A family guide to visiting the beautiful waterfalls of Wahington’s Olympic Peninsula
Kids are always more motivated to hit the trails when there’s something exciting to see at the end. When picking out our State and National Park trails, we always look for a walk with the possibility of water exploration and especially waterfalls to admire en route.
The unique and biodiverse Olympic National Park in Washington, USA, certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to waterfall trails, many of which are easily accessible with kids in tow.
Here, we will share with you four reasonably easy to access waterfalls to encourage little legs to keep moving on your next trip to the Olympic National Park. We’ll also uncover a few more hidden gems that you can see seasonally or with a little more leg power.
This post is part of our Pacific North West Road Trip series
Madison Falls – The Easiest Waterfall Walk in Olympic National Park (0.3 miles)
If you’re looking for a super easy trail that even the smallest of tots can tackle on their own, as well as being wheelchair accessible, this is the one we’d start with. You are really only looking at about 10 to 15 minutes of walking, plus the time to observe the falls.
The pretty 50-foot high falls are ideal for a pleasant short walk in the Olympic National Park. The parking area is not huge, so it’s first-come-first-served, but the short trail means spaces quickly free up. You’ll also find toilets and picnic tables in the car park area.
Stay: You are not far here from the town of Port Angeles, this makes for a straightforward out and back trip, or part of your onward loop to staying at Lake Crescent.
Merriman Falls – A Very Short Walk (0.15 miles)
Another very simple out and back trail is to see Merriman Falls, located near Quinault (just a couple of miles past Quinault Lodge or 6 miles off the 101). These 40-foot falls are easy for all members of a family group to tackle, so easy though, it’s not really much of a trail!
Because of the ease of access, the falls can get busy, and roadside parking (free) is limited – take care if trying to cross the road with littles. You can try the nearby Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail if you’d like a more challenging 45 minute to 1-hour loop to stretch your legs in the Quinault Valley area.
Marymere Falls – A Medium Trail for Kids with Spectacular Tall Falls (1.8 miles)
If you’re only going to choose one trail and want something that will stretch legs without being overly challenging, we recommend you try Marymere Falls. Parking is next to Lake Crescent, so you can combine the two for a complete day out in Olympic National Park – or fast finishers will easily complete this in a bit over an hour.
The start of the trail is flat, taking you through some incredible tall timber and old-growth forest before coming to a stream. Little ones who love skimming rocks and taking their shoes off will love the stop here or keep trekking upwards for the final stretch, which needs a bit more uphill leg work and balance.
This last ascent is more challenging so make sure little ones haven’t used up all their energy on the flat! The reward is spectacular though to see the highest falls in Olympic National Park at 90-foot tall.
Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail – A More Challenging Walk for Younger Children (1.6 miles)
Although we’ve said it’s more challenging, we certainly wouldn’t discount Sol Duc Falls from your Olympic Peninsular agenda with kids.
The walk is incorrectly described in some spots as 0.8 miles – but we wrongly calculated this as RETURN. It is 0.8 miles one way, 1.6 miles back, so you are looking at least an hour with small kids. We had a false sense of ambition after just completing the Marymere Falls trail that we’d just squeeze in Sol Duc too before heading to the beach! Oh dear, parenting 101 fail.
It is indeed a beautiful walk, and one of the best hiking trails in Washington, but we’d suggest tackling it with fresh morning legs. It is an undulating trail through a relatively good grade path (not stroller or wheelchair accessible, though). There are several interesting smaller falls and fallen logs on the way to the almighty and powerful Sol Duc Fall (small stop at the first set of falls about 15 minutes in thinking that’s it – keep going!)
Once we made it, the Globetrotters indeed agreed that it was the best of the four, so if you truly want to save their leg power just for one walk, this is it!
There was a fair amount of parking here but still challenging to get a spot mid-summer (and no doubt added about another 0.3 miles to the round trip!)
Stay: The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort of Sol Duc Campgrounds are just down the road here making the ideal overnight spot and a great all in one location within the Olympic National Park.
Other Waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula
The falls we have described here are the easiest to access within the Olympic National Park year-round. The waterfall fun doesn’t stop here for avid hunters, but there are limitations on reaching and seeing many of the others:
Maple Creek Falls – This small but picturesque waterfall is hidden on the south shore of the Upper Hoh River. Reached only by water and recommended for advanced-level rafters only.
Mineral Creek Falls – This 60-foot cascading drop can be found on a 2.8-mile hike (5.6-mile return) from the Hoh Visitor Center. A beautiful walk through lush rainforest and old-growth trees. Had we not just tackled the other three in one day, this hike may have been possible. A good one worth bearing in mind if you’d like to pace yourself and build up to a longer waterfall walk with older kids.
Ludlow Falls – Not in the National Park but sitting on privately owned land with a public right of way. You can access these two-tier falls with a 25-foot cascade from the Ludlow Falls Interpretive Trail at Port Ludlow
Strawberry Bay Falls – A spectacular seasonal 100-foot fall found at the southern end of Third Beach. One we, unfortunately, didn’t make it to in summer as it’s largely only accessible during the off-peak season (best November to May). With fit legs and a low tide from La Push Road, near Quileute Reservation, you can make this mostly flat rainforest then beach trail in, 3.6 miles return.
How to Encourage Little Kids on to Longer Hikes
Our best advice is to pace it to your own kid’s ability. Our desert kids used to flat ground, and shopping malls found the trails challenging at times due to the gentle inclines, steps and plant roots, but we soon found our pace (albeit several days into exploring Olympic National Park!)
The right footwear and clothing really help, too. They loved testing out their new Keen’s water sandals, the ideal transition shoe from the rainforest to the beach. Also dressing kids in the right number of layers they can strip off once they warm up – the forests are cool, to begin with, even in summer, but you soon work up a sweat.
We have a complete guide to the best family hiking gear over here, as well as guides for:
- Hiking with a baby – we’ve included here a special baby hiking checklist; babies are actually much better hiking buddies than toddlers and preschoolers so enjoy this stage!
- Hiking with a toddler – when it starts to get a little more challenging and some motivation might be needed, tips from our hiking expert Shelley on how to make the trails fun
- The best hiking snacks to pack for any trail – packet purchases and homemade treats to keep energy levels high for active outdoor adventures.
More Reading on the Pacific North West
You may also be interested in reading more about:
- The Best of Olympic Peninsula with Kids – includes a really detailed guide on how to get around the Olympic Peninsula and the best choice of accommodation for families
- Most accessible beaches on the Olympic Peninsular with kids – not all Olympic Peninsula beaches are as easy to access as others! Our guide to the most kid-friendly beaches to help you plan your trip
- 7 Incredible Day Trips From Vancouver – extending your trip north, easy day trips to make from Vancouver
- 20 Best Places to Visit in Orgeon – head south and experience spectacular Oregon plus plenty more family highlights around the state.
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© Our Globetrotters | Some images sourced CanvaPro as credited and in the collage