Vacation - Washington State and National Parks?
February 6, 2017 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Planning a trip to Washington state in mid to late June for me, my wife and our 5- and 1-year olds. We're thinking of a couple days in Seattle and then the rest of the week exploring Olympic National Park. My questions are: We like the idea of Olympic because of the wide array of things to see there (coast, mountains, rain forest), but is it worth reconsidering Rainier or North Cascades instead? Or could Rainier be a day trip on the way back?

And if we do go with ONP, what would be the best things to see and do with the kids? We love hiking but will be carrying the baby and counting on the 5-year old to do all his own hiking this year. What is the best town/location to stay in so that you're not spending large part of each day driving to get to the best stuff?
posted by burlsube to Travel & Transportation around Washington (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You will spend a large part of each day driving, regardless. This is a huge, remote wilderness and the park isn't your typical drive-through NP. All the access to the park are via single in and out roads.

I would recommend staying in Port Angeles or Lake Crescent for visiting the north end of the park. Hurricane Ridge, Elwah, Sol Duc, Lake Crescent. And then stay at the coast in Forks or Lake Quinault for visiting the coast, the Hoh, Mora, Ruby Beach.

Do keep in mind, we call it Juneuary around here. June, even late June isn't really summer yet. You can expect some higher elevation hiking to be inaccessible because of snow.

For trail information use the WA Trail Assoc. website:
posted by humboldt32 at 11:50 AM on February 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

The best part (imo) of Olympic NP for small kids is low tide at one of the many beaches. Kids can splish around puddles, see tiny crabs and (hopefully) starfish. It's a rain or shine activity and doesn't require a ton of hiking.
Forks is a good place to stay to access the beaches nearby. rialto beach and Ruby beach are popular because they are easy to access. tide tables are available online or at many places including infotainment at the beaches themselves.
Hurricane ridge is a drive in/drive out destination. great views but not much else for kids. I would budget 2 (or 3 max) days for ONP with small children, do the loop counter-clockwise from seattle and end up near Olympia and then do Rainier and/or Mt St Helens with the remaining time.
Return to seatac is easiest from the south as well.
In June plan for rain, and plan for lots of driving. budget time for ferry rides and make ferry reservations if you have firm dates in mind.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2017

Also be aware that Rainier can be downright cold in June. Paradise is named that because it is a gorgeous field of wildflowers in the summer - but we were there in July a few years ago and there was two feet of snow on that wildflower field! Still lovely but less appealing to little ones I suspect.

Seconding the advice about beaches and tidal pooling - my kids loved tidal pools when little and still do as adults.
posted by leslies at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2017

Near Pt. Angeles, on the way to Olympic National Park, be sure to stop by Dungeness Spit.
posted by ShooBoo at 2:10 PM on February 6, 2017

I love the North Cascades, and the North Cascades Highway is the prettiest highway in the entire world... but trying to see Seattle, the Olympic peninsula, and the North Cascades in one week is not something I recommend. I'd break it into two separate vacations, if that's all the time you have.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

if we do go with ONP, what would be the best things to see and do with the kids?

The Hall of Mosses (in the Hoh Rainforest) is one of my all time favorite happy places and has a very gentle trail that you can do with kids. Also to get out there you can drive one way and take the ferry the other way. Kids love the ferry.
posted by jessamyn at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also recommend staying out at La Push. The kids can play in the dunes and on the beach.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2017

Here's an amazing fun fact about Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, where the water is really cold. Look for the monument! (I think it's still there.)
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 6:42 PM on February 6, 2017

You want to stay at Kalaloch Lodge. Quinolt is nice too, but Kalaloch will be right on the coast and within striking distance of the Hoh rain forest which are the two absolute must sees of the park. If you can, I'd try to go to Lake Ozette and hike part of the Cape Alava loop -- it's about a three mile flat boardwalk from Ozette to the beach where you'll be in the middle of about 50 miles of ocean shore wilderness with no structures or roads. I think you could do it with a one year old on your back and a pokey five year old who has lots of snacks. There's few places like it anywhere and you'll have fun picking up flotsam and jetsam from Japan and Russia washed up on the beach.

