Another glorious year is upon us and it is time to make resolutions to spend more time with friends and family, get outdoors and get into shape. For many, this is an opportunity to reconnect with our homeland by heading outside. Here in Grays Harbor, we have one of the crown jewels of natural beauty just a short drive away, beckoning for weekend exploration and family adventures. Starting in January, America’s National Park’s will open without entry fees for ten days, allowing everyone to explore parks, especially our gem, Olympic National Park, free of charge.
10 Free Days at National Parks in 2017:
- January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- February 20: Presidents Day
- April 15-16: National Park Week Weekend
- April 22-23: National Park Week Weekend
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 30: National Public Lands Day
- November 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
Living so close to Olympic National Park, we have one of the best national park’s in the world close to our homes. This isn’t hyperbole, it is a fact. Olympic is one of the most-visited National Parks in the country and has been for decades. Year round, Olympic inspires wilderness adventure and fuels our wanderlust. Thanks to Olympic, we are able to have a connection with pristine wilderness with ease, exploring glaciers, rainforests, lakes, rivers and the wild Pacific coastline. While adventures for each of these fee free days may vary, there are some places best seen in specific months. Following our recommended schedule below ensures successful, inspiring and free adventures all year long.
To continue your National Park adventure beyond these 10 fee free days, pick up an annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass. This annual pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. Free or discounted passes are available for seniors, current military members, fourth grade students, and disabled citizens. Passes can be purchased at Olympic National Park and National Forest offices.
Finally, once you have your pass and have planned your trip, make sure you pick up a guidebook to Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula to ensure the greatest adventure possible. The region has 912 miles of trails in the National Park and National Forest, each of which more beautiful than the last. Whether you hike an old favorite or discover somewhere new to create lifelong memories, the 10 free days in Olympic National Park this year are sure to reconnect you with the majesty and beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
1. Fee Free Day: January 16
In January, make the drive north and see the winter wonderland of Hurricane Ridge. As the trees become weighed down with snow and transform into images from a Dr. Seuss book, the already intoxicatingly beautiful region becomes indescribably perfect. On sunny days, the Olympic Mountains shimmer and shine, showing off their glaciers and powdery peaks. A wintery wonderland offers snowshoers and cross-country skiers over 20 miles of trails to explore, each offering views more breathtaking every mile. Those who would rather just sit back and enjoy the sweeping vistas from the comforts of a warm building are in luck, as the Hurricane Ridge visitor center lets you enjoy the panoramic wonderland without being in the elements. Those with kids can also enjoy the small sledding area near the visitor center.
2. Fee Free Day: February 20
In February, head east and explore the forgotten Staircase region near Hood Canal and Hoodsport. Offering family-friendly hiking, highlighted by a suspension bridge and hidden wilderness wonders, the Staircase Loop Trail makes for a fun day trip on the southeast corner of the park. Close to the Hama Hama Oyster Company, a trip east is a feast for your eyes and your mouth. Don’t pass up exploring this underrated and lesser known Olympic National Park region.
3. Fee Free Days: April 15-16, 22-23
In April, venture out to the coast and explore the beauty of Kalaloch or LaPush. While the weather may not be warm, the coast will be empty, transforming into a personal coastal playground. Look for ocean life in the tide pools, explore the sea stacks, check out the Kalaloch Root Tree and catch a gorgeous, cool sunset. April is also when 20,000 Gray Whales migrate past the region, easily seen from the numerous lookout points along Kalaloch Beach. This is an amazing experience for everyone and might become a family tradition.
4. Fee Free Day: August 25
In August, when summer is in full swing, take a trip up into the Quinault Rainforest to cool down and enjoy the day in pure and pristine wilderness. Along the river banks or visiting the numerous waterfalls and viewpoints on the Lake Quinault Loop Drive, summer in the rainforest allows for long days of exploring with warm temperature and typically dry weather. The waterfalls may not be as extravagant during this time, but the hike to Pony Bridge from Graves Creek will give you everything you desire.
5. Fee Free Day: September 30
In September, the Hoh Rainforest becomes an elk watching extravaganza. Along the mossy trails that run next to creeks and the Hoh River, elk herds congregate each year during the rut, when males try to show they are the dominant one. Through the mist and fog, the sounds of bugling elk can be heard, transforming this normally silent forest into something out of a National Geographic show. The Hoh is gorgeous year round, but there is something incredible about watching the elk roam through this ancient and untouched forest, battling for survival of the strongest genes.
6. Fee Free Days: November 11-12
In November, we come full circle, enjoying the dwindling daylight hours and watching the final weeks of 2017 fade away. This is when we suggest you return to a favorite destination and find a new trail. For many, this is an ideal time to return to the coast and hike to Second Beach or Rialto Beach at LaPush and take in one last sunset along the wilderness coast. Long gone are the summer crowds, letting you enjoy the eagles, breaking waves and miles of coast to yourself.