Olympic National Park Day Trip (5 FUN Itineraries!)


Wondering if a day trip to Olympic National Park from Seattle is worth it?

I’ve stood amongst giant, moss-laden trees in Quinault, listening to birdsong, feeling like I was in the jungle of Washington. I’ve watched thunderous waves crash onto Kalaloch beach as sunlight sparkled on the water.

I wholeheartedly believe 6 – 8 hours of travel is worth seeing the park’s dynamic ecosystems, like the old-growth rainforests and expansive, rugged coastlines it’s famous for.

In this guide, I share five itineraries featuring some of my favorite hikes and valuable tips, including travel considerations, to maximize one day in Olympic National Park. I even share a list of places to skip to avoid spending unnecessary time in the car.

Let’s go!

Best Olympic National Park Day Tour from Seattle

Want to visit Olympic National Park without the hassle of itinerary planning? Enjoy the convenience of provided food, drinks, and a naturalist guide.

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Can You See Olympic National Park in One Day?

Yes! The key is to be smart when choosing which destinations to visit and prioritize time outdoors rather than in the car. Select one or two spots to visit and spend several hours in each, immersing yourself in the diversity of experiences available in each place.

Tide-pooling, for example, takes time for your eyes to become trained on seeing the small wonders that live in a pool.

On an Olympic National Park day trip, a woman walks on misty Kalaloch Beach on an overcast, rainy day.
Me on Kalaloch Beach looking towards the Tree of Life

This approach is more rewarding than hopping between multiple locations, spending only 10-15 minutes, then moving on. 

One Day in Olympic National Park: 5 Itineraries

These five itineraries consider travel from the Seattle Ferry Terminal. 

1. Lake Quinault & Quinault Rain Forest 

Estimated travel time: 5.5 – 6 hours roundtrip

This itinerary is my number one choice because it offers a unique combination of breathtakingly beautiful rainforest sights and lake activities, and getting here is straightforward. 

Unlike the journey to Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent, there’s no need to worry about ferries or bridge openings.

On a day trip to Olympic National Park, a couple enjoys a peaceful moment near Falls Creek, surrounded by tall mossy trees and lush ferns.
Falls Creek

South Shore Hiking

The number of connected trails on the South shore near Lake Quinault Lodge means there’s a lot to choose from, but it initially felt overwhelming. Looking at a map, you’ll see why!

I downloaded the Quinault Loop Trail from AllTrails onto my phone for navigation.

We started at Lake Quinault Lodge, and there were sections where I couldn’t make it ten feet without stopping to take a photo. Some of the trees were so grand that we stood next to them in awe, marveling at their size and old age.

Falls Creek Loop Trail (Falls Creek and Quinault Loop Trail on AllTrails)

Not too far from the lodge, we were enchanted by the look and feel of mossy trees growing over the waterfall next to Falls Creek campground. Further on the trail, we took a steep path covered in tree roots down to Falls Creek, where we discovered a fantastic lunch spot. Continuing onto Cascade Falls waterfall, we carefully walked down over a fallen log bridge to get as close to it as possible. 

Woman spending one day in Olympic National Park stands near the edge of a cascading waterfall in a forest surrounded by ferns.
Me at Cascade Falls in March. Early spring is best for waterfall viewing!

Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail

This easy, short trail connects with the Quinault Loop Trail and is a must-do! It was the last section of our hike, but from the trailhead, you don’t have to hike far to get to the viewpoint below, where the Willaby Creek flows and swordferns line the creek walls. 

A view of the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, featuring Willaby Creek winding through dense, lush forest with towering trees and ferns.
Visitors overlooking Willaby Gorge

Kayaking

You can rent kayaks at the lodge during the summer months. They weren’t available when we stayed at the end of March.

SUNSET ON THE LAKE: Make reservations at the lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room to end your day eating a delicious meal while watching the sunset. You can also see the sunset from the lake’s shores.

