Finding the best hikes for kids in Olympic National Park has been our quest for nine years now, and will continue until these monsters in our house finally get old enough and develop enough grit to backpack across the wilderness of the Olympic Mountains. Until then, we’ve been thrilled with how much beauty can be found in some of the Olympic Peninsula’s shortest hikes, from Marymere Falls to Hurricane Ridge.
Hiking with kids in Olympic National Park is always fun, even with my hiking-averse kids, because it’s a chance to hug giant trees, ford streams, conquer hills and play on beaches. In our opinion, these are the best hikes in Olympic National Park. None of them are over five miles, and you might get a better workout climbing your stairs than ambling along some of Olympic National Park’s most family-friendly hikes, but do your stairs end at a waterfall? I hope not!
AKA Miss Popularity; 3.4 miles roundtrip
You’ll notice from the size of the parking lot that this is a well-trodden trail. It’s 1.7 miles of mostly flat terrain on this hike, and you’ll wander through some fantastic woods. After crossing a creek (perfect for catching tadpoles), you’ll ascend a small hill and some stairs to the waterfall overlook.
This is the hike we chose to take with our family when my third baby was six weeks old and I had to get out of the house before I went crazy. My husband did have to throw the three-year-old over his shoulders in order to make it all the way back out, but we survived. You won’t be alone on this hike, but it’s a great one for kids!
AKA Something for Everyone; 1 mile (or less!)
Hurricane Ridge boasts three different trails that are all one mile or less round trip: Cirque Rim, Big Meadow, and High Ridge, plus longer hikes for more adventurous families, making this a must-see stop for anyone visiting Olympic National Park. From the visitor center, set out either on a leisurely paved trail or on a more intense day trip. There are great views of Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca on clear days.
Hurricane Ridge is aptly named; it’s pretty much always very windy, and often blanketed in snow in winter, so go prepared. In the winter, it’s a popular place for sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing. In the summer, you’ll spot plenty of deer and wildflowers and this is a great place to hike with little ones.
Hoh River Mouth Trail at Oil City Trailhead
AKA Hidden Gem; 1.8 miles roundtrip
The Olympic Peninsula is always a good place to escape humanity, but a few of the more popular spots can attract crowds in the summer. Not this trail. Where the Hoh River meets the sea, there is a short trail that is mainly used by backpackers. A sign at the start of the trail will say “Ocean 0.9” and “Third Beach 14.1,” so you know what you’re getting into before you take off.
My husband loves this trail because he believes he will catch salmon returning to the Hoh River just as they come in from the ocean (hasn’t happened yet, but doesn’t mean it won’t!) The kids and I love it because it’s flat and it has everything: little streams to cross, dense rainforest, and an easy trail that runs up against the river and then back into the forest full of giant trees.
You’ll emerge at the ocean. It will be cold and windy. The beach at the river mouth has tons of fun driftwood, perfect for forts. Stay and play a while.
Unlike the other hikes on this list, this one is not well marked. The trail isn’t even well named. To get here, take Oil City Road off of Highway 101 and head toward the ocean. Just drive until the road runs out, and you’ll arrive at the trailhead.
Hoh Rainforest Hall of Mosses
AKA Wear a Raincoat; 1 mile roundtrip
Even on the hottest days in August, you may find a damp chill in this rainforest…but isn’t that what you came for? There are several trails at the Hoh entrance to Olympic National Park worth hiking, including the Hoh River Trail, but the Hall of Mosses is the most popular and definitely the easiest with kids. This loop nature trail will school you in rainforest trivia over the course of one easy mile while your kids fight ferns with sticks (or is that just mine?)
Staircase Rapids Loop Trail
AKA Daytrip to the Olympics; 2 mile loop
Staircase is another fairly popular trail, and with good reason. It’s the closest entrance to Olympic National Park from Seattle and Tacoma, and this family-friendly trail has it all: a giant fallen cedar to play in, a river with rapids and bridges to cross (and who doesn’t love a good bridge?!)
On your way to Staircase, you’ll inevitably stop in Hoodsport with hungry kids — so check out our favorite things to do in Hoodsport and Lake Cushman.
Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail
AKA Toddler’s Delight; 1 mile roundtrip
There are lots of fun things to do in the Quinault River Valley, but first you should stop at the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail. This great little nature trail is easily navigated with toddlers, and includes informative signage and abundant nurse logs, ferns, and mushrooms to explore.
And if you want to go farther, you can! One of the great things about Quinault hiking trails is that many of them connect, allowing you to keep going until you can go no longer (i.e. when you run out of snacks). If you brought enough granola bars, you can keep going two more miles along Big Cedar Trail to — you guessed it — a cedar tree.
Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail
AKA Fisherman’s Family Fun; 1.6 mile round trip
This lovely trail through old growth forest leads to an impressive cascading waterfall. Even better (in our family) is the fact that the Sol Duc River is one of the best places in the state to fish for winter steelhead, which means those of us who don’t fish can admire a waterfall…and those of us who do can just go fishing. (Are you noticing a theme here?)
(Disclaimer: my husband wants to point out that the best place to catch steelhead is NOT near the actual waterfall. You’ve been forewarned.)
Dungeness Spit Trail
AKA A Long Walk on the Beach; 1 – 10 miles
This is technically a National Wildlife Refuge, not within the National Park, but you’ll forgive me, right? This could be an epic long walk on sand with kids, which I would not recommend. However, you can head out and walk as far as you like at the Dungeness Spit, giving your whole family a chance to admire the Strait of Juan de Fuca and look for seabirds and beach glass.
This is a beach walk best done at low tide; while it can be done at high tide, you’ll be clambering over rocks and logs.
Hole-in-the-Wall Trail at Rialto Beach
AKA Get Yourself a Tide Chart; 4 miles roundtrip
Rialto Beach, with its dreamy forest of driftwood, is the must-see beach of Olympic National Park for any family. If you feel like a hike, you can walk two miles up the beach from Rialto to Hole-in-the-Wall, a rocky arch that makes for great photo ops. Along the way, watch for whales, check out tide pools, and be prepared to cross a creek.
This hike/beach walk can only be done at low tide, so watch the tides. Since my children invariably complain about long walks after being soaked in cold Pacific Ocean water and are currently incapable of a visit to the beach without getting in the ocean, we haven’t managed this one with the kids yet…but other people say it’s great!
AKA Not Really A Hike; 0.5 miles round trip (max)
This is totally cheating, but ever since I found Ruby Beach listed elsewhere as a “trail” I decided it was fine to steal it for this list. And also to tell people I went “hiking with my kids” every time I visit Ruby Beach.
Ruby Beach is every bit the stunner you would expect from her name — probably the prettiest beach in Olympic National Park, which is chock-full of stunning coastline. Getting there requires descending a short trail with a few switchbacks. I’ve seen people handle strollers on this trail, but make sure its a stroller meant for offroading.
As you descend the trail, you’ll see the ocean peek through the trees. Arriving at the end, you’ll be rewarded with cliffs rising from a rocky beach, sea stacks in the distance, a lagoon for rock-skipping, and an arch for playing peek-a-boo.
This is a very popular beach, especially at sunset and for photographs. You’ll see why. If you’re visiting Olympic National Park, you must not miss Ruby Beach.
Before you go…check out our Ultimate Guide to Olympic National Park with Kids!