The photography guide to United States Olympic National Park
51 photo spots 241 inspiring images 5 contributors

Olympic National Park photography guide

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Introduction

The beautiful and diverse Olympic National Park lies at the center of the Olympic Peninsula and encompasses three very distinct ecosystems: the Pacific Coast, the temperate rain forests and the glacier clad peaks of the Olympic Mountains. In short, Olympic National Park is a photographer’s dream with the mountains to visit on sunny days, the coast to visit on partially cloudy days and the rain forest to explore when the sky is completely overcast. The one negative is the rain – temperate rain forests require a great deal of it, around 144 inches, (366 cm), annually.

The coast region and the rain forests have year round access. The coast is ideal in all seasons except winter when the tides run tiresomely high. For the rain forests, spring is a very scenic time to visit, as the young ferns and leaves are a bright green color. By mid-October the maple trees begin to turn an eye catching yellow. Access to the mountain regions is best in July and August when the snow has melted off the meadows and the wildflowers are in bloom. Fall can bring vibrant color to the high country meadows while winter is almost magical in the Olympic Mountains as the wet coastal snows and high winds often plaster the trees with snow, turning them into statuesque mounds. Note: Hurricane Ridge offers the only winter access to the high country. However, due to the violence of the storms, (hence the name), the road is often closed.

As 95% of this park is designated wilderness, many of the locations are not accessible from the road. Most locations in the wilderness sections of the park may be reached by day hikes, however, several iconic areas are located deep in the interior of the park and require require two or more days to access and photograph. 

Most popular Olympic National Park photo spots


Top Picks

Working from north to south, don’t miss:

Hurricane Ridge for meadows, wildflowers, views of glaciated mountains, and snow covered trees in the winter.

Sol Duc Falls is an ideal spot for photographing the rain forest forest, mossy creeks and a beautiful waterfall.

Rialto Beach is known for its tide pools, off-shore islands and rocky spires, (called seastacks).

Hall of Mosses and the Hoh River Valley are a must for anyone looking for the beautiful moss-hung trees of the temperate rain forest.

Ruby Beach is ideal place to photograph sea stacks and sunsets.

Maple Glade Nature Trail, on the north shore of Lake Quinault, is a short, 0.5 mile, walk through moss-hung big leaf maple trees that commonly takes photographers several hours to complete.


Travel

The Olympic Peninsula has a bus service from the Seattle–Tacoma airport to Port Angeles. Further bus service is available along US101 from Port Angeles to Forks and on to Aberdeen and Hoquiam. However, there is no reliable transportation from the towns into the park. The best solution is to either rent a car or bring your own. Keeping the electronic gear charged can a be problem. The major campgrounds have some electrical outlets in the restrooms, however, it is better to rely on a car charger. Cell phone and network coverage is very sketchy. Do not expect coverage away from the main towns!

US101 is the highway most referred to in this guide and, unfortunately, it can cause confusion to the uninitiated. US101 officially starts in Port Angeles ends in Los Angeles. However, in Washington, US101 takes an odd twist and heads east around the north end of the Olympic Peninsula then turns south down the west side of the Hood Canal, ending in the Shelton area. Although there is supposed to be some designation to help differentiate between US101 on the west side of the Olympic Mountains from US101 on the eastside of the Olympic Mountains, the authors have never seen it. To make up for this, the words, “along Hood Canal” are used to designate section of US101 that lies on the eastside of the Olympics.


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Curated By

T. Kirkendall and V. Spring Curator
Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring are both photographers and authors. Along with a massive file of landscape images, they have written 10 guidebooks for cyclists, cross-country skiers, and hikers.
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