'll need waterproof shoes. Trees stretch toward the sky while mosses, lichens and mushrooms cover the ground. This hike is easy enough for a family leaving the more adventurous hikes to those who'd like to backpack in and camp along the Hoh River or at the base of Mount Olympus.
Scenic Drives: Catch the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway Loop and drive along till it connects with Upper Hoh Road. This 18-mile stretch traces the silvery Hoh River and is simply gorgeous to behold. There's also a 17-mile Hoh River trail that takes you across the flat valley to Mount Olympus's Blue Glacier.
Other points of interest:
Hurricane Ridge brings you from the lowlands blanketed with old growth forests to spongy meadows. A number of trails can be found here, depending on the group's ability. Be sure to check out the views of the Olympic Mountains and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Lake Crescent is an excellent place to walk along the 12-mile shore of this glacier lake.
- Rialto Beach is more active, with waves crashing on cobblestone beach sections and rocky islands known as seastacks are easily visible from the Beach. This is a stunning place to photograph during sunset.
The verdant landscape, the ocean, the rainforest, the snow-capped mountains; each a good reason to add the Olympic National Park to your road trip planner, but to get it all in one trip, makes this a must-see destination for everyone to experience.