Visiting Olympic National Park
Seasons, Fees, Permits and ReservationsOlympic National Park is open all year, but roads and certain sections of the park may be affected due to conditions like snow, flooding and construction. It's always a good idea to check current conditions before planning a visit. Standard entry fees to the park are $15 per vehicle and $5 per individual arriving on foot, bicycle or motorcycle. These passes are good for visits of up to seven consecutive days. Annual passes are $30. Check the park's website for more information on special passes. Wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips to the park's backcountry, and reservations may be required to enter certain protected areas in accordance with overnight use limits. While limits vary across regions, generally only 50 percent of an area's nightly limit is reservable in advance. The other half is given on a first-come, first-served basis at select information centers and ranger stations.
Visitor CentersOlympic National Park's main visitor center is located in the town of Port Angeles, which is in many ways the gateway to the park. The center is open daily all year and hosts exhibits highlighting the park's cultural and natural history. The park's Wilderness Information Center, located within the main visitor center, issues backcountry permits, stocks bear canisters and provides other useful updates and tips regarding travel in the park's extensive wilderness.
Mountains, Beaches and Forests
Generally speaking, Olympic National Park's ecosystems can be broken into mountains, beaches and forests. Temperate rainforest covers much of the western park, and is typified by large coniferous trees like western hemlocks, Sitka spruce and coast-Douglas firs, as well as mosses. This area receives and average of 12 feet of rain every year. It's common to see plants growing out of fallen trees, called "nurse logs." The Hoh Rainforest is one of Olympic National Park's biggest tourist attractions. Northern and eastern sections of the park are home to lush valleys covered in lowland forest. This much-visited section of the park is home to the Elwha River, the subject of one of the largest wilderness rehabilitation projects in the national park history.
The Salmon Cascades overlook in Sol Duc Valley is a great place to watch coho salmon jump during spawning season (late October, early November). Easy day hikes among giant trees are a popular feature at the park's Staircase and Heart O'the Hills areas. The Olympic Mountains are favored for its scenic views, hearty subalpine forests and broad, wildflower-sprinkled meadows. Although backcountry hiking is a very popular activity, you don't necessarily have to rough it to witness the glory of Olympic's high country. Hurricane Ridge and Deer Park are highland areas accessible by car -- weather conditions depending -- that offer numerous scenic turnouts and tourist-friendly features.
Stop by the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to take in awesome panoramas of Lillian Ridge and Mount Olympus, or catch ranger-led walks and talks. Numerous trailheads are located in the Hurricane Ridge area, including easy-to-moderate day hikes in its nearby hills and meadows. Alpine meadows on the peninsula are home of more than two dozen endemic species that escaped glaciation during the last ice age. Hurricane Ridge is also a hub of winter activities like snowshoeing and downhill and cross-country skiing, road conditions permitting.
Olympic National Park's coastline offers incredibly diverse terrain, ranging from sandy and rocky beaches to dramatic cliffs and peculiar shoreside rock formations. Beach hikes are fairly popular, especially along the western edge of the park near Kalaloch and picturesque Ozette. Just be advised that a walk on the beach isn't exactly a walk in the park -- figuratively speaking. Slippery rocks and tides can hinder your progress when hiking on the shore.