No trip to Olympic National Park is complete without a stop at the Tree of Life, a mysterious tree suspended in air over a parted cliff along the Pacific coast, clinging to the earth by just a few roots. So if you’re creating a bucket list for your trip to Olympic National Park or around the Pacific Northwest, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Tree of Life, Washington’s most unique tree.
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Psssst… heading to the Olympic Peninsula? I’m jealous- it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. If you want to make your time as epic as possible, check out our other posts about the park:
- 10 Stunning Olympic National Park Beaches to Add to Your Bucket List
- 6 Best Hikes in Olympic National Park (the ONLY with Temperate Rainforests, Beaches, and Mountains!)
- Weekend Itinerary for Olympic National Park
- Olympic Peninsula Loop: 15 Stops Along the Most Iconic Washington Road Trip
- Olympic National Park in Winter | Where Locals Go When Everything Else is Frozen
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.
What is the Tree of Life?
The Tree of Life is a spruce tree found along the craggy Pacific coastline of Olympic National Park. While the park has countless spruces in its fairytale forests, the Tree of Life is unique in that it’s located on the edge of a sandy bluff- and actually between two cliffs.
Over decades, erosion from a small stream flowing from behind the tree and into the ocean has completely weathered away the ground underneath it. While the majority of its root system is now completely exposed in the cave that has formed beneath it, a few root tendrils cling to either side of the cliff and have managed to support the tree’s weight.
Now, the tree “floats” over the cave- in fact, there’s enough room for a human being to stand under it (given that gravity will inevitably cause the tree to fall, this probably isn’t super advisable, unless death by spruce tree sounds fun to you).
So what’s the big deal about this tree? So here’s the thing- the tree, also called the “Kalaloch Tree” or the “Runaway Tree”, is not just any kind of tree. It’s a sitka spruce, the largest species of spruce tree on the planet, which are known for their beefy trunks and towering heights.
So all things considered, the teeny root tendrils clinging for dear life into those sandy cliffs should not be able to support the tree’s massive weight, especially in the face of the fierce gales and rain storms along the Pacific coastline. And even more surprising is its greenness- despite the majority of its roots being exposed to nothing but air, its needles are still decidedly evergreen.
Is it magic? Probably not. Is it pretty unique and awe-inspiring? Most definitely!
Where is the Tree of Life Located?
The Tree of Life is located on Kalaloch Beach in Forks, Washington (yes, the home of Bella Swan and everyone’s favorite sparkly vampire from Twilight) and is conveniently close to a bunch of other must-stop sites to add to your Olympic National Park itinerary, like the spectacular Ruby Beach (12 minutes north of the tree) or Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh Rainforest (just under an hour northeast of the tree).
To see the tree in all of its seemingly gravity-defying glory, park in the Kalaloch Campground parking lot- you won’t have to pay the usual entrance fee to Olympic to stop here and day-use parking at the campground is free. From here, you’ll see a trail leading to the beach, lined by bushes on either side. Once you hit the sand, turn right, walk about 400 feet, and boom! Congratulations- you’ve reached the Tree of Life!
To appreciate the scale of the tree, it’s best admired from a few hundred feet back, but it’s also worth taking a closer look at the tree’s root system in the cave-like structure under the tree. Hopefully, this goes without saying, but please don’t climb, pull on, or otherwise disturb the tree- let’s make sure it’s around for other visitors to enjoy as long as possible!
Once you’ve gotten all your shots for the ‘gram, take some time to wander around Kalaloch Beach- while it’s more appropriate to don a sweater here rather than a bikini, it’s nevertheless one of the most beautiful Olympic National Park beaches, with its rugged cliffs and long stretches of sand.
In fact, “Kalaloch” is a term derived from a word from the Quinault Indian tribe, from whom this land was stolen (see here and here to learn more), meaning “good place to land”, for the beach’s expansive and flat shoreline. Keep an eye out for sea creatures like crabs and sea snails and, if you’re lucky, you might even spot a gray whale off the shoreline (thousands of them migrate past this beach from March through June).
While you’re here, it may also be worth visiting the Kalaloch Lodge (located just 0.6 miles from the campground’s parking lot) if you need a post-Tree of Life snack- its restaurant provides sweeping views of Kalaloch Beach and my husband, Justin, and I had some very tasty burgers and mulled wine there during a particularly wintery visit to Olympic.
When to Visit the Tree of Life
The best time to visit Olympic is in the summer (June through October), when the temperature is pleasant and the skies are usually clear.
Outside of this window, Washington tends to be pretty rainy- but as a Seattlite and Pacific Northwest-enthusiast, I’d argue that winter in Olympic National Park is even more moody and mysterious beautiful during its rainy season.
What’s more important than the time of year you visit, though, is the urgency. Despite its odds-defying appearance, coastal erosion will, unfortunately, unearth the Tree of Life sooner versus later. In fact, my visit to the tree was spurred by recent reports that the tree was looking particularly saggy. So if you want to see the tree in action (er… you know what I mean), plan your visit as soon as possible!
I hope the tree is alive and thriving during your visit- how’s it holding up (eh, see what I did there)? Let me know in the comments below!