If you want to explore one of Washington’s U.S. National Parks in the wintertime, Olympic is going to be your best bet. While the state’s other two parks, Mount Rainier and North Cascades, are completely covered with feet of ice and snow, Olympic’s breathtaking beaches and temperate rainforests along the coastline rarely get below freezing and are still easily accessible. Want to experience some fresh powder as well? Olympic’s epic mountains have plenty of that too!
So if you’re looking for some outdoor adventures when the temperature drops, here’s 6 incredible things to do in Olympic National Park in winter.
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Table of Contents:
- How to get to Olympic National Park
- What to know before visiting Olympic National Park in winter
- Things to do in Olympic National Park in winter
- What to pack for Olympic National Park in winter
- Where to stay in Olympic National Park in winter
Psssst.. headed to the Olympic Peninsula? Consider me jealous- it’s one of my favorite places on the planet! If you want to make your visit even more epic, check out our other articles about the park:
- Olympic Peninsula Loop: 15 Stops Along the Most Iconic Washington Road Trip
- Tree of Life: Washington’s Most Unique Tree (While It Lasts!)
- 10 Stunning Olympic National Park Beaches to Add to Your Bucket List
- 8 Best Hikes in Olympic National Park (the ONLY with Temperate Rainforests, Beaches, and Mountains!)
- Weekend Itinerary for Olympic National Park
We also have a ton of content all around Washington state (what can I say, my home state is pretty awesome), which you can check out here.
How to Get to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is tucked into the northwestern corner of Washington state in the Olympic peninsula. The park itself is enormous- 1,442 square miles to be exact- so depending on what part of the park you’re driving to, it can take anywhere from two hours to up to five hours of driving west if you’re coming from Seattle, the closest big city.
No matter which section of the park you’re going to, I’d highly recommend either bringing your own vehicle or renting a car– unlike some national parks, there’s no shuttle system here and public transit is extremely limited.
Note that some roads in the park, like the one leading up to the famed Hurricane Ridge, are closed or operate during limited days or hours in the wintertime, due to the amount of snow they receive- so be sure to check the park’s official site before your trip to check for any closures.
If you plan on driving up to any high elevations to enjoy some snowy winter activities, you should bring tire chains– every car (including those with four wheel drive) are required, by park mandate, to carry them on certain mountain roads.
What to Know Before Visiting Olympic National Park in Winter
Before we dive in to all of the awesome things to do in Olympic National Park in winter, there are some things you should know before your visit:
- Between my friends and family interested in visiting, and commenters on various forms of social media, I see folks planning trips to Washington state, at all times of the year, excited to explore the most famous hikes in our state’s three spectacular national parks.
While sections of each of the parks are still accessible in the wintertime, the sad truth is that you’ll be limited in what you can get to- and hike- in each of the parks if you visit outside of July through early October, given the enormous amounts of snow that Washington’s peaks receives outside of that window.
As mentioned above, out of the three parks, Olympic, by far, has the mildest winters- and provides the most diverse array of activities of the national parks to enjoy in the colder months.
But even with respect to Olympic, some of the park’s most famous hikes at higher elevations, like the High Divide Loop or the Enchanted Valley trail, will largely be inaccessible but for the most skilled mountaineers. Understand before heading to the park that your options for outdoor adventures will be slightly more limited than if you visited in the summer.
- For the high elevation trails that are accessible, winter hiking comes with a lot more dangers and concerns than outdoor activities in the summer- consider, for example, how to find and stay on the trail if there’s fresh powder, not knowing what kind of terrain is under the snow you’re hiking on, and even avalanche risk.
Before heading into the backcountry of the mountains, make sure you have route-finding skills and understand how to assess and mitigate avalanche risk- if you’re looking for resources, I’ve taken free training courses with the Northwest Avalanche Resource Center or avalanche.org also has some free training videos. And if you’re not confident in your abilities, there’s still plenty of incredible things to see and do in the park that don’t have the same level of risk as adventuring in the mountains!
- One of the reasons that visiting Olympic in the wintertime is pure magic is how quiet and peaceful it is. In fact, it kind of feels like the park is recuperating from the throngs of summer visitors- the rainforests are being replenished to their lush greenness with some much-needed precipitation and the craggy beaches are tranquil.
