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Camping at Kalaloch and exploring Olympic National Park

Camping at Kalaloch and exploring Olympic National Park

The Pacific Northwest is a dream destination for so many.  Sure, we have our rain and grey skies, but we also have incredible mountains, beaches and forests.  Olympic National Park is the perfect spot to experience all of those things, and the west side in the Kalaloch area is really an ideal home base.  Camping or lodging, Kalaloch has you covered and you never have to go far to find the perfect PNW adventure.

To be upfront about it, Kalaloch is NOT close to any city and visiting is dedicating yourself to a weekend or few midweek days. You won’t be at a loss for things to do with interesting sites and activities all around you, especially in the summer, so embrace the road trip and head out to the coast!

Locale of Kalaloch and Olympic NP sites

You’re now plotting out a mini-road trip so here are several approaches you can take for getting to Kalaloch and the coastal sites of Olympic National Park from both Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

  1. Approaching from the north, taking a ferry from the east side of Puget Sound and driving through some wonderful small towns, such as the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, hitting up the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge in Sequim, spending some time hiking at Hurricane Ridge in Port Angeles, or exploring the Hoh Rainforest in Forks.  After all of those, you’ll drive past Ruby Beach and boom, you’re in Kalaloch.  Drive time:  4:30 from Seattle w/ ferry boat
  2. Heading through Tacoma and Olympia, stopping at the old courthouse in Montesano or the Dairy Freeze in McCleary, basically winding through logging country.  You’ll drive past Lake Quinault and Queets and then you’ll arrive at Kalaloch.  Drive time:  3:30 from Seattle
  3. You can drive from Portland and not make interesting stops…  Drive time:  3:50 from Portland w/o traffic
  4. Approaching from Oregon you can also drive up the 101 from Portland, hitting all kinds of beaches and a few lighthouses along the way, including Astoria (cool town!) Cape Disappointment State Park / Lewis and Clark National Park.  Drive time:  5:20 from Portland but with awesome stops the whole way!

Camping at Kalaloch in Olympic National Park

We’re totally car-campers (check out our Dad Hacks for camping) so the Kalaloch campground was perfect for us.  With a variety of campsite types, both sheltered in the forest and directly on the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you’ll love the beautiful setting.  We’ve had both types of sites and loved them equally.

Securing a site for Camping at Kalaloch

All of the Kalaloch campground is reservable through the National Parks reservation system.  YOU NEED RESERVATIONS if your heart is set on camping at Kalaloch.  True, you may be fortunate enough to score a same day walk-in reservation, but that’s highly unlikely, particularly Thursday through Sunday nights. If you haven’t been able to secure a camping reservation, be sure that you are leaving early enough to get to the Kalaloch campground before noon to capture any potential abandoned site.

Note:  if you call the reservation line, they’ll tell you that the Kalaloch campground has a certain amount of walk-in availability sites, but that’s not true.  Every single site can be reserved through the system and typically is.

Benefits of camping in the woods

Camping at Kalaloch is kind of like camping in a mysterious forest.  The trees within the campground have some pretty epic burls and crazy root systems.  They are tall and towering, covered with moss, lichens and ferns.  The campsites are all separated by forest vegetation which is great for kids to investigate.  From skunk cabbage to root tunnels, it’s pretty darn cool. We love the privacy and calm of camping in the woods.

Benefits of camping on the bluff

I’ve never met a human that didn’t love seeing the sunset over the ocean.  That should be enough to convince you to go for a bluff campsite in Kalaloch. Other benefits are close proximity to the trails down to the beach, awesomely warm afternoon sun, and the sound of the waves to put you to sleep each night. If you’re on the bluff side of the driving path, remember to keep an eye on kids a little extra. There are lots of bunny trails they may investigate that could lead them to the beach. Check out our article on camping safety!

Note:  camping so close to the beach may come with wind gusts depending on the weather. We were fortunate to go camping at Kalaloch during a very calm week, so there was zero wind, but consider yourself warned.

Other lodging at Kalaloch

Depending on how far you want to drive for the activities you have planned, Camping at Kalaloch isn’t the only option.  The Kalaloch Lodge is actually right next door to the campground, and while it’s titled as “lodge” it’s actually your best option for getting a cabin ON the beach.  If you’re cool being a bit further away from Kalaloch and the beaches, the Lake Quinault Lodge or Lake Quinault Resort are also within 45 minutes of the area.

Further north you’ll find camping at Bogachiel State Park or the Hoh Rainforest, and then if you’re super flexible and not looking for luxury or charm, there are some random motels in Forks that may suit your needs.  And know that there are always rental cabins, B&Bs and new lodging coming up all the time, so do some extra research to find what’s right for you and your crew.

Tip:  just like with camping at Kalaloch, staying in one of the nicer lodges will require reservations as far in advance as you’re able to do.  Better to book and cancel than never to have booked at all.

The Beaches of Olympic National Park at Kalaloch

The beaches are one of the most overlooked gems of Olympic National Park.  When you’re camping at Kalaloch you’re in a very special spot because the beach located just down from the campground is awesome.  Lined with driftwood (we love visiting driftwood beaches) at the base of the bluff, it’s picturesque and ideal for photographing dramatic beachscapes.

