For those vacationing in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest is a great place for a family outing, sure to generate unforgettable memories for all. Receiving over 150 inches of rain per year, the Hoh Rain Forest is a dense green wonderland, and provides an opportunity to explore one of America’s unique microclimates. Huge trees covered with moss and ferns accent the Spruce Nature Trail (1.3 miles) and the Hall of Mosses (.8 miles), directly accessed from the visitors center. The center is a good place to start, offering trail maps, souvenirs and free brochures; park rangers are on hand to recommend the best nearby activities suitable for family groups. The trails are easy to navigate for visitors of all ages, and children who’ve never seen giant trees before will be excited to try to join hands around these trunks -- it can take several people to form a ring! Nurse trees, “ghost trees” and water features add to the surprise and fairytale ambience of this area. The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the Northwest’s truly special places.
Address: 18118 Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Washington| Map
Hurricane Ridge is a well-known landmark in Olympic National Park, and is popular with vacationing families for its unmatched views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and even British Columbia. A 17-mile ribbon of steep, winding alpine road begins 17 miles south of Port Angeles and leads up to the Ridge. A visitors center at the top makes a good stopping place for maps and sundries, and taking amazing snapshots of snow-capped mountains. There are a few short nature trails suitable for all ages accessed right from the parking lot, as well as longer trails leading to Hurricane Hill. Deer, marmots and other wildlife are commonly seen at the parking lot, which even children should have no trouble photographing. Hurricane Ridge is considered one of the most remote outposts of America’s mainland, and should be included in a Pacific Northwest family itinerary for bragging rights alone!
Address: Olympic National Park, Olympic National Park, Washington| Map
The Hands on Children's Museum in Olympia is more than just a kids’ play zone, it offers irresistible fun for adults, too. The Museum is a welcome stopover for traveling families and locals alike, catering to children of all ages. Pretend play zones include a vet clinic, super market, medical clinic, theatrical stage with props, a gardening plot, water and magnet tables and a crafts room. Children can serve food, deliver mail, “treat” sick stuffed animals and use large play construction equipment. A separate toddler area is set up for the very youngest visitors, and everything is routinely sanitized to keep visitors as clean and healthy as possible. The Museum has a café onsite with coffee, snacks and drinks, and there are other restaurants nearby as well. A “parents' night out” program allows visitors to drop off kids to play for a few hours, which is a nice option for families with mixed agendas. But at the Hands on Children's Museum, it may prove difficult to pry the grownups away from the fun!
Lake Crescent is a peaceful and beautiful spot in Olympic National Park, well worth pausing to see on a family trip. The deep, clean waters of this glacier lake are a stunning backdrop to a picnic or short hike in this uniquely pristine spot. When driving through the park, pick up maps and brochures at the visitors center to locate various facilities, get campground information and learn about fishing, boating and so forth. Kayaking is permitted on the lake, weather permitting, and the adjacent Crescent Lodge provides dining options in an old-timey, rustic park lodge atmosphere. Olympic National Park has plenty of features, and a quick stop at Lake Crescent provides a nice contrast to the rest of the busy vacation. Better yet, drive all the way around the lake -- it’s worth every minute.
Address: Olympic National Park, Washington 98363| Map
Quinault Rain Forest is one of the most popular sections of Olympic National Park. This temperate rain forest contains some of the park’s better-known features, such as giant pine trees, pristine waterfalls and Lake Quinault itself. The rain forest has the most family-friendly trails and activities in the park, including camping, boating, swimming and fishing. The Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive is a good way to get oriented, and a walk in the Valley of the Giants will impress kids as well as adults. Who doesn’t want to see the world's biggest spruce tree? There’s a three hour tour of the rain forest offered by the Lake Quinault Lodge which takes visitors to some of the park’s most scenic points, and includes some short walks along the way. Other well-marked, easy trails lead to waterfalls, pools and mossy glens. The lodge has an excellent restaurant as well, which is most welcome after a few hours of exploring, especially if it’s chilly out. Quinault Rain Forest is a perfect place to begin a family trip in Olympic National Park.
Port Angeles Fine Arts Center is a unique indoor-outdoor facility that is well-loved by locals. This small museum, housed in a former modern showcase home, displays contemporary art of the Pacific Northwest. But the real attraction is outside: Five acres of wooded property contain dozens of installation art pieces, which visitors have to search out among the trees. Kids can run down the various pathways and explore these oversized objects, such as a giant ball of ivy “yarn,” in a safe, clean environment. Found objects and living materials are incorporated into the art, making the whole concept unique and interesting. A free, fun activity that’s only slightly off the beaten path, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center is a “museum without walls” that everyone in the family can enjoy.
