With such a diverse array of landscapes packed into one state, Washington is basically built for road trips. And few Washington drives are as iconic as the Olympic Peninsula Loop, which winds around the perimeter of Olympic National Park, passing rugged mountains, dramatic beaches, and lush rainforests.
The loop is fairly large- about 350 miles- and with countless sites to explore, it can be challenging to know what’s worth stopping at along the way. But good news- I’m lucky enough to live within a couple hours of the peninsula and have spent a ton of weekends finding the most incredible gems this little slice of heaven has to offer.
So, without further adieu, here’s 15 stops to make along your drive around the Olympic Peninsula Loop, the ultimate Washington road trip.
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Table of Contents:
- How long does it take to drive the Olympic Peninsula Loop?
- When to drive the Olympic Peninsula Loop
- Stops along the Olympic Peninsula Loop
- Where to stay along the Olympic Peninsula Loop
How long does it take to drive the Olympic Peninsula Loop?
There isn’t public transit to take around the Olympic Peninsula, so you’ll need a car to get around (either your own vehicle or a rental car). As mentioned above, the loop is quite large- if you were to drive without stopping at all from Seattle, the nearest large city, it would take you about 10 hours to complete (which, frankly… sounds kind of awful).
And while the scenery along the loop is absolutely incredible, it’s definitely best to take your time, stop a bunch along the way, and explore the incredible landscape on foot. So, while you could theoretically drive this loop in one day, I’d strongly recommend taking a weekend (or even more!) to really be able to dive in and truly appreciate this diverse landscape.
The most common place to use as a jumping off point for the Olympic Peninsula Loop is Seattle, which is generally about a two hour drive from your first stops (depending, of course, on which stops catch your interest). Alternatively, Portland, Oregon is the next closest big city, approximately two hours away from the southern portion of the loop (from which it would take about 11 hours to drive the loop without any stops).
It’s worth noting that entrance into Olympic National Park and a handful of the other locations recommended below come with separate entrance fees- for example, a pass for one week in the national park will run you $30 and the entrance fee to the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge will cost you $3.
I’d encourage you to consider picking up an America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80 and will provide you unlimited access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including the beloved U.S. National Parks, for a year (including almost all of the ones recommended below!).
When to drive the Olympic Peninsula Loop
The best (and most popular) time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is in the summer (May through September), when the temperature is pleasant and the skies are usually clear. If you’re looking to enjoy any of the lakes or even swim in the ocean, your best bet will be in July or August, when the temperature is verging on hot (although, word of warning- the water here will be decidedly not hot, even in the summer).
Outside of these months, the weather can get pretty rainy, especially during the winter and spring in Washington. Nonetheless, as a Pacific Northwest-enthusiast, I’d argue that the Olympic Peninsula exudes even more of its mysterious beauty during the rainy season. Plus, due to its proximity to the Pacific coastline, the weather on the peninsula rarely gets bitter cold (plus, you’re more likely to get all of the magical forests to yourself).
If you do come in the winter months, though, some of the high elevation hikes, like Hurricane Ridge, and other roads throughout the park may intermittently be closed due to ice or snow, so I’d recommend checking the Olympic National Park site for up-to-date closures before your trip.
You can also check out our Olympic National Park in winter post, which provides a ton of handy tips regarding the highlights of the park come winter and what to pack, like tire chains (which are required on some of the roads in the park during the snowy months) or microspikes for hiking.
And no matter what time of year you visit, I’d highly recommend bringing along a raincoat (like this one for men and this one for women)- some areas of the Olympic Peninsula receive up to 14 FEET of rain per year! You should also bring some warmer layers (I love my Patagonia zip-up fleece, whether it’s for cool summer evenings or under my coat in the wintertime)- due to the cool and moist air from the coastline, this area generally enjoys fairly moderate temperatures (i.e., if you’re a baby like me, kinda cold weather) year round.
Stops along the Olympic Peninsula Loop
So your car is packed and your ultimate road trip playlist is all queued up. Where to first?
Well, before we put the pedal to the metal, it’s worth noting here that you can either do this loop clockwise or counterclockwise. Most of the highlights of the loop are going to be packed in the middle section, with a couple of hours of scenic drive time on both the front and backend, regardless of which way you go.