So let’s make sure that Olympic’s beauty is restored and preserved by always following the Leave No Trace principles during your visit. This includes things like disposing of waste properly (pack it in, pack it out) and planning ahead and being prepared (e.g., make sure you have the appropriate gear and know-how before you head out to explore)- hopefully common sense stuff, but you’d be surprised about the crazy shenanigans I’ve seen on the trail!
Things to Do in Olympic National Park in Winter
I’m lucky enough to live within a few hours of Olympic and have spent a many snowy weekends exploring as much of the park as I possibly can. So with that, here’s 6 amazing things to do in the park, come winter.
1. Explore rainforests.
Fun fact- did you know that Olympic is the only U.S. National Park with temperate rainforests- and the only one in the continental United States with rainforests of any kind? So it’s probably high time to check them out!
Olympic’s lush rainforests look like something straight out of a fairytale- in fact, its most famous rainforest, the Hoh, is so revered it’s been named both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. Winter is a fantastic time to visit them- due to their lower elevations and their relative proximity to the coastlines, Olympic’s rainforests rarely get below freezing- and when they are lightly dusted with snow, the grand trees, mossy branches, and primeval ferns somehow look even more magical.
And while this part of Washington famously gets quite a bit of rain in the wintertime, a rainforest is one of the best places to get outdoors when it’s sprinkling- the dense cathedral of plantlife overhead usually does a decent job of keeping you dry(ish).
Some of the best places to check out are:
- Hall of Mosses, Spruce Nature Trail, or Hoh River Trail in the Hoh Rainforest: As mentioned above, Hoh is the most famous rainforest in the park- and for good reason! It’s full of incredible ferns (many of which are taller than me!) and has some of the grandest, most Seussian trees you’ll ever lay eyes on.
- Maple Glade Rainforest Trail in the Quinault Rainforest: Walk amongst 100-year old big leaf maples, sitka spruces, and western hemlocks, all dripping with moss. Plus, this is a great place to spot elk- and even mountain lions!
- Lover’s Lane Loop: While this isn’t located in one of the four designated rainforests in the park, it still has all of the same stunning characteristics- towering pine trees, lush ferns, and all of the cartoonish mushrooms you can handle.
2. Chase all the waterfalls.
There are dozens of gorgeous waterfalls throughout Olympic National Park and its neighboring Olympic National Forest, many of which are accessible via hiking trails suitable for even the most beginner hikers.
Wintertime is a spectacular time to view falls- given the Pacific Northwest’s rainy winters, the flow is usually incredibly high. Although freezing temperatures are unusual at Olympic’s lower elevations, it’s even possible you may see a frozen waterfall during your visit, when the waterfall’s curtain turns into a breathtaking sculpture of ice.
Some of the best falls to add to your Olympic National Park itinerary:
- Sol Duc: This is the only waterfall in Olympic that you can view above the brink as the falls’ four channels cascade dramatically down into a rocky slot canyon some 48 feet below.
- Marymere Falls and Madison Falls: I’m grouping these together, because they’re both accessible via incredibly easy and short hiking trails and provide you the best opportunity to see frozen falls in the park.
- Merriman Falls: Given these 40-feet falls’ location in the less-visited Quinault Rainforest, you’ll have a good chance of getting them all to yourself! These falls are particularly majestic, streaming over rocks, ferns, mosses, and logs before cascading into the pool below.
3. Hit the beach.
Olympic has a staggering 73 miles of coastline- and no two are the same. From sandy shores to strewn with black pebbles, pine-tree topped sea stacks, and enormous pieces of bleached driftwood, you could spend a week exploring all of the park’s uniquely beautiful beaches and still not see it all. In the wintertime, the waves are particularly dramatic along the Pacific coastline and the low-hanging clouds and moody, overcast vibes give the beachscapes an almost hauntingly beautiful quality.