Hurricane ridge is another must see, but it's a drive up, get out and walk around for a bit kind of place and not so much a destination so you should hit it on the way there or back. Try to do this on a day with good weather.

Which brings me to weather. In a typical June you can expect several cloudy, rainy days with temps to the 40s, with a good chance, but no guarantee, of some cleanish days up to the 60s, maybe 70s. But summer it is not.

It doesn't look that far on the map, but Olympic is far from Seattle. At least 4 hours. We never go for just a weekend. Just so you know, it's not like a quick drive back to Seattle and then a lightning trip to Rainier is easy. It can be done, but you will spend far more time in the car than seeing sights and with a 1 year old and a 5 year old you'll probably be happier to go at a slower pace. If you have leftover time, I'd just spend it in Seattle, especially given the fickle weather.

Definitely fit in a ferry ride on at least one leg of the trip rather than coming up through Olympia. Bainbridge--Seattle makes the most sense, but Kingston -- Edmonds is good too. Bremerton is kind of out of the way for this trip. Ferries are super fun!

The towns servicing Olympic National Park are pretty ho-hum (Aberdeen, Forks, La Push, Port Angeles) -- I mean they're fine, but they're not destinations or in need of exploration time. Port Townsend is a little further off the loop but worth checking out if you need to get your cute town fix. There's a cool state park there which is an old converted military base and I think you can stay in cabins and old military barracks, though we've always camped there.

Olympic National Park has a junior ranger program -- check on it at one of the visitor centers, but your five year old will get an activity book and when it's completed, the rangers do an official "swearing in" ceremony and the kids get a patch. I don't know why, but my kids insist on doing this every year and it's educational.

This doesn't sound like it's in the cards with kids at 1 and 5, but if you are a little more adventure ready, Olympic has some spectacular backpacking. You can hike through rain forests, cross glaciers, hike a dozen miles on a beach and not run into anyone.

Have fun, I love this part of the world. There's no way to "do it all" so enjoy the stuff you do choose to do.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:41 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, North Cascades is out of the question, imo. It's another four hours out of Seattle in the opposite direction and, though it's beautiful, there's not enough quick get out of the car kind of stuff to do there for a quick trip. Paradise at Rainier is a feasible day trip (or stay at Paradise lodge) and there are easy trails around Paradise (some paved). Again, there may be snow.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:52 PM on February 6, 2017

whoops, never mind. I read that as "skate park" not "state park"

posted by humboldt32 at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2017

You want to stay at Kalaloch Lodge. ...Kalaloch will be right on the coast and within striking distance of the Hoh rain forest which are the two absolute must sees of the park.

I concur with this advice. I stayed at Kalaloch for a week near the end of July 2 years back after 3 days in Seattle. They have cabins with mini-kitchens which makes family visits a lot cheaper. We made fires in our cabins each night, otherwise we'd need to huddle under the wool blankets; sometimes we could take off our coats/sweaters and get down to tshirts on a strenuous hike or during a sunny lunch spot midday. It was NOT swimming weather in any way, although the water was bearable to wade in. We wanted to swim, so went to the hot springs in Olympic National Park at Sol Duc!

I would caution you about how much driving there is between destinations. Kalaloch is about 15 miles as-the-crow-flies to the Hoh visitor center, where the easy/not strenuous hikes start from (there are also more strenuous hikes from that visitor center). However, it takes a little over an hour to drive from Kalaloch to Hoh, as the only roads are two lanes, slow speed limit, twisty, and have many logging trucks on it. Getting from Kalaloch to Forks (nearest town with a large grocery store) took 30 minutes even though it's only 10 miles away!

On the balance, if I knew then what I knew now, I would not be as ambitious in exploring the areas of the park, maybe going back to Hoh Rainforest for 2 or 3 days of hikes instead of driving up to Port Angeles.
posted by holyrood at 6:57 PM on February 7, 2017

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