The Olympic Peninsula is a magical place. The first time I drove there I was stunned by the majestic Olympic mountains, the forests, the rainforests, and the variety of seafood, beaches, and lakes. I can’t imagine what else you could want in one place. The peninsula has one major road, US 101 -- the Olympic Highway that runs along the entire perimeter, covering about 350 miles.
You can drive onto the peninsula or take your RV on a ferry and enjoy Puget Sound. I recommend the ferry at Edmonds, which is well north of downtown Seattle. Avoid downtown with an RV. There are tunnels from I-90 leading west into downtown and RVs carrying propane are not permitted. If you enter the peninsula from Tacoma, head north through the Naval submarine base area of Bremerton and cross Hood Canal at Port Gamble to link up to US 101. If you come in from Olympia to the south, stay on US 101 through magnificent forests that hug the shore of Hood Canal. Eventually, you’ll hit the northern edge of the peninsula and turn west.
This peninsula is a place made to experience from an RV. I guarantee that you will enjoy opening up your RV door in the morning and smelling the evergreens as well as marveling at the variety of waterfront campgrounds that will beckon you to the Pacific Ocean.
New to this part of Washington State? Consider my account of my time there: “I Went To The Olympic Peninsula On My Own And It Was Extraordinary.”
Abundance Of Small RV Camping Inside Olympic National Park
Most of the camping inside the park is limited to 21-foot-length campers and tents. There are a few sites for rigs up to 35 feet long in some of the campgrounds. There are hundreds of RV sites in 11 different campgrounds. Three campgrounds take reservations, and the rest are first-come, first-served. Most of the campgrounds have no hookups. Water and dump station availability varies. The campgrounds are available on all sides of the park. There are beachfront, lakefront, and riverfront campgrounds as well as a campground in the rainforest and one in an old-growth forest. If you have a small enough RV, the options are dizzying. There is even a resort with hot springs that accommodates RVs up to 50 feet in length. Prices range from $20 to $28/night with most being $24/night.
If your RV is too big or you can’t snag one of the larger sites, there are a few state parks, commercial parks, and Olympic National Forest sites that can accommodate RVs.
Kalaloch is a stunning place to camp. It is one of the parks that can accommodate a few larger rigs (up to 50 feet). It sits 40 feet above the Pacific Ocean and has stairs to access the beach. Watch the tide tables because you do not want to get caught at high tide when the beach all but disappears and logs are floating in the surf. Make a reservation well in advance. There is no internet here and cell service is minimal. You can access trails in the Hoh rainforest across the road from the campground. The Hoh campground is in the rainforest and has 88 sites with no amenities. However, this campground does have a few longer RV sites for rigs up to 35 feet.
Fairholme is on the west side of Crescent Lake, one of the most scenic ground level places in the park. Unfortunately, this is a 21 foot-and-under park, but there are 88 sites. There are hiking trails of all levels around the lake.
Sol Duc campground has hot springs, and you can hike to Sol Duc Falls. Sol Duc has a few sites that accommodate over 21-foot RVs, but it’s first-come, first-served access to 82 sites.
Experience The Scale Of Olympic National Park (North And West Sides)
Olympic National Park covers the bulk of the peninsula. There are plenty of small towns that sit along the perimeter and hug the coastline, but the ONP is the star. You’ll want to break the park down into the north side, entering from the city of Port Angeles, and the west side, entering near the town of Forks. The mountain range separates the two sides and there is no pass to drive through. You have to go around, but the drive is well worth it.
The north side entrance is in Port Angeles, a city with plenty of amenities and shopping. The park entrance road takes you up into the mountains to Hurricane Ridge, so named because of the wicked winds it faces. On the way up you’ll find a couple of overlooks showcasing the Cascade mountains on the mainland. If you are there on a clear day (so in summer), you will see snow-covered Mount Baker in the far distance.
Editor’s Note: For more Cascades inspiration, consider How To Visit 6 Lovely Volcanoes In The Cascades, including Mount Baker.
Hurricane Ridge is one of the most scenic places you will find in the park that is easily accessible. There is a large visitor center plus parking with space for small campers to park. On one side of the ridge, you will see Mount Olympus and the permanent glaciers surrounding it and the other peaks. It is a breathtaking view. There are picnic tables overlooking the alpine meadow with a clear view of the mountains. On the other side of the parking area is the main ridge. Climb an easy paved trail to the observation point. From there, you can view Victoria Island, Canada, across the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea. You can explore the ridge on numerous short and long trails, some with significant elevation. Some are paved and some are not. Be on the lookout for the Olympic marmot -- a small, rodent-like creature that burrows and hibernates in the winter. Rangers lead a walking tour of the meadow to help visitors spot these entertaining creatures. Deer are very tame on the ridge and saunter in and out from the bush. Plan to spend at least a few hours in this very special place.
Crescent Lake is 30 minutes west of Port Angeles on Highway 101. There is a lodge with a restaurant, lakeside picnic tables, and a boat pier. You can take a boat tour of this glacial lake to see it in full. There is easy hiking on this side of the lake, some paved and some not, but all trails are considered accessible. See the old-growth forest, complete with open tree trunks that have lived through fires. From Crescent Lake, you can take a 1-mile hike to Maymere Falls.
On the west side of the park you will find the Hoh rainforest. This is an amazingly lush and jungle-like place. This side of the peninsula gets a lot of rain and is at a relatively low elevation. You can drive to the visitor center and hike some very easy trails (some paved) to experience the rainforest. Try the 1.2-mile trail that takes you through the rainforest to the Hoh River (and is only a 100-foot elevation gain).
Olympic National Park has wilderness hiking and tent camping, though quotas are in place and permits are required. There are dozens of trails on the coast, in the mountains, and in the old-growth forests.
Interesting And Exciting Day Trips
Go for a whale-watching trip in Port Townsend. These trips are mostly two to three hours in length and there is a good chance you will see whales in the wild. Orcas are the most prevalent, but you may see much larger gray whales.
Make a longer trip to the tip of the peninsula and visit Cape Flattery. This is the westernmost point in the lower 48 states and offers amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. This location requires a permit from the local Native American Makah tribe. Unfortunately, the Cape and Neah Bay on tribal land are closed to any access at this time (January 2020) due to the pandemic.
Forks is a real town and the fictional home of the very popular Twilight book and movie series. The town takes full advantage of its fictional setting, selling souvenirs and offering tours to the spots where filming was done. It is a fun visit if you understand ahead of time what the attraction is.
La Push is another Native American beachside location that is adjacent to Olympic National Park land. The Quileute tribe has an oceanfront lodge and two RV campgrounds here. Unfortunately, like Cape Flattery and Neah Bay, the area is closed at the time of publication (January 2020) due to the pandemic. The views at nearby Rialto Beach (accessible via parkland) are beautiful as well.
Sequim is east of Port Angeles and is a lovely arts town. It sits less than 10 miles from the beachside Dungeness Wildlife area where you can walk out onto a spit and view seaside wildlife and birds, and enjoy a quiet respite. Dungeness crab and other local seafood are plentiful at local restaurants. There are some commercial campgrounds, but the best bet is the Clallam County campground in the Dungeness Recreation area.
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