I could wax on about an absurd amount of jaw-dropping beaches in Olympic National Park, but here are some that are particularly awesome to visit, come winter:
- Ruby Beach: This is one of the most famous beaches at Olympic- with its pebble-y shores, picturesque sea stacks, and jaw-dropping sunsets, it’s not hard to see why.
- Kalaloch Beach: Home to the most unique tree in Washington, the Tree of Life, a giant sitka spruce that’s floating between two cliffs and holding on for dear life with a few root tendrils. Be sure to visit this amazing tree while it lasts!
- Shi Shi Beach: This beach offers some of the most dramatic sea stacks in all of Olympic, called the Point of Arches. Plus, if you’re a hearty soul and don’t mind the winter chill, the camping at Shi Shi Beach is seriously out of this world (and you’re likely to have the beach totally to yourself in the cooler months!).
4. Try your hand at down-hill skiing, snowboarding, or tubing.
Hurricane Hill is one of my favorite hikes in Olympic National Park in the summertime, given its location along the ridge of Mount Angeles and the corresponding spectacular views of the surrounding mountaintops.
So when my husband and I visited this trailhead in winter, we were shocked to find that there was an entire ski lift and tow rope operation there that we had somehow never noticed- it’s actually only one of two remaining ski lifts in the U.S. National Parks! While the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area isn’t as schmancy as some of Washington’s upscale ski resorts, it still has a respectable ten trails, a terrain park, and a family-friendly (and affordable!) atmosphere.
Looking for something a little more low impact? Individuals of all ages can alternatively rent tubes to glide down a snowy hill, all while taking in the dazzling vistas of the Olympic Mountains.
To reach the Ski and Snowboard Area, you have to drive all the way up and on top of Mount Angeles, standing at 6,454 feet, along a well-maintained, but nevertheless sketchy mountain road (don’t expect guardrails as you wind thousands of feet through the air on an icy road).
Due to the wintery conditions here, the road to Hurricane Ridge is only open Saturday, Sundays, and Monday holidays, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, weather and road conditions permitting. It’s not unheard of for the road to remain closed even on the weekends due to gnarly weather, so check here for the road’s status before you make the drive- and it’s best to have a Plan B in case this option doesn’t work out.
And remember- all cars must have tire chains at the ready.
5. Go on a hike through the snow.
So remember all those snow-covered mountains I talked about before? Well, there’s plenty of trails for you to take in that crisp mountain air and incredible views, all while hiking in the snow, snow-shoeing, or cross-country skiing.
You’ll need a lot more gear to do this as compared to summer hiking, depending on the activity and the type of conditions- think cold-weather waterproof hiking pants (Justin has these and I’m planning on buying these) or gaiters (like these for men and these for women) and either crampons, snowshoes (my husband has these and I have these) or cross-country skis.
But once you’re out in the snow, it’s SO MUCH FUN to play in the powder- it feels like you’re a little kid again, all while getting a killer workout!
Most of Olympic’s snowshoeing and cross-country ski opportunities are located near Hurricane Ridge, where there’s up to 20 miles of trails, including Hurricane Ridge or Sunrise Ridge. Note that the restrictions mentioned above, with respect to the road leading to Hurricane Ridge, also apply here.
6. Soak in hot springs.
Want a cozy activity, after all that playing in the snow? Well, Olympic has just the ticket for you- some amazing natural hot springs! While the park’s commercialized hot springs at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort are closed every year after September, there’s some natural hot springs you can visit- if you’re willing to work for it.
Reaching Olympic Hot Springs used to be readily accessible by an easy 5-mile trail from the Boulder Creek trailhead, but due to the Olympic Hot Springs Road completely washing out, you’ll now have to hike a challenging 21 miles roundtrip from the Madison Falls parking lot.
It’s common for folks to mountain bike the first half of the trail, which is mainly along the Olympic Hot Springs Road, to cut down on trail time. While it may not sound exciting to hike along a road, the scenery here is still quite beautiful, with the Elwha River on one side and an endlessly wild forest on the other.
The further up the trail you go, the more likely you are to encounter snow (which can get pretty deep in the heart of winter)- so I’d recommend checking trail conditions ahead of time on either All Trails and Washington Trail Association so that you bring the appropriate gear and plan accordingly.