2. Quinault Rain Forest & Kalaloch Beaches 

Estimated travel time: 6.5 – 7 hours roundtrip

For this itinerary, choose from the activities in the section above, but allow 80 minutes to drive to and from Kalaloch and at least 60 minutes for walking on the beach. 

It’s worth mentioning that visiting Ruby Beach adds another twenty minutes of driving from Kalaloch.

The day-use parking area near Kalaloch Campground is the closest lot to the Tree of Life, just a few minutes away by foot.

TIP: If time is limited and you have to choose between seeing the Tree of Life or walking and tide-pooling on Beach 4, my advice is to head to Beach 4!

A view of Kalaloch Beach from a path leading down to the beach, featuring a clear blue sky and crashing waves.
The pathway from the day-use parking area

The panoramic view of Kalaloch’s coastline is mesmerizing, especially after spending time in a dense, mossy rainforest. The first thing I marveled at was the gnarly root systems of the trees that grow close to the beach. 

Tide-pooling at Kalaloch Beach 4

If you can time your visit to arrive at low tide, head to Kalaloch Beach 4 for excellent tide-pooling in and around the rocks to the north.

Vibrant starfish and anemones in a tidepool at Kalaloch Beach 4
I look, but I don’t touch, out of respect for this fragile ecosystem.

I was amazed by how much marine life I saw at Beach 4, carefully exploring the slick rocks to see brightly colored sea stars, anemones, and more. The colors of the earth on display on the forested cliffs lining this beach are also spectacular.

Finish your day watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

3. Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent

Estimated travel time: 8 – 8.75 hours roundtrip

I LOVE this itinerary filled with stunning mountain and lake views.

Travel Considerations

This one-day trip requires the most travel, including a ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge, the most direct ferry route. On a clear day, impressive views of Mount Rainier from the ferry deck are a bonus. You must also cross the Hood Canal Bridge, which opens for boat traffic.

  • Ferry Delays – Arriving late means you’ll have to wait for the next ferry. You can monitor remaining spaces on the ferry in real time, although there’s always a little lag. 
  • Driving Alternative – You can skip the ferry and drive south through Tacoma. 
  • Bridge Crossing – Check the status of the bridge. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s website informs the public of scheduled bridge openings, which is very helpful for planning.

I live on the Kitsap Peninsula and travel to the Olympic Peninsula multiple times a month, and the timing of a bridge opening rarely thwarts my schedule.

Three young women walk in a parking lot near the location of the old Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, with snow-capped mountains in the background.
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center, which once stood next to this parking lot, closed in 2023 due to a fire.

Hurricane Hill Trail

This trail is short and accessible since it’s paved. I’ve done it in winter when there are fewer people to contend with. I was mesmerized by the brilliant views of the Olympics in one direction and seeing Mount Baker across the water in the Cascades in another direction. 

Klahane Ridge Trail

This one also features incredible views. But it’s longer with more elevation gain and offers little to no shade. At the height of summer, I start this hike early and carry extra water. Unlike the paved walkway to Hurricane Hill, I like that it’s a proper trail. 

A view of Klahhane Ridge Trail at Hurricane Ridge and a narrow dirt path leading through rolling hills, with lush trees and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
View from the Klahane Ridge Trail

If you got a late start, held up at the ferry terminal, or would rather spend more time at the lake, consider these shorter trails:

  • Big Meadow Trail
  • Cirque Rim Trail
  • High Ridge Trail

Lake Crescent

Choose which side of the lake you want to be on based on which adventures appeal to you. Of course, you can see multiple sides of the lake if you’re good with more driving. 

Taking East Beach Road, you can hike the Spruce Railroad Trail to Devil’s Punchbowl, where you can jump in the water. You can also rent kayaks at Log Cabin Resort. Another option is East Beach, a fantastic place to swim or launch kayaks.

SUNSET ON THE LAKE: Sunsets at East Beach are spectacular! End your day here for breathtaking views.

