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Exciting Things To Do in Olympic National Park

Spanning nearly 1 million acres in northwestern Washington, Olympic National Park is an adventurer's dream. Cool alpine streams run through jagged mountains, and deep forests grow right up to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In one day, you can surf, stroll through a rainforest, and summit a challenging peak.

The park's varying elevation — sea level to almost 8,000 feet — means that the weather changes everywhere you go. Visit any time of year for awe-inspiring scenery, rich cultural history, and exciting outdoor activities.

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01Marvel at colorful sea creatures

Sea Star on Rialto Beach Posnov / Getty Images

As the tide goes out in Olympic National Park, it traps colorful critters in small tide pools. Slip on some sturdy shoes, and walk out to the rocks to explore these natural aquariums — you'll see bright green anemones, orange starfish, purple sea stars, and red crabs.

Rialto Beach and Kalaloch Beach 4 are two of the best tide-pooling locations in the park. If you want to avoid the crowds, check out the pools between Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches.

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02Go whale-watching

Humpback whale MarkMalleson / Getty Images

If you're visiting in the spring or fall, head down to the ocean to watch for whales. In April and May, you can see massive gray whales leaping out of the water off of Rialto and Shi Shi Beaches. At Kalaloch Beach, it's easy to spot gray whales, humpback whales, and the occasional orca.

Other great whale-watching spots are Neah Bay, La Push, South Beach, and Ruby Beach. Bring binoculars if you have them, and always check the tide charts before you go.

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03Wander through a rainforest

A dad and his daughters hike to Sol Duc Falls in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park RS Smith Photography / Shutterstock

There are four rain forests in Olympic National Park, but the impossibly lush Hoh is the most spectacular. You'll feel like you've stumbled into a fairy tale — a brilliant green layer of moss covers the towering spruce trees, and thick ferns carpet the forest floor. As the sunlight filters down from high above, it gives the green landscape an otherworldly glow.

Bring a rain jacket; with an average rainfall of 140 inches, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the wettest places on the planet. If you're short on time, stop by the main visitor center for an easy, 2-mile walk along the Hall of Mosses Trail and the Spruce Nature Trail. Looking for a longer hike? Create your own adventure on the 18.5-mile Hoh River Trail.

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04Gaze at the Milky Way

The Milky Way over the Olympic Mountains at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park Diana Robinson Photography / Getty Images

The fun doesn't end at sunset in Olympic National Park. On clear nights, the view of the Milky Way is unparalleled in the Pacific Northwest. The mountains block the light pollution from Seattle, so you're rewarded with breathtakingly bright stars.

Campgrounds, beaches, and wilderness areas are the best places for stargazing. In the summer, join one of the park's free astronomy programs at Hurricane Ridge — the leaders bring enormous telescopes, so you can get a closer look at planets, nebulae, and constellations.

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05Reel in a monster salmon or trout

A man fly fishes Lake Crescent in Washington's Olympic National Park Brandon Sawaya / Getty Images

If you're an angler, get ready for adventure — the park is home to 800 lakes and 4,000 miles of streams and rivers. Massive salmon, trout, and steelhead swim through the cold, clear waters.

The Sol Duc River has some of the most accessible fishing holes in the park; if you're dreaming of 24-inch trout, load up the boat and head to Crescent Lake. When it comes to solitude, it's hard to beat the backcountry beauty of the Seven Lakes Basin. A haven for hardy fly fishermen, this beautiful spot requires a long hike and an overnight stay.

You don't need a fishing license for inland lakes, rivers, and streams in Olympic National Park. Instead, pick up a Washington State catch record card to track the salmon and steelhead you reel in.

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06Hike into the Olympic Mountains

A female hiker with backpack walking away from the camera on the Klahhane Ridge trail at Olympic National Park in Washington Bill Kennedy / Shutterstock

For the best views in the park, hike high into the Olympic Mountains. Start at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center; from here, you can explore the short, easy Meadow Loop Trails or enjoy the 360-degree vista from the top of Hurricane Hill.

If you're up for a challenge, hop on the Klahhane Ridge Trail, and take the strenuous side trail to the summit of Mount Angeles. Keep an eye out for the bears, elk, and mountain goats that live among the peaks. In alpine areas, you can spot adorable Olympic marmots as they scurry from hole to hole.

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07Become a beach bum

woman in the beach of Olympic National Park Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

The beaches on the Olympic Peninsula are something special. Mist rises over the wild, rocky shoreline for a mystical vibe. The weather is usually too cool and wet for sunbathing, but it's perfect for beachcombing and long, leisurely walks.

Climb around the rugged rock formations at low tide, or relax on a driftwood log and enjoy the sunset. When the wind is high, you might even see a few surfers riding the waves.

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08Try backcountry camping

Cabin in the Enchanted Valley Michele D'Amico supersky77 / Getty Images

Get off the grid with a backcountry camping trip into the Enchanted Valley. This remote dale lives up to its name — craggy peaks rise steeply on either side of the tree-lined Quinault River, creating a scene that's straight out of a postcard.

During the 13-mile hike from the Graves Creek Trailhead, you'll walk through old-growth forests, cross deep gorges, and pass countless waterfalls. This low-elevation hike is mostly flat, so it's doable for both kids and adults.

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09Go whitewater rafting

Sol Duc River raywhittemore / Getty Images

Experience parts of the park that most people never see during a whitewater rafting trip. Outfitters in Forks and Port Angeles run guided trips in the spring, when water levels are highest. The Sol Duc River has exciting rapids up to Class III. In the summer, enjoy a more relaxed, family-friendly float trip down the upper Hoh River.

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10Explore snowy mountains

Shoeshoeing at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

When the snow falls, the Olympic Mountains turn into a winter wonderland. Brave the road up to Hurricane Ridge for the best snow sports in the region. The visitor center rents cross-country skis and snowshoes, so it's easy to head out into the silent, snowy landscape.

With 20 miles of trails, there's a route for every skill level. Are you searching for an adrenaline rush? Head to the Hurricane Ridge Ski Area for downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. No matter where you go, panoramic peak views await.

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