For whatever reason, it seems to be most common for travelers (including myself!) to do this loop counter-clockwise, driving up the eastern side of the peninsula and heading west, so that’s how the stops suggested below are organized.
So let’s hit the road!
1. Lake Cushman
Lake Cushman actually sits in Olympic National Forest, which borders the southeastern section of the national park. With its 4,000 acres of cerulean waters bordered by towering pine trees and craggy mountains, it’s an excellent way to dip your toes in the Olympic Peninsula’s waters- quite literally! Consider canoeing, paddleboarding, or kayaking (Justin and I have an awesome inflatable kayak for just this kind of occasion or the Skokomish Park has rentals) or on a particularly hot day, you can even jump in the lake’s cool water.
Interested in getting a leg workout instead? Try one of the many trails that traverses the area around the lake, like the 1.6 mile Shady Lanes Trail, beneath towering hemlock trees, or the more challenging 7.6-mile Mount Rose Trail, which ascends 3,546 feet for absolutely breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding Olympic Mountains.
2. Mount Ellinor
Located just 11 miles north of Lake Cushman, Mount Ellinor offers the most accessible summit in the peninsula, with jaw-dropping 360 degree views of the surrounding Olympic Mountains. There’s two trailheads for this route- the trek from the lower trailhead is definitely a butt-kicker- raising 3,270 ft in just 3.3 miles. Alternatively, for a slightly less butt-kicking journey, departing from the upper trailhead shaves off 1,300 feet of elevation gain and 1.8 miles of the hike. No matter which trailhead you leave from, the views along the trail will make your shaky thighs worth it!
Just watch out for mountain goats here- they may look like cute fluffy new friends from a distance, but they’re actually little hellions who have been known to charge at hikers!
3. Lena Lake
Whether you’re looking for a day hike to an alpine lake or looking for a great backpacking trail for beginners, Lena Lake is a stellar option. Along this 6.0 mile hike, you’ll snake through a second-growth forest, filled with primeval ferns and moss-covered trees, to the brilliant blue waters of Lena Lake. If you’re really looking to stretch your legs, you can add on an additional 7 miles roundtrip to the secluded Upper Lena Lake and spectacular views of Mount Bretherton and Mount Lena.
4. Port Townsend
Port Townsend is an excellent stopping point to grab some lunch or dinner and explore its cute downtown area. While many of the cities in the Olympic Peninsula have more rustic or even industrial vibes, Port Townsend is full of charming Victorian architecture, a remnant of its wealth as a port for goods and timber in the early 1900s.
The bustling city center now boasts a myriad of art galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops (don’t miss Better Living Through Coffee!). Right outside of town is one of my favorite restaurants on the whole peninsula, Finnriver Farm and Cidery, an organic orchard that brews up some absolutely killer boozy cider (and I don’t even particularly like cider!), with a wood-fired pizza restaurant onsite that delivers right to your table.
The town of Seqium (pronounced “Squim”) is probably best-known for something that’s wildly different than the moody, untamed wilderness of the rest of the Olympic Peninsula- lavender!
Come summer, Sequim has not one, not two, but SIX lavender farms, with you-pick-it flowers and all the picturesque beauty your TikTok-loving heart craves. The downtown area also offers several cute boutiques and shops, with a hearty amount of lavender-themed soaps and candles, along with other hand-made and curated goods. Come July, there’s even an entire lavender festival here!
Looking for something slightly less flowery? Head to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a 5.5 mile spit (i.e., a big ol’ sand bar- actually the longest in the United States!) that hosts a staggering array of birds (250 species have been noted here), as well as a historic lighthouse from 1857.
To reach the lighthouse, you’ll need follow an 11 mile long trail, along the spit’s beach, but between the abundant wildlife here (during my husband’s and my visit, we saw a seal, a bald eagle, and dozens of other of bird species) and the continuous views of the Olympic Mountains, the miles will simply melt away beneath your feet.
6. Hurricane Ridge
This is our first official stop in Olympic National Park itself and boy, what a stop. To be honest, if I had to pick only one place for visitors to hike in all of Washington and one not-to-be-missed spot on your Olympic National Park itinerary, it may just be Hurricane Hill, atop the 5,242 foot tall Mount Angeles. To get here, you’ll drive up the edge of this mountain until you reach the ridgeline (just drive slowly as large sections of the road have no guardrails).
