I just got back from Olympic National Park and had the most amazing, magical time.
We camped at Kalaloch campground from September 5th- the 8th and packed our stay full of adventure. I too was bummed about the Hoh rainforest closure, however the Quinault rainforest was breathtaking. We stopped at the Quinault ranger station at Lake Quinault and they said that it is all the same rainforest system so please don't be discouraged!!! We did however avoid the Hurricane Ridge/ Lake Crescent area all together so I can't comment on those.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Drove from Sea-Tac to ONP and set up camp at Kalaloch Campground (amazing place) and enjoyed the sunset at Kalaloch Beach. It was a clear night so we went and enjoyed the stars as well, the milky way was unreal and we saw two shooting stars.
Day 2: Woke up early and drove straight to Cape Flattery, this drive is awesome. On the way back we visited so many beaches and stopped at Rialto and Ruby beach. The Big Cedar tree stop is pretty cool as well. Don't be discouraged if you get to these beaches and it is foggy, it still looks super cool!
Animals seen: chipmunks, sea hawks, sea lions, banana slugs, star fish
Day 3: Lake Quinault Day Hike. We stopped at the ranger station and we chose the North Fork to Wolf Bar hike ~5 mile round trip and it was breathtaking. The best part about this is we saw maybe 4 people the entire time, complete solitude. This hike was relatively flat and moderate the whole time as well but took you through the densest rainforest by the clearest rivers.
We had a rental car mini van and easily went down the graveled roads here, the ranger we spoke to has a Prius and never has any trouble driving down these roads. They were very nicely maintained for gravel. The loop is amazing and the waterfalls are easy to see off the highway. Stop by the Lodge and grab a coffee or tea and enjoy the view of the lake! If you are cold they have a beautiful fire place you can sit by as well.
After our awesome hike we headed back to camp and it started raining, we wanted to check out the tide pools at Kalaloch and ran into a sea otter! It was an amazing experience.
Animals seen: sea otter, kangaroo mouse, frogs, caterpillars, jelly fish, sand dollars, crabs, more starfish
Day 4: We woke up at 5:30 AM to get to Ruby Beach & Beach 4 for the low tide. They are both amazing for tidepool adventures! We put on our rain gear and headlamps and headed out, there were actually a fairly good amount of people out and about at this hour. I highly recommend planning time around the tides if you want to explore the tidepools. If the tides are high you can still walk the beaches but just not get close to the star fish which are exposed most during low tide. Also, did you know sea gulls eat star fish? Oh yeah, that was fun to watch :)!
After our Beach 4 and Ruby Beach exploration we went back to Kalaloch Campground to break down camp.
On our way out we drove to Upper Queets Valley, this is a long drive but worth it. Make sure to use the Upper Queets Valley Road and not the Lower since it does not connect (ranger tip). The river and valley and rainforest are beautiful, and again hardly any people. We saw one fly fisherman and tons of wildlife.
Animals seen at Queets Valley: Grouse, Elk, Frogs, Crawfish, Bald Eagle (all seen in Upper Queets Valley)
If you are staying on the coast, prepare for rain! It rains up to 12 feet a year at Kalaloch Campground, you are camping in a rain forest! We had our rain flap, rain gear and rain shoes and as long as you are prepared and not caught off guard you will have a blast. We went out in the middle of the rain onto the beach during low tide and that is when we saw the wonderful sea otter!
Prepare for a lot of driving as this park is HUGE. We did not make it to the Hurricane Ridge or Sol Duc area but we would have needed 3 more days to explore the other side of the park!
Remember to research, prepare, talk to rangers and check out those low tides- it is so worth it. You will have a wonderful time.
I hope this helps others who are traveling to the park now, there is so much to see and it is all beautiful whatever journey you decide to take! Half the time if you are driving and see something cool get out and explore, find your own adventure!