Tip:  if it’s been a cool morning, hit the beach in the afternoon even if it isn’t sunny.  You’ll witness a beautiful phenomena of fog rising our of the sand from medium to low tide.

Beyond the beach directly at the Kalaloch campground are Beaches 1-4.  Each of these is accessible directly off Highway 101 with limited parking.  You’ll have a small hike down to each of the beaches, but you’ll find that they’re wonderfully secluded and pristine.  Perfect for a quite beach day with kids.

Visiting Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach is our favorite beach in Washingotn State.  It’s the prettiest beach we’ve ever been to with the most options for fun.  Again, the driftwood is awesome.  The tidepools are very unique, with most being formed around the bases of sea stacks.  The sandbar at the southern end of Ruby Beach makes for a long stretch of warm water for playing and splashing with kids, while the mouth of the tiny, shallow lagoon acts as a sea star nursery with loads of tiny creatures in the sand.

Note:  do not pick up baby sea stars as they’ll attach to you very quickly and their suction can be so strong that when pried off your hand the sea star may be injured or lose tentacles.

The other highlight at Ruby Beach is the number of sea stacks and natural arches.  With such rough waters over the years, several sea stacks have been formed and a few of those have perfect windows naturally cut out of them for the wind and water to flow through.  Absolutely beautiful. This is our go to spot when we would like to do an Oregon Coast road trip but don’t have the time needed.

Tip:  drones are illegal to use in the National Parks.  You’ll be so tempted to use one if you have it because the beachscapes are beautiful and really dramatic.

Epic trees in Olympic National Park

Since you probably want to experience more than beaches, the trees of Olympic National Park, particularly all around Kalaloch, are epic.  We’ve been Sequioa National Park, Kings Canyon, the Redwoods… the forests of Olympic National Park are totally different.

The Kalaloch Hanging Tree

This tree is super cool and so easy to visit, so plan on checking it out.  It’s called the Hanging Tree, the Root Cave, the Tree of Life…  If you’re not camping at Kalaloch, park at the picnic area at the entrance of the Kalaloch campground and walk down to the beach.  At the bottom of the driftwood stairs, veer right and walk fifty feet.  You’ll all of the sudden be in front of a sea cave with an enormous Sitka spruce spanning the collapsed bluff.  It’s pretty awesome and totally epic.

Tip:  check out the hanging tree any time of day, but be sure to stop back by just before sunset when the sky is starting to turn.  The orange and grey colors of the cave paired with the tree are gorgeous.

The Big Cedar Tree

Located ten minutes north of the Kalaloch campground, the Big Cedar Tree is just that.  Although the tree split in two in 2014 you can still visit it and grasp its enormity.  The gnarled wood and hollow core are fascinating and beautiful.  The Big Cedar Tree has a short trail for exploring the coastal forest and it makes for a fun, short stop with kids.

Tip:  stop at the Big Cedar Tree in the mid to late afternoon for the best light.  The photo ops are too neat to have bad lighting.

The Rainforests of Olympic National Park

We visit the Hoh Rainforest a few times a year and love taking visitors from out of town there.  The Hoh Rainforest is located about fifty minutes north of Kalaloch.  It is one of the fee areas of Olympic National Park so don’t forget your National Parks Pass or plan on buying one there.  When you’re at the Hoh Rainforest, see if you can be a part of a Ranger-led nature walk.  They are pretty cool and a great way to learn about the coastal temperate rainforests.

If you want to visit a less popular but equally beautiful rainforest, the Quinault Rainforest is about 35 minutes south of Kalaloch.  There is a Visitors Center at the Quinault, but it’s only manned on weekends.  The hiking trails here are shorter and the tree formations are not as bizarre as in the Hoh, so visiting is guaranteed to be mellow fun.

Note:  there’s an old homestead within the meadow of the Quinault Rainforest that’s perfect for having a picnic and snapping some cool, rustic photos with kids.

Kalaloch is a really cool, really diverse area of the Olympic Peninsula to explore.  You really do get the best aspects of Olympic National Park all within a close drive.  Don’t forget that if you’re planning on camping at Kalaloch you need to make reservations, but if you’re staying someplace else, visit at your leisure and no doubt the whole family will have an awesome time.

Want to pin this for your vacation and family camping planning?  Go for it!


Tuesday 27th of August 2019

Tip for camping at Kalaloch campground...the rangers post reserved signs on all sites whether they are reserved or not (no joke! They make up names!) They will post a list of sites available around 6pm, just before the rangers go home for the evening. If you arrive early, they will let you park in the main parking lot until they post available sites. This information was gathered by asking several rangers over a several day stay. (Poorly managed!)


Tuesday 27th of August 2019

OMG. I totally believe it. Good tip!

Richard Cashin

Saturday 2nd of June 2018

A mile or two South of Kalaloch CG and Lodge is South Beach CG intended as overflow for the main Kalaloch CG, first come first serve, toilets only. Can be really crowded but seaside sites are incredible.


Sunday 20th of August 2017

I miss camping in the Pacific! We have since moved to Utah, and it’s impossible to get a camping spot unless you plan a year in advance!

Matthew Wakelee

Sunday 20th of August 2017

I loved my time camping at Kalaloch campground. Sunsets on the beach were amazing.