Olympic National Park’s versatile climate and vibrancy are unlike anything Brian and I had ever experienced before. Located along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers an abundance of natural beauty. We had an unforgettable trip through one of the most diverse regions in the United States! Comprised of lush rainforests, glacier-capped mountains, alpine wilderness, and rugged coastlines, the national park is a world all on its own.
Personally, I’ve been looking forward to visiting Olympic National Park for years. I’d read about it, dreamt about it, and was full of anticipation. Brian, on the other hand, was in for a complete surprise. The park was not specifically on his radar, nor was the actual possibility of venturing to Washington State anytime soon. He was excited to be in the dark and couldn’t wait to see what I’d been raving about.
Research & Prepare
With a few preparations to make the most of our trip, we were on our way to exploring Olympic National Park!
As a rule, we generally don’t travel during busy seasons. We find it to be much more cost-effective and enjoyable, especially as introverts. For this trip, it just so happened that we landed a great deal that took us up through the west coast. Luckily, May is still considered somewhat off-season for the Olympic National Park! Tourist season doesn’t truly start until the summer months. Off-season travel gifted us a wonderfully secluded experience. We took our time taking it all in. Without crowds, noise, or any rushing around, we were free to roam.
Pre-Plan Routes & ETAs
Our hotel was an hour away from the park. The park covers nearly 1 million acres. With only 3 days to visit, we mapped out our routes to maximize time on the trails versus on the road. Pre-planning routes and ETAs allowed us to fully enjoy ourselves. Maintaining east coast hours meant that we were up bright and early before most; we accessed certain viewpoints and trailheads during the least busy times. There were plenty of moments that we felt we had the park all to ourselves! Not only did we appreciate the quiet, but we loved seeing the early morning light stream through the forests.
Offline maps are a necessity, especially when traveling through remote areas! Brian and I made sure to download Google Maps for offline use on both of our phones. Cell phone coverage is spotty throughout most of Olympic National Park. Offline maps helped us find our way from point-to-point, even when we were turned around on a poorly-marked trail.
Brian and I kept a “Go Bag” of snacks and water in the car. Complete with trail mix, granola, and other treats, we also baked a Kodiak Cake with applesauce and peanut butter. These snacks kept us going when we were low on energy or needed a quick bite!
Pack Out Waste
We kept a plastic bag with us to dispose of any of our waste. Once we found a proper receptacle, we’d discard our trash. Specifically, when hiking, it’s difficult to always ‘hold it’ when nature calls. We researched the proper methods for relief when no indoor plumbing is available. This kept us comfortable and ready to go with little-to-no inconvenience or interruption. I personally kept some tissue paper and wipes on hand, packed away when finished, and disposed when I could!
We started our journey in 100°F Las Vegas heat. Needless to say, we knew we had to brace ourselves for big swings in temperature! Preparing for the Olympic Peninsula’s diverse ecosystem and climate was going to be an interesting wardrobe challenge, especially since we only travel with a backpack each. We wore waterproof hiking shoes on the plane and packed away our other gear. Lightweight, water-resistant pants along with moisture-wicking wool layers and waterproof shells provided a comfortable haven from cold downpours.
Big swings in temperature meant we needed layers! From quick-dry tee shirts and long sleeve wool knits to thermal layers and rain jackets, we made sure that we dressed for the forecast while staying prepared for the unexpected. Additional layers accompanied us in the car in case we ever felt too warm or too cold!
Machine washing our clothes on the road was a little too cumbersome and costly for us. Not only was it expensive for our small amount of clothing, but it was also costly in terms of time and energy. We actually looked into machine washing after our first hike, but found it to be excessive. Thankfully, we prepared for this scenario and brought along clothing we could easily wash in the hotel sink! Everything from our socks, underwear, and hiking gear were easy to hand wash and hang dry. A hair dryer comes in handy for the items that don’t dry completely the next day.