From here, you’ll follow the most bang-for-your-buck hike you can imagine- along the 3.2 mile trail, you’ll find technicolor wildflowers, views straight out of the Sound of Music, and more mountain goat friends!
Not feeling up for a hike? Consider still visiting the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, right by the Hurricane Hill trailhead, which offers similar views to the trail, without all that walking nonsense. Just don’t forget to come back here and leave a comment letting us know how awesome your visit was. Consider this your preemptive “we told ya so”.
7. Salt Creek Recreation Area
Salt Creek Recreation Area, which sits outside of the national park, is a bit of a hidden gem. Here, you’ll find absolutely incredible tide pools, filled with colorful anemones and starfish, at low tide (check the tide chart here), excellent views of rugged sea stacks and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and even some brave surfers to watch.
If you’re, like, really up for an adventure, Salt Creek is also one of the best shore diving locations in the Pacific Northwest, with an underwater garden teeming with wolf eels and sea cucumbers. Nothing says adventure like wolf eels!
8. Lake Crescent
Lake Crescent is an iconic feature of Olympic National Park- a deep blue lake surrounded by rolling hills and grand spruce trees. Come in the morning to see the lake at its calmest– if you’re lucky, the lake will look like a perfect mirror, reflecting its gorgeous surroundings. This is another excellent place to bust out that kayak, canoe, or paddleboard (Lake Crescent Lodge has rentals, if you don’t have your own) or alternatively, you can explore the beautiful old-growth forests around the lake.
Marymere Falls is an excellent trail for beginners here, taking you to the base of a 90-foot waterfall cascading down a mossy cliff or if you’re ready to get that heart-rate going, consider the Mount Storm King trail. This challenging trail rises more than 2,000 feet in a little over 2.3 miles and, to reach the summit, hikers will need to climb up an unmaintained trail, by pulling themselves up questionable-looking ropes left by other hikers and scrambling up slick rocks (with lots of exposure!).
While the views at the top are breathtakingly epic, I definitely wouldn’t recommend this one for beginner hikers. If you’d like to learn more about this hike (including some less challenging options in the area), check out our article featuring the best hikes in Olympic National Park.
9. Sol Duc Falls
The Sol Duc Valley offers one of the most beautiful forests in the park- between its enormous ferns, cathedral of gargantuan trees, dripping with moss, and plentiful mushrooms, Sol Duc looks straight out of a fairy tale. And nestled away, amongst its trees, is one of the most stunning waterfalls on the peninsula, the 50-foot Sol Duc Falls.
Unlike most waterfalls in Olympic National Park, you’ll actually get to view Sol Duc above its brink as its three-prongs dramatically cascade into a slot canyon below. To reach the overlook for the waterfall, you’ll hike along a 1.6-mile trail, suitable for all hikers- make sure to look up and marvel at the giant trees towering overhead.
For unique accommodations in the park, consider staying at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, where you can soak in any of three pools with geothermally-warmed waters and one filled with freshwater to cool off during particularly steamy days, all tucked within this magical old-growth forest.
10. Ozette Triangle Loop
The Ozette Triangle Loop is one of the most unique hikes in the park and an incredible introduction to the wild and untamed Olympic coastline. The path leads you across an old wooden boardwalk that cuts through a lush forest; crosses 3.3 miles of rocky beach strewn with sea stacks; and loops back through the densely-packed trees and undergrowth.
This 9.4 mile trail will definitely make you feel like a little kid- along your trek, you’ll climb over huge pieces of driftwood, skirt around rocky outcroppings, and skip past tidepools, brimming with tiny sea creatures. I’d recommend trying to time your visit with low-tide (check out the tide chart here)- otherwise, your hike will mostly consist of scrambling over the aforementioned massive pieces of driftwood.
11. Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach is one of the most stunning Olympic National Park beaches, oozing quintessential Pacific Northwest beauty, with its low hanging fog and perpetually moody vibes. Hang out on its pebble-y shore and watch the pelicans dive for their afternoon snacks or if you’re up for a hike, mosey 1.5 miles down Rialto Beach’s shores to reach a dramatic cluster of sea stacks, jutting out of the sea.
