Does Olympic National Park Have a Scenic Drive?

Located in the Northwest portion of Washington state, Olympic National Park is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and diverse ecosystems. It covers nearly a million acres with three distinct ecosystems: rugged coastline, lush temperate rainforests, and alpine peaks. With its abundance of wildlife, including Roosevelt elk and bald eagles, scenic drives, and its rich Native American history, Olympic National Park is an extraordinary experience.

Unsurprisingly, many national parks have scenic drives in one form or another. However, there are some jaw-dropping drives through this park. It’s unique in that it features multiple ecosystems. From the dramatic coastline along the Pacific Ocean to a genuine rain forest and the soaring peaks of the Olympic Mountains, this park is other-worldly. There is also an abundance of wildlife to view. In this article, I’ll walk you through the best scenic drives Olympic has to offer and discuss what I like most about each. 

Description of Olympic National Park

the Hoh River Road making its way through the damp, lush temperate rainforest
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the most unique aspects of Olympic National Park. Here, we see the Hoh River Road making its way through the damp, lush temperate rainforest.

As I mentioned, Olympic National Park is located in the northwest corner of Washington state. It’s bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, and the Hood Canal to the east. It covers an area of nearly one million acres and includes numerous habitats ranging from rugged coastline to temperate rainforests and alpine meadows. The park’s vast size and varied terrain grant you a wide range of activities, from hiking along pristine beaches to exploring old-growth forests and climbing up towering mountain peaks.

Therefore, the park is renowned for its ecological diversity, which is attributed to its unique location and geologic history. It is home to over 70 mammal species, including black bears, mountain goats, and cougars, as well as hundreds of bird species and countless plant species. Natural features such as the Hoh Rainforest, one of the wettest places in the continental United States, and the glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountains add to the park’s ecological significance and beauty.

Popular activities in Olympic National Park include hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and scenic drives. The park has a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to multi-day backpacking trips, allowing you to explore its varying landscapes. Do you love wildlife? If so, you will appreciate being able to spot a large variety of animals, from tide pool creatures along the coast to elk and deer in the forests.

And if you’re not into hiking, there are several breathtaking scenic drives, such as the Hurricane Ridge Road and the Hoh River Road. Here you can soak in the remarkable landscapes from the comfort of your car.

Exploration of Scenic Drives in Olympic National Park

Moving on, Olympic National Park contains several scenic drives that showcase its different portions. One of the most popular routes is the Hurricane Ridge Road, which takes you from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge, showing off panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains and surrounding valleys. Another scenic drive is the Hoh River Road, which leads into the Hoh Rainforest, providing glimpses of lush, old-growth forests and the tranquil Hoh River. Additionally, the Lake Crescent Road has perfect views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains.

Along the Hurricane Ridge Road, you’ll encounter subalpine meadows filled with wildflowers in the summer and the chance to spot wildlife such as deer and marmots. The Hoh River Road takes you through dense, moss-draped forests, where you can marvel at colossal trees and listen to the soothing sounds of the Hoh River. The Lake Crescent Road contains ideal views of the glacier-carved lake, with opportunities for swimming, hiking, and picnicking along its shores. Below is a picture of my daughter’s skipping rocks into the lake. We also had a blast renting kayaks on the lake.

people enjoying lake crescent at olympic national park
Lake Crescent

Remember, while most of the scenic drives in Olympic National Park are accessible by car, some roads may be narrow and winding, requiring cautious driving, especially in inclement weather. Road conditions can vary depending on the season, with potential closures due to snow in the winter months. It’s advisable to check the park’s website or visitor center for current road conditions and any advisories before setting off on a scenic drive.

Scenic Drive Specifics:

1. Hurricane Ridge Road

aerial view of the Hurricane Ridge Road heading up to Hurricane Ridge
Aerial view of the Hurricane Ridge Road heading up to Hurricane Ridge.
  • Scenic Highlights: Panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains, subalpine meadows filled with wildflowers (in summer), and wildlife-watching opportunities.
  • Accessibility: Accessible by car from Port Angeles; open year-round, but check for road closures in winter.
  • Length: Approximately 18 miles one way.
  • Unique Features: Opportunity to see Olympic marmots, black-tailed deer, and a variety of bird species; access to hiking trails for further exploration.

2. Hoh River Road

A foggy day along the Hoh River Road as the Hoh River flows steadily through the mountains
A foggy day along the Hoh River Road as the Hoh River flows steadily through the mountains.
  • Scenic Highlights: Drive through the lush Hoh Rainforest, with tall trees covered in moss and scenic viewpoints along the Hoh River.
  • Accessibility: Accessible by car from Highway 101 near Forks; road may be rough in some sections.
  • Length: Approximately 18 miles one way to the visitor center.
  • Unique Features: Opportunity to see elk, listen to the sounds of the Hoh River, and access to hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous.

3. Lake Crescent Road

Lake Crescent Road winding its way along the edge of the beautiful waters of Lake Crescent
The Lake Crescent Road winds its way along the edge of the beautiful waters of Lake Crescent. Adobe Stock Photo by Oksana Perkins
  • Scenic Highlights: Views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Crescent, surrounding mountains, and opportunities for swimming and picnicking.
  • Accessibility: Accessible by car from Highway 101; road is well-maintained.
  • Length: Approximately 20 miles one way.
  • Unique Features: Scenic overlooks, access to Lake Crescent Lodge, and nearby hiking trails, including the Spruce Railroad Trail.

Comparison with Other National Parks

Olympic National Park’s scenic drives have a unique combination of landscapes that set it apart from other national parks. While many parks may have one or two distinct features, such as majestic mountains or lovely coastlines, Olympic National Park encompasses a multitude of ecosystems within its boundaries. This diversity allows you to experience a variety of landscapes, from rugged beaches to lush rainforests to alpine meadows, all in one park.

