Best Olympic National Park Hikes with Kids
One of the best things about being a military family is getting the opportunity to explore so many different parts of the United States. When we first got orders to Washington State, Olympic National Park was on the top of our “must-see” bucket list. It quickly became my favorite National Park visited so far, and it’s not hard to see why.
What Makes Olympic National Park Unique?
Covering nearly a million acres in Northwest Washington, Olympic National Park provides a myriad of exploration opportunities. You can hike along glacier-capped mountains, explore old-growth temperate rainforests, or dip your toes in the ocean along the more than 70 miles of wild coastline.
These distinct ecosystems provide for wonderful and diverse wildlife viewing. You can see Roosevelt Elk in the Rainforest, goats and bears in Hurricane Ridge, and anemones and sea stars in the coastal tidepools. This National Park has something for every member of the family!
- Best Olympic National Park Hikes with Kids
- What Makes Olympic National Park Unique?
- Packing for a Trip to Olympic National Park
- When to visit Olympic National Park
- Tips for Visiting Olympic National Park with Kids
- Family-Friendly Adventures in Olympic National Park
- Western Region
- Northern Region
- Eastern Region
- Exploring Olympic National Park with Kids
- Guide to Visiting Olympic National Park with Kids
Packing for a Trip to Olympic National Park
With such vastly different ecosystems to explore in one park, you will need to pack for all weather conditions. Along with the hiking essentials, consider the following for a trip to Olympic National Park:
- A raincoat and waterproof footwear are preferred in the temperate rainforests within the park.
- Extra layers and waterproof outer shells are recommended even in the summer when visiting Hurricane Ridge and the nearby peaks since the weather can change quickly.
- Shoes with excellent traction are essential along the rocky, wild beaches (check out our extensive article on water shoes for kids).
When to visit Olympic National Park
Most portions of the park are open all year, but keep in mind that some roads are closed or require tire chains to traverse during the colder months. The park is most active during the summer months, with temperatures staying mild, all road sections open, and a high variety of ranger-led tours and activities. This is also the most crowded time to visit, so plan on arriving at trailheads and beaches as early as possible.
While you will see the fewest crowds in November-April, you will also see the highest level of precipitation along the coast and in the rainforests. This is also the time when snowfall is abundant, which can close roads leading to Hurricane Ridge, Staircase Rapids, and other popular sections.
Personally, I prefer to visit in late May or September to avoid the largest crowds while also enjoying cooler weather.
Tips for Visiting Olympic National Park with Kids
Check Before You Travel
Check for road and/or trail closures before you go. Even in the warmer months, there are times when certain trails are closed due to non-weather-related issues.
Bring Back-Up Maps
Cell signals can be spotty in areas. Be sure to pick up or download trail and road maps ahead of time in case cell service isn’t available (paper maps are available at the gate along with ranger stations and visitor’s centers).
Get There Early
Arrive at the most popular destinations (such as Hurricane Ridge and Hoh Rain Forest) as early as possible since they can get crowded quickly, even during the off-season.
Plan on Plenty of Travel Time
Since there is no road leading through the park, plan on spending plenty of time in the car traveling between park regions.
Take Your Time
With a park this vast, consider taking at least 5 days to explore without feeling rushed. Also, we found it beneficial to book multiple lodging options near different parts of the park (such as Forks, WA for the western portion and Port Angeles, WA for the northern and eastern portions).
Flexibility is Key
Go in with a plan but be flexible. There is a myriad of off-the-beaten-path opportunities for exploring in this area that are sometimes even better than popular trails. Check with park rangers for some lesser-known adventure options.
Bring Plenty of Food and Water
There aren’t many dining choices available, especially if visiting in the off-season. Bring a picnic and lots of snacks (because, you know, kids).
Family-Friendly Adventures in Olympic National Park
There are countless hike options to choose from when visiting Olympic National Park. Here are some of my favorites along with other outdoor adventure options broken into the area they can be found in and around the park.
In the western portion of Olympic National Park, you will discover both a rugged, picturesque coastline and an enchanting rainforest to explore. These hikes were our favorite in the whole park, though there are many more to explore in this area:
You can’t visit Washington State without stopping by at least one coffee stand (which isn’t hard, they are everywhere!). Check out Mocha Motion in Forks, WA on your way to one of the beaches or the Hoh Rainforest. You won’t be disappointed!
Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trail Loop
- Round Trip Length: 2.9 miles (double loop)
- Location: Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center
The Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trail are two separate loop trails that are connected by a short trail in the middle and start at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitors Center. The path will lead you through virgin temperate rain forests where you will observe more shades of green than you thought possible.
These are both easy trails with very little elevation gain and can be split to form the 1-mile Hall of Mosses and 1.4-mile Spruce Nature Trail loops. Interpretive signs give information on the ecosystem along the trail. Keep an eye out for Roosevelt Elk and the incredible nurse logs throughout the forest. There is so much to explore here, especially for kids who love to climb and investigate tree hollows and insects.
Arrive as early as possible since the parking lot fills up fast. Be sure to bring rain gear as this area sees an average of 140 inches of precipitation each year.
Ruby Beach Trail
- Round Trip Length: 1.5 miles (out-and-back)
- Location: Southwest Coast of the Olympic Peninsula
Ruby Beach is one of the various beaches located in the Kalaloch Area. There is an accessible viewpoint to take in the scenery along with an accessible vault toilet (which can be useful when traveling with tiny explorers!). While it may not be what some expect a “beach” to look like, this rugged coastline gives off an almost eerie beauty.
This was one of our favorite areas for its enormous sea stacks, weathered wood to climb on and explore, and extensive wildlife viewing. This beach boasts one of the best spots to observe sea life in tide pools. From sea stars to anemones to crabs, there were so many tiny worlds to explore at low tide.
Be sure to visit during low tide to fully experience the amazing tide pools. Looking to do some beach camping? There are campgrounds located just down the beach at Kalaloch and South Beaches along with a Lodge and cabins located at Kalaloch.
Second Beach Trail
- Round Trip Length: 2.2 miles (out-and-back)
- Location: Just outside the town of La Push
This easy trail starts at a port-a-potty (a welcome convenience if traveling with kids) and leads down switchbacks and a well-worn crib staircase within an old-growth coastal forest. At the bottom of that staircase, you will cross a field of weathered wood before reaching the rugged Second Beach (yes, that is the actual name of the beach).
Along the beach, you will see sea stacks rising from the water along with a natural arch to the north. At low tide, you can see an assortment of sea creatures in the tidepools including crabs, anemones, and sea stars. The sunset on this beach was breathtaking that even my very active son sat down in the sand to just watch in awe.
Sturdy footwear is a must on this beach since you will be traversing slippery rocks and wood. Also, don’t forget your headlamp or flashlight if hiking at night, this trail has some surprise turns that are difficult to find in the dark!
More Family-Friendly Adventure Options
- Along with the Junior Ranger Program, Olympic National Park offers the Ocean Stewards Program to encourage kids to explore the coastal ecosystem of the park. Just pick up a copy of the booklets at any of the ranger stations or visitor’s centers, follow the directions, and turn it back in to receive a patch.
- In the Southwest portion of the park, you will find Lake Quinault, which provides swimming and boating opportunities along with more hiking trails. This area tends to be quieter with fewer crowds.
- Have a Twilight fan in your family? In Forks, Washington, you can take a self-guided tour of all the places mentioned in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book series. They even have tours and annual celebrations honoring the author.
The northern portion of the park is home to the gorgeous Lake Crescent along with Hurricane Ridge where you will get an amazing view of the Olympic Mountains.
As you are heading to the northern region of the park, I highly recommend taking a little detour through Port Ludlow to the Finnriver Farm and Cidery in the Chimacum Valley. They serve delicious, unique hard cider and offer local food, live music, and seasonal tours and tastings in their very family-friendly Cider Garden.
Moments in Time
- Round Trip Length: 1.0 miles (loop)
- Location: Lake Crescent, east of the lodge.
This short, easy hike leads you on a self-guided interpretive trail with signs that discuss the history and ecology of the Lake Crescent area. The loop rambles through a forest, small meadow, and lakeshore with numerous stumps and logs for kids to climb and explore. You can access the loop by following the trail along the shore of Lake Crescent that leads northeast from the ranger station parking lot.
The Lake Crescent Lodge offers a gift shop, bathrooms, and dining along with accommodations (including lodge rooms, cabins, and cottages). I highly recommend their lavender lemonade as a nice refresher following a hike!
