There's nothing quite like the feeling of emerging from your tent in the morning. After the cold shock of unzipping the sleeping bag has worn off, and the thermal long-johns and leggings have been hastily thrown on, you clamor out of your nylon dwellings, emerging into the splendor of nature. You crawl from your tent and stand in the early morning silence, rubbing your eyes into focus. Yawning. Stretching. Noticing your visible breath swirl with the last wisps of campfire smoke from the night before. With each passing moment, your body adjusts to the day, and your eyes slowly start to take in the surroundings. And if you're lucky, what comes into focus will be a remote and quiet setting in Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park has no shortage of amazing camping destinations, which are used in full earnest for four months out of the year. In 2014, Olympic National Park saw 30,000 campers in 15 front-country campgrounds, and 27,000 of those came in the months of June through September.
Once Sept. 15th hits, campgrounds become ghost towns, with just a smattering of dedicated campers filling remote spots. While some campgrounds in Olympic close once the weather shifts, there are five camping destinations within the park that are open year-round.
Chances are, if you camp in Olympic National Park in the off-season, it will rain on you. Off-season camping isn’t something everyone will enjoy, but for the foolhardy and the fearless, it is life-changing. Pack warm clothes, a waterproof tent, and a sense of adventure and determination, and these Olympic National Park campsites are your gateway to an unforgettable time in the wild.
1. Graves Creek Campground
Crawling out of your tent in Graves Creek , the first thing you see is the majestic Quinault River flowing strongly just a few short feet away. The smell of damp forest fills your nostrils, fog lingers in the Douglas Firs and Cedars above, and herds of elk might rest in the giant ferns across the riverbank. Tucked away in the magnificent Quinault Rainforest along the southwestern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the Graves Creek Campground is a magical camping destination in Olympic National Park. For those camping in the off-season, Graves Creek Campground becomes a personal playground in the fall and winter months. Once you are fully awake, the trail to Pony Bridge leading up the Quinault River beckons you to further explore the Quinault Wilderness.
2. Lake Ozette
The nights along Lake Ozette can be a little scary to some. Far from the nearest Starbucks, or any other amenity, the campground at Ozette can feel just as isolated as it is. As you cocoon in your sleeping bag, the steady pattering of rain against your rainfly creates a soothing melody that's only interrupted by the occasional far-off sounds of great horned owls. When dawn breaks, the coastal fog lifts and exposes the majesty of one of Washington State’s largest lakes. As you watch otters in the lake and eagles in the trees, deer lazily nibble at ferns and grass along the shore. Once you are awake, you are just a few short miles from exploring the Ozette Triangle, a 9-mile loop hike, highlighted by three miles along wilderness coast. Passing by Makah hieroglyphics and ancient sea stacks, camping and exploring at Ozette is worth every mile of solitude.
3. Staircase Campground
Looking for camping and access to stunning wilderness, but don’t feel like driving to the other side of the Olympic Peninsula? Look no further than the stunning Staircase Campground. Close to Interstate 5 and Highway 101 on the Hood Canal, the Staircase Campground gives you access to numerous mountains to climb , high alpine lakes to explore, and miles of hiking along the stunning Skokomish River. Whether you take the short trek around the Staircase Loop Trail or push yourself and experience the jaw-dropping beauty of Gladys Divide, camping at Staircase is sure to deliver an unforgettable experience. The campground is small, but with sites located right along the banks of the river commonly open in the off-season, you have no excuse not to experience this campground and oft-overlooked destination in Olympic National Park .
4. Hoh Rainforest
Few places are as famous for rain and moss as Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rainforest and for good reason. Flowing from the glaciated peak of Mount Olympus, the Hoh River cuts its way down some of the wettest slopes in America. The Hoh Campground receives around 170 inches of rain a year, helping the region turn into one of the most iconic temperate rainforests in the world. The Hoh Rainforest is where moss drips off of huge maples like a Salvador Dali painting. It is where ferns grow to the size of the elk, and where salmon spawn and eagles fly. The Hoh is like no other, and camping here in the off season is a a perfect getaway. During the day, hike the rainforest to Mineral Creek Falls , conquer the Hall of Mosses Trail , and end your day watching the sun disappear over the river and the rainforest.
5. Kalaloch Campground
You need to arrive at Kalaloch on a Friday afternoon. The day before your mini-vacation starts, call in sick, fake an injury, do whatever you can to take a half day. Rush from the city and try to hit the coast a few hours before darkness arrives. Kalaloch Campground rests on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, perched perfectly for campers to witness some of the best sunsets in North America. As you watch the sun plunge into the Pacific, fall asleep listening to an endless orchestra of waves playing the greatest music in the world. From the famous root tree, to Ruby Beach and the mouth of the Hoh River, coastal exploration at Kalaloch is as good as it gets. If you aren’t quite sold, the campsites have trails that lead directly to the beach, perfect for midnight stargazing.