Dedicated souls make the roundabout drive out to this lake, separated from the Pacific by a sliver of land that’s become a favorite of archeologists. The hike up the coast to even-more-remote Shi Shi Beach is beautiful, but it’s no mere stroll in the sand. Expect a combination of boardwalks, headland detours, and tidal crossings.
2 RIALTO BEACH
The park’s middle coastal outpost hugs the community of La Push, the westernmost in the contiguous United States. South of Mora campground are the not-so-creatively named First, Second, and Third Beaches, each lined with bleached driftwood, while to the north are the more descriptive Split Rock and Hole-in-the-Wall sea arch.
Drive right up to and camp on the sandy beach in the most convenient of the park’s 73 coastline miles. Kalaloch Campground takes reservations, or you can book at the nearby wooden-shingle lodge. Up the road are Ruby Beach’s photogenic headlands, rocks with flat tops like mesas.
4 HOH RAIN FOREST
A dozen feet of rain fall each year in the Hoh Valley, where ferns line the forest floor and mosses hang from the thick canopy. Mountaineers attempting to summit the park’s highest point, Mount Olympus, start their ascent up the 7,980-foot peak from here.
5 LAKE QUINAULT
The lake itself is half in the national park and half out, but fully surrounded by the Quinault Rain Forest. A day hike leads to the historic Kestner Homestead, while backpackers flock to the waterfalls of the Enchanted Valley. Many of the park’s arboreal giants are here, including the record-size Sitka spruce and Quinault big cedar.
6 SOL DUC
Salmon runs, a hot springs resort, and a misty multipronged waterfall sit inside the Sol Duc Valley. Backpackers embark for the popular alpine meadows of the High Divide Loop trail, which boast the park’s best views of Mount Olympus.
7 LAKE CRESCENT
Local legend claims the blue-green lake just west of Port Angeles is bottomless. The rustic Log Cabin Resort and dirt roads line the north end of the lake, while Highway 101 skirts the south shore. Boaters have paddled from the sprawling Lake Crescent Lodge since 1916, which now sits next door to the educational Olympic Park Institute campus.
While the Elwha’s dams come down (see The Elwha’s Last Dam Summer), this spur up the river’s valley will be subject to road closures. Whitewater rafting trips will still tackle the class two-plus rapids on the Elwha River, but hikes through the crumbling historic homesteads and to the distant Olympic Hot Springs will require lengthy, difficult detours.
9 HURRICANE RIDGE
In summer, films and exhibits inside the park’s most panoramic visitor center are a break from the jaw-dropping view outside of alpine meadows and a crescent of peaks. Come winter it’s a congenial scene of skiers and snowshoers from the local community.
The eastern side’s only large park entrance is in a fire-prone area, where groves of Douglas firs line the North Fork of the Skokomish River. A campground sits just inside park boundaries, while outside the populated Lake Cushman is dotted with private homes.
Updated November 22, 2011. In the Lake Quinault item, the Kestner Homestead was misspelled as Kester.