Marymere Falls Trail
- Round Trip Length: 2.2 miles (out-and-back)
- Location: Start at the Lake Crescent Parking Lot near the Storm King Ranger Station
With only around 350ft of elevation gain, this easy trail will lead you through a gorgeous old-growth forest as you head upstream under a towering canopy of huge conifer trees. Following the signs for Marymere Falls, you will go over two large bridges and then reach a loop trail that heads up stairs to give you a view of the beautiful waterfall.
Bring a picnic to enjoy on the shores of Lake Crescent after your hike. You can also check out the Storm King Ranger Station and the Lake Crescent Lodge, which share the same parking lot (they both have bathroom facilities).
Cirque Rim to High Ridge to Big Meadow Trail
- Round Trip Length: 1.6 miles (lollipop)
- Location: Hurricane Ridge
If mountain views are more your thing, look no further than Hurricane Ridge. This connection of three short, easy nature trails offers breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and even the Cascade Mountains on a clear day.
Follow the paved Cirque Rim trail to the rugged High Ridge Trail. There is a dead-end spur off of this trail that leads to Sunrise View Point, which provides incredible views. Head back down and turn onto Big Meadow Trail to finish out the loop.
The road leading into Hurricane Ridge closes during the week in the winter (and during poor driving conditions). Be sure to check the website ahead of time if you plan to travel to this area in winter.
More Family-Friendly Adventure Options
- Looking to explore the park in the winter months? Hurricane Ridge offers various winter adventure options including tubing, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing on the weekends.
- Take a dip in natural hot springs by visiting Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort . Open from the end of March through October, the resort offers 3 mineral hot spring pools along with a freshwater pool. Two of the three pools are safe for all ages, while the third is a toasty retreat for adults.
You can find access to more rugged, higher elevation hikes in the eastern portion of the park, with trails leading to peaks such as Mt. Washington and Mt. Townsend. You can still find a few family-friendly hikes in this area, such as the two listed here.
If you are heading out to explore Lake Cushman or Staircase Rapids, stop into Nina’s Lake Cushman Café off of WA-119. This homey little local café has a welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff, and the best clam chowder I have ever tasted.
Staircase Rapids Nature Trail
- Round Trip Length: 2.1 miles (loop)
- Location: Staircase Ranger Station just past Lake Cushman
Staircase Rapids Nature Trail follows the north fork of the Skokomish River through an old-growth forest and a rich understory of ferns and mosses. You will cross over a suspension bridge where you can admire the rapids within the raging river. You can also stop here to relax and cool off a bit on a hot summer day before following the trail back downstream.
The road leading to the trail turns rugged for the last 5 or so miles and is often riddled with potholes. Chains are required in the winter, and all-wheel or 4-wheel drive is recommended all year round.
Dosewallips Steam Donkey Trail
- Round Trip Length: 2.5 miles (loop)
- Location: Dosewallips State Park
This moderate trail isn’t technically part of Olympic National Park, but I included it here since it is right outside the boundary and a family favorite to visit. You will follow deciduous forest groves through open meadows and cross a flowing creek in various spots.
The trail gets a little steep and technical in spots, so I recommend it for older kiddos or kids with more hiking experience if they are on their feet. You can stop by the beach afterward for a little beach exploration or swimming in the summer.
Dosewallips State Park is a great place to camp to gain access to the eastern portion of Olympic National Park. They also have good spots for clamming and crabbing along with fishing.
More Family-Friendly Adventure Options
- If you are visiting in the fall, I highly recommend stopping by Twanoh State Park to the southeast of the park. This is when you get to witness the salmon spawning in incredible numbers, it is truly a unique and interesting experience!
- In the mood to chase some waterfalls? This section of the park (along with the whole park in general) offers some family-friendly waterfall hikes including Murhut Falls and Rocky Brook Falls. Check out this brochure for more waterfall options in and around Olympic National Park.
Exploring Olympic National Park with Kids
These family-favorite hikes are only a fraction of those available throughout Olympic National Park. With such a diverse set of ecosystems maintained throughout the area, you’re sure to find something to delight every member of your family. We look forward to visiting again the next time we find our way to the Pacific Northwest.
- Top 10 Things to do in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks with Kids
- Best Family Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains
- Exploring National Parks with Teenagers
- Two-Day Itinerary for Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP
Guide to Visiting Olympic National Park with Kids
© 2022, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.