Alternatively, you can take the 101 to the Marymere Falls Trailhead parking lot, which is the same lot for hiking Mount Storm King. But first, stop at the Welcome Sign for a quick photo. 

A wooden sign at the edge a lake, framed by a stone wall, with calm waters and tree-lined mountains in the background.
There’s a large pull-out parking area next to this sign.

Seeing the gem-like colors of the lake along the winding 101 always gives me a thrill.

Check out the section below on Lake Crescent hiking.

TIP: If the Marymere Falls Trailhead parking lot is full, try the small parking lot at the nearby Moments in Time Trailhead. Only vehicles pulling a boat can park near the boat ramp.

4. Lake Crescent Hiking & Kayaking

Estimated travel time: 6 – 6.5 hours roundtrip

The travel required for the itinerary above applies to this one, too.

If I wanted to experience one perfect day at Lake Crescent, here’s exactly what I’d do:

I’d summit Mount Storm King, return to the Marymere Falls Trail, and continue onto the falls. After all that hiking, I’d head to Granny’s Cafe for lunch and ice cream. After lunch, I’d go to Log Cabin Resort to rent a kayak and paddle to Devil’s Punchbowl to watch the daring jump in. 

A kayaker on an Olympic National Park day trip paddles on calm blue water. A forested shoreline with a small bridge is visible in the background.
Kayaking to Devil’s Punchbowl from Log Cabin Resort

Having already done every activity on that itinerary, I can say with certainty that it would be an extraordinary day.

TIP: I’ve stayed at Log Cabin Resort and know that kayak rentals are first-come, first-served and not always available during the busy season, so be ready with a Plan B. Shadow Mountain General Store, less than 10 minutes away, also rents kayaks.

Mount Storm King

Summiting gives you the best view of Lake Crescent, but getting to the top requires navigating the Mount Storm King ropes over steep and uneven terrain. It was less hairy than I expected after reading others’ trip reports.

That said, risk tolerance is a personal decision. I recommend seeing something for yourself to determine if it’s within your capabilities. You can turn around before the rope section and still see phenomenal lake views.

Marymere Falls Trail

This trail is accessible to most ages and capabilities. If you do only one hike at Lake Crescent, this is it! I’ve walked this trail a handful of times, and I’m always enchanted by the beauty of the forest.

Magnificent towering evergreen trees line the trail to Marymere Falls, with sunlight filtering through.
The forest is prettier than the falls.

5. Staircase Hiking & Lake Cushman

Estimated travel time: 5.25 – 5.75 hours roundtrip

The southeastern Hood Canal side of Olympic National Park sees fewer visitors than the northern and western areas, but that’s no indication of inferiority.

Choose this itinerary for the least driving and a fantastic day of hiking along a river and lake lounging.

Lake Cushman is not part of the national park, but you drive past it to get to Staircase. When the weather’s warm, I pack my swimsuit, towels, a blanket, and a floating lounge.

Shady Lane Trail

Ferns, moss, and lush conditions abound. We walked inside a small, wet cave that we assume provides shelter to wildlife. 

A man with one day in Olympic National Park walks out of a small cave on the Shady Lane Trail surrounded by moss-lined rockery and lush vegetation.
My husband on the Shady Lane Trail

North Fork Skokomish River Trail

This trail will always be special to me as the first one I ever hiked in Olympic National Park. It goes on for 28.7 miles, so you can spend a good portion of your day trip hiking if that’s your priority. You can turn around at any time.

There are plenty of places to stop and pull off the trail to sit by the Skokomish River, where you’ll see massive boulders lining the water.

Lake Cushman

I’ve found that the vibe at Lake Cushman on a hot summer day is young, family-oriented, and perhaps a bit loud. The good thing is that there are several places to pull over and hang out along the lake’s shoreline to avoid the larger crowds that gather at Bear Gulch Picnic Site and The Big Rock. 

A forested path leading to Lake Cushman. Tall trees frame the path, and a group of people enjoys the lake's clear blue water.
Driving towards Staircase, you’ll see spots like this.

