24 hours in Olympic National Park
By Emily Butterfield
Before the morning fog could clear from the Seattle skies, I loaded up my car with my hiking, camping and stand-up paddleboard gear and hit the road. I was bound for a 24-hour solo adventure to explore one of my favorite areas of Olympic National Park. The park is perfect for a quick getaway in a campervan, just 2.5 hours from the Seattle Escape Campervans rental location and 4 hours from the Vancouver rental location.
My goal was to grab a campsite at Fairholme Campground on Lake Crescent in the northern area of the park. But at 10 a.m., throngs of weekend warriors were vying for a first-come, first serve campsite. It was a chaotic situation trying to grab a spot from a departing camper so I headed to a nearby national forest campground instead. I set up camp, hung my hammock under a canopy of trees and departed for an afternoon of paddling.
Tip: There are only two campgrounds in Olympic National Park that take reservations: Sol Duc and Kalaloch. However, there are many other first-come, first-serve sites in the park and surrounding national forest land.
Paddling Lake Crescent
While I’d driven along the winding shores of Lake Crescent numerous times, I had yet to set a foot (or paddle) in the lake. The azure-colored, glacially-carved lake is surrounded by the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains. I was eager to get my inflatable stand-up paddleboard (SUP) into the glistening lake.
I launched from the Fairholme boat launch on the western shore of the lake. The choppy waters cut my paddle time short, but not before I soaked in the natural beauty that surrounded me. Later that afternoon, I decided to explore the southern shore of the lake and launched from the Lake Crescent Lodge boat launch. I took the opportunity to walk the shores around the beautiful, historic lodge. There are several hiking trails you can access right from the lodge too, including Marymere Falls and Mount Storm King. President Franklin Roosevelt even stayed at the lodge during his work to establish the area as a national park in the 1930s.
Tip: Don’t have your own boat or SUP to paddle the lake? You can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at Lake Crescent Lodge or take a guided kayak trip.
Sol Duc Hot Springs and Falls
I departed Lake Crescent in the early evening and headed for the Sol Duc Valley in the northwest region of the park. My first stop was to take a dip in the Sol Duc Hot Springs. The resort’s warm soaking pools are surrounded by the towering trees of the Olympics, a welcomed distraction from the strong, sulfur smell that fills the air.
Tip: Take advantage of the resort’s Twilight Hour Pool Rate which will save you a few bucks during the last two hours of the day.
After resting my muscles in the hot springs, I headed up the road for a short hike to Sol Duc Falls. The 1.6-mile, round-trip hike takes you through quintessential Olympic National Park scenery. The path through the old-growth forest leads to cascading Sol Duc Falls that carves through a narrow canyon. A bridge over the Sol Duc River provides great views upstream and downstream.
The trail continues on, leading up to the Seven Lakes Basin, a popular 19-mile backpacking loop. You’ll need to get a permit to camp overnight, but it’s highly recommended for expansive views of the glaciated Olympic peaks and alpine lakes.
Tip: Due to the ease and accessibility of the Sol Duc Falls trail, the parking lot can fill quickly in the summer. Consider hiking in the early morning or evening to beat the crowds.
One of the best – and easiest – ways to see the endless peaks of the Olympics is a drive up Hurricane Ridge Road. The narrow, winding road leads to the visitor’s center parking lot where you can see snow-capped ridges and lush valleys on a clear day. There’s also a variety of hiking trails along the road. In the winter, Hurricane Ridge is open to snowsports activities including tubing and cross-country skiing.
I arrived at the visitor’s center on Saturday morning around 9 and was surprised to find front-row parking. After walking the short trails near the parking lot to soak up the morning breeze, I headed for a hike up Hurricane Hill. I had conquered this hill a few years prior in my snowshoes, which was a bit more of a feat. Along the 3.2-mile hike, I saw numerous deer and a hungry Olympic marmot foraging on the hillside and enjoyed views of the Bailey Range, Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
I was back at my car by noon and the parking area was growing busy. Visitor’s were enjoying lunchtime views of the sunlit Olympic Mountains. My 24-hour adventure in the park was coming to a close.
Tip: In late summer, there can be a lack of water on the trails around the visitor’s center, so pack plenty of water.
Olympic National Park is an incredible place with diverse ecosystems including rainforests, rugged coastlines and jaw-dropping mountain ranges. So grab a campervan rental and hit the road!