Olympic National Park, Washington
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
The nearly one million acres of Olympic National Park on the northwestern peninsula of Washington are some of the most eco-diverse lands in the country. In the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt, well-known for his conservation efforts during his presidency, made the first move to protect the land as the habitat of endangered elk. It officially became a national park in 1937 after FDR was particularly impressed by his visit to the majestic lands.
Today, Olympic National Park is in the top-10 for visitation with more 3 million visitors each year. It’s easy to see why because within this single park you can explore snowy mountains, the rugged ocean coast, Pacific rainforests, and more. During your RV trip through Washington state Olympic needs to be at the top of your list.
Olympic’s 611 miles of hiking trails are geared towards three primary categories of landscapes: coastal, valley, and mountainous. Coastal trails will bring you up close to tidepools, teeming with ocean life. Valley trails focus on the rainforests and river valleys, green and densely forested. The mountainous trails will get you up on the snow-capped ridges with unparalleled views from your elevated post.
There are a few things to keep in mind while hiking in Olympic. The weather in the park is notorious for rapid changes. That means rain, sleet, wind, etc. can show up out of nowhere. Be prepared with proper rain/snow gear because there’s nothing worse than hiking while your clothes are drenched. Also, be on high alert for bear activity. These large animals can get nasty if spooked or threatened so keep a respectful distance. Lastly, dogs are only permitted on a few of the park’s trails, so double check your route before you bring Fido.
Tidepooling may be one of the best activities that you’ve never heard of. Essentially, when the ocean tide is ‘low’, the water recedes, leaving many sea creatures exposed in small pools on the rocks. During this time, you can walk along the tidepool areas and explore the now visible bottom of the sea.
Great locations for tidepool viewing at Olympic are the Hole in the Wall at Rialto Beach as well as Beach 4 and Ruby Beach in the Klaloch area. As you explore, you may see sea snails, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, sea anemone, crabs, octopi, and even a fish or two. Tidepooling is a great mix of hiking and wildlife viewing for the whole family to enjoy.
If you’ve got your canoe or kayaks with you, you’re in for a boating treat. Olympic has a whole range of rivers with varying levels of rapids difficulties. For a quainter ride, seek out the Hoh or Queets Rivers. For thrilling rapids, the Quinault and Sol Duc River offer areas of heart-pounding Class V rapids.
For something a little more serene, take a look at the park’s lakes. Lake Crescent is the largest lake in the park with supreme mountain views and deep blue water. Lake Ozette is on the smaller side and one of its greatest aspects is the colorful water vegetation. Lake Quinault is nestled in an old-growth rainforest with awesome views of these majestic mature trees.
You can also, of course, head out on the ocean if you’ve got your sea kayak or a motorized boat. This is only encouraged for seasoned kayakers/boaters, however, as the seas near the park are notoriously rough and challenging to navigate.
Olympic’s snow-capped mountains feed the rivers and streams with ice-cold water from the snow melt. These cold waters are particularly attractive for two of America’s most sought-after game fish: trout and salmon. Wet a line and try your best to land a steelhead, a chinook, a sockeye, or even a cutthroat.
There are a couple of important points to consider when fishing at Olympic. Virtually all bodies of water require fishing with barbless hooks to protect the fish. You do not need a Washington state fishing license to fish within the park, but any steelhead or salmon caught and harvested must be recorded on a special card that you can obtain anywhere you would purchase a license.
You didn’t come all this way to not summit a mountain, right? If that’s the case, Olympic has three favorite peaks for experienced climbers that warrant your consideration. The tallest and most formidable is Mount Olympus, which requires climbers to scale a 60-foot vertical face to reach the true summit (you don’t have to go this far, though!). Mount Deception and Mount Constance are a lot more approachable (not defined as ‘technical alpines’) but are still difficult enough to give veteran climbers a thrill.
For your safety, rangers highly encourage climbers to map out their routes and inform a contact of their plans. It is also critical to get accurate weather reports for your route. You can find this information at the Wilderness Information Center. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, never climb alone!
There are nine campgrounds within Olympic that are RV-friendly. Each one has a unique feel and features different natural aspects of the park. Set up camp near the beach, in a rainforest, on a lake shore, or along a river. Be aware that none of these sites offer any sort of hookups, although most have potable water access. You may also be limited by your RV’s size as most of these sites have a max length of 21 feet, although some can accommodate rigs up to 35 feet.
If you are looking for a lot of amenities/entertainment AND a close proximity to the park, the Olympic Peninsula/Port Angeles KOA is calling your name. Nighttime movies, Saturday ice cream socials, wagon rides, and more can all be enjoyed for the whole family’s entertainment. In addition to the full hookup service and massive 70-foot pull-through spaces, campers will also have access to a dump station, camp store, a hot tub, and a dog park for Fido.
Less than 12 miles from the park’s entrance, Elwha Dam RV Park has tons of full hookup sites available for your rental RV with up to 50-amp electrical service. Campers will also enjoy complementary Wi-Fi, a rec center, a stocked camp store, and laundry facility. The bottom of the park is also right across from the trailhead for the Elwha river, a great fishing location.
The Gligal Oasis RV Park is a smaller campground, 23 miles from Olympic and has everything your group needs for an enjoyable stay. Its 28 sites offer full hookups and full 50-amp electrical service. Additional amenities include Wi-Fi, a clubhouse, a laundry facility, a dog park, and a bathhouse. The park is also located close to downtown Sequim and is within walking distance of many restaurants and cafes.
The whole family can find something to love about Rainbow’s End RV Park. On top of your comfortable full hookup site, you’ll also love the beautifully landscaped grounds. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of fruit trees on the property and campers are encouraged to harvest to their heart’s content. There is also a trout pond with a waterfall that’s great entertainment for children and adults alike.
The expansive dining facilities of Olympic are a rarity in the world of national parks. Four different restaurants are positioned throughout the park and offer all three meals for hungry visitors. The Roosevelt Dining Room at Lake Quinault Lodge, Springs Restaurant at Sol Duc Hot Springs, and Lake Crescent Dining Room at Lake Crescent Lodge are all northwest-style steakhouses, offering fairly traditional American breakfasts, an array of sandwiches for lunch, and cuts of fish, poultry, beef, or game for dinner. The Sunnyside Cafe at the Log Cabin Resort is more casual, with a breakfast buffet, sandwiches, and for dinner, pastas and pizzas.
On the north side of the park, you’ll find a bunch of places to eat in either Port Angeles or Sequim. Here you’ll find a bunch of seafood, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, grills/steakhouses. There are more chains in Sequim if that’s what you’re looking for. To the west, look in the town of Forks (yep, the town from the ‘Twilight’ franchise) for Mexican, BBQ, Pizza, Vietnamese, and some traditional American fare. There’s really not a whole lot around the southern border, but to the east, there’s everything you could possibly imagine in the outskirts of Seattle.
No matter where you stay when you visit Olympic National Park, the majestic mountain views and lush rainforests will be forever etched in your memory as one of the most beautiful places on Earth.