The Dream Playground is a well-loved children’s playground in Port Angeles, one that offers a relaxing, fun stopover for families vacationing nearby as well as a local favorite family hangout. Over 2,000 volunteers built the playground, and their skill and imagination shows in every detail. There’s a castle, mazes, several slides, a rope walk, bridges, climbing structures, secret staircases, tire swings, tunnels and a pretend boat to play in -- all designed around multiple levels. Kids will definitely get at least two hours out of the playground, and grownups can chill out at the picnic tables in the 800-square-foot pavilion onsite. There’s a separate section for the under-five set, and a teen-oriented skate park right next door. The Dream Playground is a great place for kids (and families) to work off steam, picnic and plan their next Port Angeles adventure.
Marymere Falls Trail is a well-traveled scenic stop in Olympic National Park. This easy walk is about 1.5 miles roundtrip, and leads to one of the park’s great waterfalls at Falls Creek. The hike starts from the Storm King Visitor Center on Lake Crescent, and signs point the way to the 90-foot cascade. There are a few stairs to navigate, but handrails make it easier, and it’s pretty simple for small children and the elderly to manage. A side trip can be made by walking to the end of the pier at the trail’s start, for views of Lake Crescent. Nature tours of the trail are offered from time to time, and the tour schedule can be checked at the ranger station. Expect to spot deer wandering around at the parking lot or peeking from behind the mossy trees along the trail -- Marymere Falls Trail is a magical spot, and shouldn’t be missed.
Address: Olympic National Park, Washington| Map
Farmers markets bring out the best in a town or city, and families visiting Olympia should make a point of stopping by the Olympia Farmer's Market for a taste of local food and fun. The Northwest is famous for its artisanal goodies, and this farmer’s market is no exception: Find great cheeses, jams, organic produce as well as flowers, eggs, coffees, superb baked goods and of course fresh seafood from local waters. Full meals are available as well, which can be packed and taken along on other outings, or enjoyed on a nearby bench. Shoppers have a selection of handmade soaps, jewelry, cards and unique crafts to pore over, and there’s usually live music or other street entertainment to keep things lively. Parking is easy and the vibe is friendly and unrushed. Olympia Farmer's Market is a must-do on an open weekend in Olympia.
Sol Duc Falls is one of the top natural attractions in Olympic National Park, and as such is a must-stop on a family vacation itinerary. The trail to the falls is a little over a mile and a half roundtrip, and the path is easily navigable by older people as well as youngsters. During wet weather it gets a little slippery, so a slow pace is recommended -- a good idea in any case, because the surroundings need to be savored. Visitors are routinely amazed at the beauty of the mossy forest along the path, and the majestic falls at the end make an impressive climax. Sol Duc Falls is a glittering gem among the treasures of Olympic National Park.
Address: Olympic National Park, Washington| Map
Salt Creek Recreation Center is a popular spot for outdoor fun and exploration near Port Angeles, and is a great place for visitors to really get a feel for the Pacific Northwest. This ex-World War II fort combines the interesting remnants of an artillery battery with a beach and tide pools, as well as a playground, family picnic tables and camping facilities. Easy walking trails crisscross the area, with interpretive signs and photographs; some trails involve clambering over rocks, but for the most part the paths are comfortable for all ages. Locals use the Center for hiking, running, biking and playing softball, and campers have plenty of amenities, along with a choice of cliff-side or forest campsites. The beach is rich with wildlife, including seals, whales and eagles, and children will be fascinated by the tide pools when the tide is out. Salt Creek Recreation Center is a perfect place for traveling families to picnic, rest and enjoy matchless views of the harbor.
Address: 3506 Camp Hayden Road, Port Angeles, Washington 98363| Map
Olympic Coast Discovery Center is the gateway to the giant Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Located right on the Port Angeles waterfront, the Center is the perfect place to start off an itinerary taking in coastal nature areas and activities. The Discovery staff provides info on the best places to find tide pools, hiking trails, remote beaches or whale-watching points. Besides being an informational facility, the Center also houses a sea life building with touch pools, something that seems to always amuse children. Convenient to downtown’s book stores, restaurants and farmers market, the Olympic Coast Discovery Center can easily be included in a visit to town, and will set the tone for the rest of the vacation.
Address: 115 East Railroad, Port Angeles, Washington 98362| Map