At the end, you’ll reach one of the few accessible hot springs in Washington, with variety of pools of different temperatures, some ranging from lukewarm to hot- plus, in the wintertime, you have a great chance of getting them all to yourself!
In full transparency, the hot springs are pretty shallow and are definitely not the warmest hot springs around, so I probably wouldn’t recommend coming here on a super cold day. And regardless of what kind of weather you come in, remember to bring a towel and a dry set of clothes to wear for the return hike.
What to Pack for Olympic National Park in Winter
Here’s some things you should be sure to pack to make your visit to Olympic in the wintertime as epic as possible:
- Warm, waterproof coat: While most of the lower elevations of the park rarely experience extremely frigid temperatures, it’s still wintertime- so a warm winter coat is kind of a must. Also, did I mention it tends to rain a lot here in the wintertime? Accordingly, make sure your coat is waterproof- mine is similar to this one and here’s one for men.
- Waterproof boots: Trails here can get muddy and wet in the rainy winter- and nothing is less fun than slogging around in some cold, soaked shoes. Pack some waterproof hiking boots like these for men and these for women.
- Hiking socks: Keep those feet toasty and warm, with these socks for men and these for women.
- Crampons: Depending on whether it’s rained recently and the current temperature, even low elevation trails in Olympic can occasionally get icy. Microspikes (or its more hardcore big brother, crampons) are chains with small spikes that you can easily stretch over your hiking boots to get more traction in icy conditions. They’re pretty affordable and compact, so I’d recommend throwing a pair in your backpack and having them at the ready for any winter hiking adventure.
If you’re planning on enjoying any activities at higher elevations with snow, consider bringing along:
- Waterproof winter hiking pants: If you’re going to be skiing, snowshoeing, or tubing, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll, at times, be up to your knees in fresh, fluffy snow- or if you’re a graceful ballerina like me while snowshoeing, constantly falling over into the powder. To make sure your bottom half stays toasty and dry, having some kind of waterproof layer is important, like waterproof winter hiking pants (these for men and these for women) or gaiters (like these for men and these for women).
- Avalanche gear: As mentioned above, hiking in the snow comes with a lot more risks than summer hiking, including avalanches. If you’re hiking on snowy terrain with avalanche risk (i.e., any slope that’s at a greater angle than 30 degrees), everyone in your group needs to have the appropriate gear- and know how to use it- in their backpack every single time, including an avalanche safety set (including an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel).
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park in Winter
Given Olympic’s huge footprint, there’s no one great place to stay while exploring the entire park- no matter where you stay during your time here, you’ll likely be almost a three hour drive from other sections of the park. That being said, there’s a couple of towns that are better than others to make your homebase.
The small town of Port Angeles is a great springboard for exploring Hurricane Ridge and the areas around the park’s famed Lake Crescent, like Olympic Hot Springs and Sol duc Falls.
For accommodations, consider:
- Olympic Lodge: About as bougie as this port town gets, with reasonable rates, spectacular mountain and ocean views, and both a cozy fireplace and a hot tub to warm up in!
- Emerald Inn: Quaint and cozy lodge right by the gorgeous Lake Crescent, with comfy beds, a view of the mountains, and a gaggle of cute farm animals running about.
Alternatively, the itty bitty town of Forks, Washington on the west side of the park can be another great option, given its proximity to the Hoh Rainforest and the Olympic coastline. Check out:
- The Woodland Inns: Private cabins with a communal fire pit for maximum hygge vibes (don’t forget s’mores fixings)!
- Pacific Inn Motel: Locally owned motel in Forks, within walking distance to the town’s small downtown area. Plus, there’s an entire Twilight-themed room (based around the beloved young adult tale of a human, sparkly vampire, and werewolf love triangle, set in Forks), if that’s your thing!
- Hoh Valley Cabins: If you like staying somewhere that feels a bit more homey, each of these bungalows come with kitchenette, a wide deck, and your very own fireplace to snuggle up to after a day of enjoying Olympic’s wintery wonderland.
Enjoy your time in Olympic National Park in the winter- it’s such a magical place! Are there other activities you’ve done here in the winter that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!