Visiting Olympic National Park with kids

And into the forest I go; to lose my mind and find my soul.”

John Muir

Olympic National Park has been a favorite vacation we have taken with our kids. It was also one of the most challenging to plan, because the peninsula is so large, and we had no idea where to stay or which areas within the national park we wanted to visit.  We calculated about 100 hours of planning for this vacation, over the course of a few months last spring.

So here are some time-saving recommendations for what to see, which hikes are kid-friendly, and where to stay.

Allegiant Air has a cheap direct flight from Grand Rapids, MI to Portland, so this was how we chose Olympic National Park as our next destination. We originally planned two weeks, to include Mt. Ranier National Park and North Cascades National Park, but had to shorten the duration because of pandemic-era rental car shortages. (The only upside to our rental car fiasco was that we ended up with a Range Rover).

At a Glance:

  • 1 ½ days in Portland. We flew into Portland’s PDX airport on a Monday afternoon and had one evening plus a whole day to explore Portland. We felt like that was enough because, during the pandemic, so many restaurants were closed, and 2020 had been hard on Portland.
  • 2 days inside Olympic National Park. After a full day of exploring Portland on Tuesday, we drove up to the ONP on Wednesday morning, visited Lake Quinnault Lodge, the Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach. We stayed in the town of Forks, WA for one night, and then visited Ruby Beach, Crescent Lake Lodge, Marymere Falls and Hurricane Ridge on the second day.
  • 1 day whale watching in Port Townsend. We spent the night in Port Angeles, WA, and then drove to Port Townsend for a whale watching tour on Friday.
  • 1 day on Whidbey Island. We took a ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island and stayed in a tiny house on a working farm in Freeland, WA. We hiked on Whidbey, drove up through Deception Pass and then made it to Seattle before dinner on Saturday night.
  • 1 ½ days in Seattle.

The Sites of Olympic National Park

After reading so many guidebooks and travel blogs, we narrowed our choices to these top sites within Olympic National Park. If you have already visited, let us know if we missed any good ones!

Because we started our vacation in the city of Portland and ended in Seattle, we made the decision to start on the south end of the park and work our way clockwise along the coast and across the top of the peninsula.

Lake Quinault and Lake Quinault Lodge

Beautiful Lake Quinault was our first stop in ONP, and it did not disappoint. We drove up to the park from Portland, so we needed a place to eat a picnic lunch. I love historic buildings, so I planned our meal locations according to which beautiful lodge I wanted to see. This jeweled lake is located in a glacial-carved valley of the Quinault River. We were SO EXCITED to see some natural beauty after a day and a half in Portland.

The 1926 Lodge is charming, and the large lawn is perfect for a picnic. They also have a restaurant which would be a lovely spot for a drink while the kids play lawn games. It was just right for stretching our legs and filling our souls before the hour and half drive to the Hoh Rainforest.

The Hoh Rainforest

The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the few remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the US and one of the most popular places to visit in park. The mosses and ferns are enchanting, my boys said it felt like the Forest moon of Endor from Star Wars. It looks like the sort of place that elves might live.

  • Spruce Nature Trail hike in the Hoh Rainforest

We started with the Spruce Trail, simply because the Hall of Mosses looked busier, and we are so glad we did. It is a simple and beautiful 1.3 mile loop through old growth Sitka Spruce and rich groundcover of ferns and mosses. At about the halfway mark, the trail comes to the edge of the Hoh river, which is a great place to stop to play. We had a snack and played here in the sun and icy river water.

  • Hall of Mosses hike in the Hoh Rainforest

This trail is an easy 0.8 mile loop. It also felt magical with the giant maple trees hanging with spikemoss and licorice ferns. Our 7 year old thought he could live here, in the shelter of the giant trees.

Rialto Beach Sunset

After a long day of driving and exploring, we checked into our VRBO cottage in Forks, WA. None of us have ever been to the coast in the PacNW, so we were excited to see beaches with lots of driftwood. But we were not prepared for the beauty of Rialto beach at sunset. This was such a joy, and a fun place to bring takeout food, have a picnic and play for the evening.

Ruby Beach: Tide pooling at Low Tide

THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS WE DID! Look up when low tide hits and get to Ruby beach or one of the other beautiful beaches about 30 minutes before low tide. It was a stunning, unforgettable experience.  We were staying at a VRBO in the town of Forks, so this was a close beach to visit on Thursday morning. Ruby Beach at low tide is the most sensational playground. We climbed all over the rocks surrounding the sea stacks and found whole walls full of starfish and pools of anemones and hermit crabs. (I wrote a blog post about it here.)

Lunch at Lake Crescent Lodge

After tidepooling on Thurssday morning, we intended to take a midday break at Lake Crescent Lodge to eat a picnic lunch. We were so caught off guard by its stunning clear blue mountain water! It was 85 degrees and full sun, so we made a gameday decision to stay and swim after lunch. We considered visiting Sol Duc Hot Springs and Sol Duc Falls, but quickly changed plans to hike Marymere Falls instead to allow for this extra swimming time.

Hike Marymere Falls

This was a nice, very easy hike. Pretty waterfall, some fun wooden bridges that the boys liked.

Hurricane Ridge

The high alpine meadows of Hurricane Ridge are an easy drive from Port Angeles, and we felt like we were in the setting of The Sound of Music!  This is a DO NOT MISS if you go to Olympic National Park!! We also encountered a marmot and two fawns, mewing at us right at the edge of the trail.

Port Angeles

After a very full day of exploring in ONP, we spent the night in Port Angeles on Thursday. This is a cute seaside town, which had plenty of hotel options, although we had trouble finding a restaurant to get dinner because of pandemic closures.

Port Townsend

After spending one night in Port Angeles, we got an early start and drove to Port Townsend for our Whale-watching tour.  We booked a half day tour with Puget Sound Express, a family-owned and run tour company. This was much better than we expected, with a charming boat and a yummy homemade Blueberry Buckle morning treat. The boat had a cozy dining booth where we could stay comfortable with our family inside the boat, and easily move outside with binoculars to see the whales. We saw gray whales, orcas, and puffins!

After whale-watching, we had a few hours to explore the town of Port Townsend before our Ferry to Whidbey Island. Port Townsend is a seaside town with an artistic soul, Victorian architecture and several good dining options. The town also had multiple independent bookstores (a favorite pastime for our family) and some cute stores for finding gifts.

Whidbey Island

We took an early-evening ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island (in Puget Sound, north of Seattle). We had some good seafood at a restaurant right off the ferry, and then met some friends at Double Bluff Beach for the sunset. That night we stayed in a tiny house on a working farm in Freeland, WA.

On Saturday, we had breakfast with friends, went for a hike near their home, visited the coastal town of Oak Harbor for lunch, drove up through Deception Pass and then made it to Seattle before dinner on Saturday night.

Deception Pass State Park has clifftop views and trails. The bridge is a show-stopper! I’m afraid of heights, so Deception Pass Bridge and the road up to Hurricane Ridge in ONP stress me out. Both are worth the stress!

We finished our week-long vacation with two nights (one full day) in Seattle and flew out of Portland back to Grand Rapids on Monday. This trip filled my soul. If you love family travel, check out other travel blog posts and vacation itineraries here.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

John Muir

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