One of the unique features of the park’s scenic drives is its accessibility to these areas within a relatively short distance. Within a single day, you can drive from the rugged coastline to the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains, experiencing vastly different environments along the way. Highlights of the drive include the astonishing views from Hurricane Ridge, where you can see for miles on a clear day, and the other-worldly beauty of the Hoh Rainforest, with its ancient trees and lush undergrowth. These unique features make Olympic National Park’s scenic drive a truly memorable and rewarding experience.

Tips for Visitors

The best times to visit Olympic National Park for a scenic drive are spring and summer. The weather is mild, and the landscapes are vibrant, with blooming flowers and lush greenery. Fall is another beautiful time to visit, as the foliage changes color, creating a fabulous display of autumn hues. Winter can also be a scenic time to visit, especially if you enjoy snow-covered landscapes, but some roads may be closed due to snow and ice.

Along the scenic drives, there are several recommended stops and viewpoints where you can take in the awe-inspiring scenery. Hurricane Ridge boasts sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and is a popular area for spotting wildlife. The Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center provides access to several short trails that meander through the old-growth forest, allowing you to experience its incredible beauty up close. Other recommended stops include the beaches along the coast, such as Ruby Beach or Rialto Beach, where you can explore tide pools and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Final Thoughts

A camper van is parked alongside Hurricane Ridge Road as it faces an incredible view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains
A camper van is parked alongside Hurricane Ridge Road as it faces an incredible view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Adobe Stock Image by Oksana Perkins

To wrap things up, Olympic National Park provides you a truly one-of-a-kind experience in the state of Washington. The park is packed full of remarkable landscapes, rich ecosystems, and an abundance of outdoor opportunities. The park’s scenic drives, including Hurricane Ridge Road, the Hoh River Road, and the Lake Crescent Road, allow you to explore the park’s beauty from the comfort of your car. 

Hurricane Ridge Road has extensive views of the Olympic Mountains and subalpine meadows. At the same time, the Hoh River Road takes you through the lush Hoh Rainforest, giving a look into a unique temperate rainforest ecosystem.

The Lake Crescent Road has picturesque views of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains, providing a serene and scenic drive. Each of these drives offers an experience not often seen at other national parks.

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FAQ’S

What is the most beautiful part of the Olympic National Park? 

The most beautiful part of Olympic National Park is subjective and depends on personal preferences. However, many visitors find the Hoh Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge to be particularly stunning. This would also be my favorite.

How to see Olympic National Park by car?

To see Olympic National Park by car, you can take scenic drives such as Hurricane Ridge Road, the Hoh River Road, and the Lake Crescent Road, which have spectacular views of the park’s assorted landscapes.

How long does it take to drive the loop in Olympic National Park?

The loop around Olympic National Park, including the main roads, is about 150 miles long and can be driven in a day. However, to fully experience the park’s beauty and explore its various attractions, it’s recommended to spend at least a few days here.

Should I visit Mt. Rainier or Olympic National Park?

Whether to visit Mt. Rainier or Olympic National Park depends on your interests. Mt. Rainier is known for its iconic mountain scenery and alpine meadows, while Olympic National Park has diverse ecosystems, including rainforests, beaches, and mountains. I love both but Olympic would be my first choice.

How many days are enough for Olympic National Park?

The ideal number of days to spend in Olympic National Park depends on your interests and how much you want to explore. Most visitors find that 3-5 days is a good amount of time to experience the park’s highlights. On my last trip here, we had 3 days and found it wasn’t quite enough time to really soak in all the things to do here. 4-5 would have been perfect.

Is the drive around Olympic National Park worth it?

Yes, the drive around Olympic National Park is definitely worth it. The park’s scenic drives have phenomenal views of contrasting landscapes, including mountains, rainforests, and coastlines, making it a memorable experience.

Do you have to take a ferry to Olympic National Park?

You do not have to take a ferry to reach Olympic National Park, as it is accessible by car from several points in Washington state. However, the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island is a neat experience and a bit of a shortcut into the park from the city.

What is the best time to visit Olympic National Park?

The best time to visit Olympic National Park is during the summer months, from June to September, when the weather is mild and most of the park’s attractions are accessible. However, each season presents its own unique beauty, so the best time to visit depends on your preferences. My favorite is in the fall.

What is the best scenic drive through Olympic National Park?

Hurricane Ridge Road is the most popular. This drive is spectacular, with outstanding views of the Olympic Mountains and surrounding valleys. Another popular drive is the Hoh River Road, which takes you through the lush Hoh Rainforest, providing a unique glance into a temperate rainforest ecosystem.

Where is the best view of the Olympic Mountains? 

The best view of the Olympic Mountains can be found at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. From here, you can enjoy bird’s-eye views of the snow-capped peaks, lush valleys, and surrounding forests. On a clear day, the view is particularly exceptional, offering a breathtaking glimpse of the natural beauty of the Olympic Mountains.

What is the most scenic hike in Olympic National Park?

One of the most scenic trails in Olympic National Park is the Hoh River Trail. This 17.4-mile round-trip trail takes you through the heart of the lush Hoh Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by massive trees draped in moss, lush undergrowth, and the peaceful sounds of the Hoh River. 

The trail offers a variety of stunning landscapes, from dense forests to open meadows, and provides opportunities to see wildlife such as elk, deer, and numerous bird species. The trail’s endpoint at Glacier Meadows offers iconic views of the Blue Glacier and the surrounding mountains, making it a truly unforgettable hiking experience.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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