If you only have a day to spend on the Olympic Peninsula, then
I feel bad for you, and
It’s still possible to have an incredible time.
The Olympic Peninsula encapsulates a lush and diverse landscape of wild Northwest beaches, gorgeous rain forests, and, most famously, Olympic National Park. Located about two hours from the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the Olympic Peninsula is easily accessed by car and should be considered a must-visit for any Pacific Northwest road trip.
Although I was lucky enough to spend three days on the Olympic Peninsula and within Olympic National Park during my visit, the amount of time I spent not fulfilling Maid of Honor duties for my best friend’s destination wedding was minimal. For that reason, I wanted to highlight each site that should be prioritized during your visit to the Olympic Peninsula. Shout out to my girl Molly Collier for filling in the gap in photographs with some of her gorgeous film captures.
Before you go, it’s important to understand the Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics so you and your clan can enjoy these outdoor areas in a safe and thoughtful way (I happen to have a very snarky guide right here that’s both fun and informative). Once you’re set, grab your map, a coffee mug, and get to planning!
Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center
Even if you only have a few hours to spend in Olympic National Park, make sure your first stop is Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center will give you a quick rundown on ONP’s history and major sites, as well as access to easy trails set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Olympic Mountains.
If you have two to three free hours, I highly recommend hiking the Klahhane Ridge Trail via Switchback Trail on your way up to the Visitor’s Center. There’s a little less traffic on the Switchback Trail due to its intensity, and taking this trail shaves off a few hours if you’re headed to Lake Angeles.
As you drive along the road west towards the coast, you’ll end up passing through the Lake Crescent area about 18 miles from Port Angeles. In case you miss the abundant signage, you’ll know exactly when you’ve reached the lake as the blue of the water erupts into your view.
The Lake Crescent area offers endless recreational activities, including nearby hikes such as Marymere Falls, canoeing on the lake, and swimming at the beach. Pack a picnic to enjoy lakeside or nosh on some fresh seafood from the Lake Crescent Lodge restaurant.
Hoh Rainforest is a favorite for families and hikers alike. The Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail both cap out at less than 1.5 miles each, offering a quick yet educational stop along the west side of Olympic National Park. Stop inside the Visitor’s Center for information on the Rainforest and other major hikes like the Hoh River Trail.
Although you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in a swimsuit and sunscreen in this area, La Push’s stretch of wild Washington beaches is worth the 2-2.5 hour drive from the Port Angeles area. Offshore rock formations dotted with pine trees create a foreign landscape in La Push’s foggy climate.
Hike within the forested trails to First and Second Beach, or experience a slower way of life through the lens of the Quileute Tribe - the primary business owners and residents of La Push.
The Pacific Northwest is generally a foggy place, but the way that mist shrouds your view beyond the horizon adds to the mystery and charm of the Peninsula. Although you may want to ensure a clear day before hiking the Dungeness Spit, I promise it’s just as gorgeous in the fog. A short paved hike through a temperate rainforest opens up into the sandy spit surrounded by water on either side. After 5.5 miles of marine life spotting on the sandy stretch, you’ll reach a lighthouse where you can take a free guided tour and climb the steps for panoramic views.
Spending one day on the Olympic Peninsula is one of the few ways you can experience mountains, rainforests, and beaches all within a single drive - but I will always recommend taking the extra time to day hike through the wilderness, take a guided tour with a National Park Ranger, and generally immerse yourself in these areas for the educational and enlightening experiences alone. If you can afford the time to extend your stay on the Olympic Peninsula and in Olympic National Park, consider staying at one of the many campgrounds maintained by the NPS so you won’t miss a minute of Olympic National Park’s opportunities for adventure.