If you time your visit with low tide (you can find the tide tables here), you’ll be able to walk through the very creatively-named Hole-in-the-Wall, a natural arch that perfectly frames the aforementioned sea stacks. Once you pass under the natural archway, you’ll also find some of the best tide pools the park has to offer.
12. Hoh Rainforest
Did you know that Olympic National Park is home to four temperate rainforests (and is the only national park in the continental United States with any kind of rainforest)? Plus it’s home to one of the largest temperate rainforest systems on the PLANET- the Hoh.
As one of the rainiest areas of the contiguous United States, the Hoh Rainforest is incredibly lush and looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park- imagine ferns that are taller than you, trees that tower hundreds of feet overhead (some over 300 feet!), and a luscious understory, bursting with neon green moss and colorful mushrooms.
There’s a bunch of different ways to explore the Hoh- from the easy and very popular 1.1 mile Hall of Mosses, to the choose-your-own-adventure 34.8-mile, Hoh River Trail (a flat out-and-back trail where you can turn around whenever you want), there’s something for every kind of hiker here.
And make sure to keep your eyes peeled along the trails- this is one of the best spots in the park to see elk!
13. Ruby Beach
Yet another stunning beach, with massive pieces of driftwood, pine tree-topped sea stacks, and a picturesque lighthouse in the distance. Is it any wonder that this is probably my favorite beach in Olympic? Ruby Beach would be the perfect place to take a picnic or even just people watch- if you’re lucky, you may even see a surfer or two here. Try to time your visit with sunset- I promise you won’t be disappointed!
14. Kalaloch Beach
Unlike some of the other beaches I’ve recommended above, you won’t find moody pebbles or mysterious sea stacks along Kalaloch Beach. What you will find, though, is one of the most unique things you’ll see on the entire Olympic Peninsula- the Tree of Life. This unusual tree is a massive sitka spruce (the largest species of spruce tree on the planet) that’s seemingly “floating” between two sandy bluffs, supported only by a few root tendrils clinging to the cliffside.
The tree is incredibly impressive- not only for its root system supporting its massive weight, but also its greenness- despite the fact the majority of its root system is simply exposed to air, its needles are still evergreen.
15. Lake Quinault
Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rainforest are along Olympic’s southern border and are some of its least visited areas. Most visitors that stop by this section are heading out on longer backpacking trips to the park’s alpine lakes and jagged peaks, like the Enchanted Valley Trail– however, this area shouldn’t be overlooked by folks who aren’t interested in schlepping heavy backpacks into the backcountry.
For example, the Quinault Rainforest is home to several superlatives- the world’s largest sitka spruce (that’s also one THOUSAND years old!), the largest mountain hemlock by volume, and a myriad of other massive trees. Quinault is also home to the majority of the park’s waterfalls, including Merriman Falls and Bunch Falls.
Soak up all those mossy, fairytale forest vibes- this is our last stop along the Olympic Peninsula Loop!
Where to stay along the Olympic Peninsula Loop
Whether you’re a budget camper, looking for bougie accommodations or something in between, the Olympic Peninsula has a ton of options for you.
For some of our favorite free or super affordable campgrounds around Olympic, consider:
- Allen’s Bar Campground
- Lyre River Campground
- Heart o’ the Hills Campground
- Hoh Oxbow Campground
- Kalaloch Campground
For affordable lodging, check out:
- Palace Hotel in Port Townsend
- Emerald Misty Valley Inn in Port Angeles (close to Hurricane Ridge and Crescent Lake)
- Pacific Inn Motel in Forks (close to Rialto Beach and the Hoh Rainforest)
- The Lowtide Motel in Copalis Beach (close to Lake Quinault)
For some more upscale accommodations (although don’t expect anything crazy fancy- we’re still in a remote area, y’all):
- The Bishop Hotel in Port Townsend
- Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles
- Misty Valley Inn or Woodland Inn in Forks
- Kalaloch Lodge in Kalaloch (near Kalaloch Beach)
- Lake Quinault Lodge in Quinault (close to Lake Quinault)
Phew- I hope you love the Olympic Peninsula as much as I do! What’s your favorite stop? Did I miss any must-see sites along the drive (there’s so many of ‘em!)? Let me know in the comments below.