Spring in Washington brings about short glimmers of sunshine with the promise of warm days ahead. Even better, Spring means that it’s waterfall season! If you are looking for a picturesque waterfall surrounded by lush rainforest, Sol Duc Falls is the perfect spot for you.
The trail head for the falls is located in the northwest region of the Olympic National Park in the Olympic Peninsula. From Port Angeles, follow Highway 101 westward for 40 minutes until you reach the turn for Sol Duc Road. The road is open year-round, weather permitting. If you plan to drive to the falls from southern Washington, your best route is to travel north on Interstate 5 then take the exit for Highway 101, following it all the way to the trail head. If you are coming from the Tacoma or Seattle area, there will be some necessary extra planning.
The shortest way to access Highway 101 from Seattle is by taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island and driving State Route 104 across the Hood Canal via the floating bridge. Be aware, the bridge periodically closes for boat traffic. This may not be the quickest route depending on when you reach the ferry, but I highly recommend for any WA resident or visitor to ride the ferry at least once while you are there. You get to take a break from driving and take in a full 360 view of the Salish Sea. You can find the ferry schedule and pricing on the WSDOT website.
Before you go, remember that you will need to pay a fee to enter the Olympia National Park. You have several options: $30 for a seven-day pass, $55 for an annual pass to Olympia National Park or $80 for an annual interagency pass that gets you into all national parks, monuments and forests. I get an annual interagency pass each year since you can’t beat that price! Friendly hack, if you get the pass on the first of the month, you get nearly 13 months since it expires at the end of the same month of the next calendar year.
The trail begins behind the Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort. It is a well maintained 1.6-mile out and back path that takes you through a dense forest befitting a fairy tale. You can see nearly every shade of green in the tree canopy as well as the forest floor. Be sure to listen to the sounds of water tumbling over moss covered rocks in the creeks that flow into the Soleduck River. Just before reaching Sol Duc Falls, you will walk across a small bridge over Canyon Creek. At 0.8 miles, you will reach the iconic falls and the Canyon Creek Shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939.
A bridge crosses over Soleduck River, providing an overlook of Sol Duc Falls. Depending on the water volume, Sol Duc falls can have up to four channels that cascade 48 feet down into a rocky, narrow canyon. Continue on to find various viewpoints of the falls along the trail. Since this is a popular trail, you will encounter quite a few people on the weekends and holidays. If you prefer to find more solace in the forest, I would advise hiking to the falls on a weekday morning or evening. Photographers will want to be sure to bring their camera gear and a tripod to capture all the stunning views.
The best times to photograph the falls are in the early morning or late afternoon when the light plays through the tree canopy. Even better if you can visit on a cloudy day when all the colors are more vibrant.
For families and parents, this is an excellent trail for kids! With a short trek and only about 200 feet of elevation change, little legs won’t be too tired after the trail is done. Parents and adults should keep an eye on children at the falls however since there is no barrier between the trail edge and the river canyon.
Little ones (and adults) can also keep an eye out for signs of wildlife on the trail. My son’s favorite sighting was a six-inch banana slug inching across the trail. Did you know that they have 27,000 teeth?
Where to Stay
There are several options for lodging and camping near the falls depending on your level of comfort. The closest lodging is the historic Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Here you will find rooms, suites and cabins. Staying at the resort gives you access to their hot mineral-spring pools, restaurant, gift shop and convenience store. The resort is closed during the wintertime, however. They are typically fully open beginning the first of April until the end of October.
If camping is more your style, you can reserve one of 81 non-electric campsites or one of 17 RV sites (including two ADA RV Par sites) at the Sol Duc RV and Campground. The closest additional camping option inside Olympic National Park is at Fairholm Campground, neighboring Crescent Lake. If you plan to stay for a while inside the park, there are several lodges including Kalaloch Lodge, Crescent Lake Lodge and the Cabin Resort at Crescent Lake.
Lodges tend to fill up fast, especially in the months of July and August! Outside of the park, you can find lodging options at the surrounding towns of Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Sequim.