‘Til We Meet Again
Brian and I LOVED this trip. The ways in which we prepared for our adventure through Olympic National Park kept us excited and ready to go. We had the best time and, without a doubt, will be back. One million acres of awe-inspiring wilderness deserves more time. There are many more trails to hike, coasts to walk along, and sights to discover. Though we will likely find additional ways to prepare for another trip, one thing we know for sure is that we need to spend more than 3 days there!
Do you have any other suggestions or tips for venturing through Olympic National Park? Comment below!
WHOA. I know you said “snow” in your last blog, but I didn’t realize you meant THAT MUCH snow. I’ve been wanting to see the Olympic National Park and I’m interested in how you managed to pack it all into one backpack each. Could I ask for extra pointers??
Packing advice! PLEASE tell me what kind of clothing you brought for yourself! Vegas to northern Washington have two very opposite climates. All of my thermals are bulky and not one-backpack-friendly items. What kind of thermals and jackets do you have?
I was going through the Trip Advisor that you linked and saw a tour for Hurricane Ridge! I want to go. It looks beautiful, but did you and your husband visit there? If yes, was it worth it? Should I book it?
You mentioned going off-season at the start. How do you know which months are off-season?
Aaand… any chance you’d be willing to share that Kodiak Cake recipe? My family and I are trying to lose some weight and that sounded extremely good! Sorry that I asked a lot! I get excited. 🙂
Hi Bridgette! Thank you for your comment. No worries – we love questions!
Packing: The main tip I have for packing is to make sure you have versatile layers! I tend to favor a minimalist wardrobe, especially when I travel. I travel with ultra-packable pieces that require low maintenance (wrinkle-free & travel-friendly). Mix and match to create looks that provide easy transition from day to night.
– Make sure your items can be cared for easily (washed in a sink + hang dry if need be!)
– I only brought 2 outfits for Vegas – both dresses that easily could be dressed up/down.
– My thermals are made from quality material and feature lightweight wool construction for comfortable insulation and temperature-regulation.
I highly recommend looking into Smartwool, Darn Tough, REI, and even some Kuhl products! Brian and I enjoy browsing through REI to scope-out sales.
Hurricane Ridge: We drove up Hurricane Ridge Road and popped into the Visitor Center. The sights are beautiful and feature views of the Olympic Mountains. We did not participate in a specific tour, so unfortunately, I am unable to recommend one through personal experience.
However, we did manage to walk from the Visitor Center 1.3 miles down the closed road towards the Hurricane Hill Trailhead. The closed road is clear of snow, but when we visited in May, the Hurricane Hill Trail was still very much snow-covered! We managed to hike up the slope and follow part of the trail, which was incredible and offers a view of Canada! For us, it was worth it to scope out Hurricane Ridge and some of the Hurricane Hill Trail on our own. Let us know if you end up booking a tour of it; we’d love to hear about your experience!
Off-Season Travel: Typically, tourism centers and websites are excellent resources for determining which time of year to travel. They tend to disclose the busy season, as well as which attractions are in operation. Not only do I visit city/site-specific websites, I also do my own reading through different review websites to determine how other people’s experiences were throughout the year.
Kodiak Cake Recipe: I honestly made it up! We didn’t buy any eggs because they were SO expensive at the time. Brian and I had some left over applesauce and peanut butter and so I figured I might as well try to make something out of it and took a chance.
– Entire box of Kodiak Cake mix
– Eye-balled five or so tablespoons of peanut butter
– Nearly the entire container of applesauce
– Small packet of dry pumpkin muffin
– Handful of raisins and a little bit of water
I crossed my fingers and stuck it in the oven! It worked out 🙂
Thank you, Liann!! Really? Ok, I’m going to swing by our REI store so I can finally retire my puffy winter clothes. Hurricane Ridge sounds gorgeous. I think my family and I will book the tour by next year. We’ll let you know how it goes! Thanks for the recommendation!