TIP: Stop at Hoodsport Coffee for ice cream if the timing works out. There’s a reason there’s usually a line here!

Olympic National Park Destinations NOT Recommended for a Day Trip

Traveling from Seattle, I recommend skipping the destinations below unless they are bucket list destinations. 

  • Sol Duc Falls – adds another 40 minutes of driving one way from Lake Crescent.
  • Hoh Rain Forest – adds another 1.5 hours of driving one way from Lake Crescent and Lake Quinault. The Hoh is incredible, without a doubt. But so is the Quinault Rainforest, which is much closer to Seattle. 
  • La Push Beaches – adds another hour of driving one way from Lake Crescent.
  • Rialto Beach – adds another hour of driving one way from Lake Crescent.
  • Shi Shi Beach – Point of Arches is one of my top five experiences in the park. But traveling to Shi Shi Beach from Seattle is a 9-10-hour round trip adventure. If you only have one day, I recommend visiting Crescent Bay at Salt Creek Recreation Area, one of the best beaches in Port Angeles.  

Tips for a Day Trip to Olympic National Park from Seattle

Follow the tips below to reduce stress and protect your time enjoying the park.

A few days before you leave:

  • Know the ferry schedule and best driving routes, and pad your schedule for travel delays.
  • Charge your camera batteries. I always take my Canon point-and-shoot with me and I regretted using my iPhone to capture the gorgeous dusk sky at East Beach because my camera was out of juice!
  • Make a list of everything to carry in your backpack.

The day before you leave:

  • Fill up your gas tank.
  • Pack your backpack.
  • Check for road closures and up-to-date park information. Check for Hood Canal Bridge openings. If necessary, give yourself time to devise a different plan.
  • Prepare sandwiches or cold pasta that you can quickly throw into a cooler the next morning. I like to bring Patagonia’s canned mackerel with me for a delicious meal on the go.
  • Double-check that you’ve packed all the gear you’ll need, like a phone battery charger, to avoid stopping at a store on the way. Don’t forget your cord!
  • Load your car with your backpack, trekking poles, plenty of snacks, and anything else you can think of.
  • Make sure you have a little cash on you. Some stores on the peninsula do not accept cards.
  • Lay out your clothes so you can get dressed quickly the following day.
  • Plan to leave early.
A small herd of Roosevelt elk grazes near Highway 101, with bare trees in the background. A car's side mirror is visible in the foreground, suggesting the view is from a passing vehicle.
On our way to the Quinault Rainforest, we saw a herd of Roosevelt Elk on the side of the 101.

Where to Eat in Olympic National Park

Here are convenient places to eat when visiting the park.

  • Country Aire Natural Foods in Port Angeles – A fantastic place to grab snacks, sandwiches, and prepared meals.
  • Granny’s Cafe next to Emerald Valley Inn off Highway 101 – One of my favorite places to eat because the food is reliably good, and it’s a convenient stop.
  • Sunnyside Cafe at Log Cabin Resort – For pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and beer! They serve my favorite, Silver City’s Tropic Haze IPA.
  • Roosevelt Dining Room at Lake Quinault Lodge – My husband loved the pot roast, and I loved the duck. The prices are high, but you’re paying for the lodge’s historic charm and lake views.
  • Dino’s Pizza and Grill near Lake Quinault – Great place to grab a pizza or burger after a day of adventuring.
  • El Puerto De Angeles in Hoodsport – Good Mexican food and water views.
Best Olympic National Park Day Tour from Seattle

Want to visit Olympic National Park without the hassle of itinerary planning? Enjoy the convenience of provided food, drinks, and a naturalist guide.

Book Now

Olympic National Park Day Trip: Wrap-Up

While you can’t see all of Olympic National Park in one day, you can still have a remarkable experience by selecting one or two destinations and immersing yourself in these places for hours. 

Take it from a local who has been to all of the park’s most popular spots—the drive from Seattle is worth it!