Olympic National Park with kids

Tucked away on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park offers the best of not one, not two, but three worlds: temperate rain forest, ocean beaches, and mountain peaks await visitors to this unique park. No matter the season, families can escape metropolitan life in only a matter of several hours (approximately three from Portland and Seattle) and find themselves hiking between moss-covered Sitka spruce, beach-combing along wild coastline, and even skiing.

Quinault

Park Overview: Olympic National Park is unique not only in its ecosystem, but in its geography; the majority of the interior of the park is free of roads (great for backpackers and wildlife, not so great for traveling families). In order to see the park, visitors must skirt the boundary on Highway 101, which is certainly scenic, but makes for quite a bit of car time. We suggest making a ‘home base’ on either end of the park, staying in Lake Quinault Lodge on the southern end or Port Angeles on the northern end. (If you have time, do both!) We chose the southern end for its rare rain forests, and saved the drive through the length of the park for another trip.

Where to stay: Lake Quinault Lodge sits on national park land just past the southern entrance to the park, its back porch and lawn leading straight to the shores of beautiful Lake Quinault. We love this lodge for its rustic yet elegant charm, kid-friendly features such as croquet sets, board games, and even an indoor pool, and proximity to incredible hiking in the Quinault Rain Forest (one of only three temperate rain forests in the world).

Quinault

What to do: Trust me, you won’t be bored! In the Quinault Rain Forest area, families can enjoy many day hikes under three miles in length that hold kids’ attention as they weave through jungle-like forests, follow ice-cold streams, and end in crashing waterfalls. Our favorites are the Maple Glade and Cascading Terraces trails, both starting right across the street from Lake Quinault Lodge at the ranger station.

Further north (back on Highway 101), kids will want to stop to explore any of the short, forested paths from the highway to the ocean near Kalaloch, all of which open out upon the wide, long-stretching beaches along this part of the coast. (Look for the huge, wind-blown trees barely hanging onto the ocean cliff-sides…their exposed roots make for great jungle gyms!)

Olympic beaches

From Kalaloch, continue north on Highway 101 to the turnoff for the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (15 miles further on Upper Hoh Road). The center is only open seasonally, but families will find excellent picnic areas and self-guided hikes through some of the most dramatic rain forest yet! Check out the Hall of Mosses for a good taste of this terrain that even preschoolers can hike.

Extra Tip: for a good resource on all area hikes, click here!

hoh rain forest

A word on Twilight Territory: If you have a tween or teen in the car itching to see Cullen and Quileute country (or just admit it…it’s you, isn’t it?) the town of Forks is just 10 minutes further up Highway 101 from the turn-off to the Hoh Rain Forest. You’ll be tempted to make the detour, but trust us, it’s not worth it unless you’re heading in that direction anyway (or like cheesy souvenir shops and the like). If you’re not continuing further north but simply must make the trek (I understand, I really do), do the rest of your crew a favor and drop them off at scenic Ruby Beach, a national park site just past Kalaloch. The kids will have much more fun running on this beautiful beach, climbing its sea stacks, and playing in the creek that runs from forest to surf. And after you’ve driven through Forks, continue on to La Push’s First and Second beaches…they really are lovely.

Check out all we loved about Olympic National Park and Lake Quinault Lodge on the Pit Stops for Kids’ Kid Cam:

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. I have a friend moving to Washington State and they are making a list of things to do there this summer with their two kids. This is perfect! I’ll be sure to send them your way.

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