The Best Time of Year to Visit Olympic National Park for the Wildlife

Why are July and August such popular times in ONP?

Close up of the head and neck of a female Roosevelt Elk showing her almost black mane with mossy covered trees in the background

The best time of year to visit Olympic National Park for wildlife viewing is during spring (May & June) yet summer is the most popular - find out why:

April, May, June, July, August, and September usually brings warmer, drier weather to the Olympic Peninsula.  Precipitation in the form of fog or a light drizzle, adds to the sublime natural experience at all times of the year and can be beneficial for Olympic National Park wildlife viewing.  Read more about Olympic National Park rainforest animals in the winter, spring, summer and fall courtesy of Experience Olympic tours of Olympic National Park, Port Angles, WA.

Explore other tips for planning the best Olympic National Park vacations

Large healthy adult Black Bear eating grass in a meadow

Spring Olympic National Park wildlife:  April, May, and June

Early spring in the lowlands of Olympic National Park starts in March and continues to be the best time of year for viewing Roosevelt Elk near the Olympic National Park rainforests.  May and June is generally the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park in order view Black Bears.  During the spring, these fascinating large mammals start to become active in the river valleys where they eat the early spring plant growth.  Additionally, spring bird migration results in excellent Olympic National Park bird watching opportunities, especially when visiting in May.

A close-up of a Giant Green Anemone in a stunning shade of green surrounded by sand

Banana Slugs, amphibians, snails, and other typical Olympic National Park rainforest animals are often seen during the spring season on hiking trails as temperatures rise and humidity levels remain high.  Spring and summer are the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park tidepools, as animals like the Giant Green Anemone are best viewed starting as early as April and continuing into August.  Spring is also the best times of the year for viewing and photographing waterfalls in Olympic National Park.

Two cinnamon-colored Olympic Marmots playing during early summer on a snow bank

The Hurricane Ridge road usually transitions from winter season operations to opening daily based on spring weather conditions in May.  You can confirm the road is open the morning you plan to head up to Hurricane Ridge by calling Olympic National Park's automated road condition report at 360-565-3131 or check Twitter Hurricane Ridge through March. Daily reports should be up by 9 AM on the morning you are interested in visiting Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge.  Olympic National Park wildlife is often viewed by the side of the road as you drive up in elevation, especially in the early morning or at dusk once the snow starts to melt and the subalpine wildflowers and plants start growing.

Profile shot of a brown snowshoe hare taken in the summer in a subalpine meadow dotted with Olympic National Park wildflowers

Summer Olympic National Park wildlife:  July and August

If the amount of precipitation is one of your main criteria, then summer is the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park.  The month of July historically has the lowest level of average monthly precipitation.  Although you will often enjoy sunny weather and scenic mountain scenery during the summer season, many of the typical Olympic National Park rainforest animals, such as Banana Slugs, will not emerge under low humidity conditions.

The endemic Olympic Chipmunk sits on a rock with its hands to its mouth eating a seed head

The season for accessing the high country, including Hurricane Ridge hiking and wildlife viewing tours, generally starts in the late spring.  As the snow melts, the Olympic Mountains come alive with Olympic National Park wildlife like Olympic Marmot, Columbian Black-tailed Deer, Olympic Chipmunk, Snowshoe Hare, Black Bears, butterflies, and breeding birds.  

A male Columbian Black Tailed Deer with velvet-covered antlers is pictured next to a subalpine fir and wildflowers at Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park wildflowers start blooming as days lengthen and snow recedes.  Flowers will continue blooming as long as moist soil conditions remain.  Peak wildflowers at Hurricane Ridge (at just over 5000 feet) can be as early as the end of June.  However, peak wildflower season varies each year due to seasonal temperatues influencing snowfall and snowmelt. 

The gleaming yellow eye of an adult Bald Eagle looks down at you from the top of a tall Douglas Fir tree laden with cones

In the lowlands, many different wild berries ripen during the summer and attract Olympic rainforest animals, especially birds.  Photographers often time their Olympic National Park visits from about mid July to mid Setember because reliable sunny weather can be an important consideration.

Additionally, starting in September, Chinook (King), Pink, and later Coho salmon migrate and spawn in Olympic National Park rivers.  Learn about the largest river restoration project in the world on Elwha River hiking and dam removal tours.  Twenty two Olympic National Park wildlife species have been found feeding on salmon carcasses and where there are salmon, Bald Eagles will certainly follow.  Historically, people tell stories about Olympic National Park wildlife being so noisy as they fed on Elwha salmon at night that you could not sleep next to the river.

Male Roosevelt Elk grazing with yellow fall shrubbery in the background

Fall (Autumn) Olympic National Park wildlife:  September and October

Olympic Peninsula locals might argue that fall is the best time for Olympic National Park wildlife viewing.  Fall offers exciting Olympic National Park rainforest animal spectacles, such as bugling Roosevelt Elk during the breeding season in September.  Olympic National Park was originally organized to protect the Roosevelt Elk (and provides both summer and winter habitat), so no trip is complete without observing these quintessential rainforest animals.  A Hoh Rainforest elk and hiking tour in the fall provides the best opportunity to enjoy Roosevelt Elk against a backdrop of colorful Big-Leaf and Vine Maples.

Black Bear moving through a subalpine meadow with scattered stunted trees in the background

Fall continues to be a great time to explore the high country as snow often does not arrive until October.  As long as there is still food available, like huckleberries, Olympic National Park wildlife like Black Bears will continue to forage in the mountains.  Aside from widlife viewing, exploring the mountains of Olympic National Park in the fall is also just stunningly beautiful.  Fall bird migration includes regular sightings of less commonly observed birds like Golden Eagle, Merlin, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Western Meadowlark starting in late August and continuing into October.

An outstretched pale yellow, almost white, banana slug contrasts with the wet soil beneath it

Temperatures continue to remain high in the fall and once humidity levels also rise, classic Olympic National Park rainforest animals start crossing hiking trails again, such as Banana Slugs, snails, and amphibians.  October usually introduces a plethora of colorful and bizarre mushrooms including prized edibles like chanterelles.  Fall rain also will deposit snow on the highest peaks and pockets of deciduous trees and shrubs turn brilliant shades of yellow and red.  For all of the reasons listed, fall is the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park.

A ten point bull elk looks up from feeding on grass next to the road in Olympic National Park

Winter Olympic National Park wildlife:  November, December, January, February, and March

For those wishing for solitude, consider planning your Olympic National Park rainforest trek during the winter season.  Aside from two weeks around Christmas and New Years, you can pretty much have your pick of lodging and can therefore make last minute travel decisions based on Olympic National Park weather.  The ultra-green temperate rainforest comes alive as precipitation is at its maximum.  Olympic National Park waterfalls are almost unrecognizable from their summer counterparts given the increase in preciptation.  Many typical Olympic National Park rainforest animals hide in the winter due to slightly cooler temperatures, shorter days, and slow plant growth.  However, winter is undoubtedly a great time for viewing rainforest moss and lichen.  Additionally, Roosevelt Elk remain active year-round and the winter in Olympic National Park is a great time to view them foraging in the lowlands.

Flock of eighteen Long-tailed Ducks seen during the winter season

Port Angeles, WA, USA, receives considerably less annual precipitation in winter when compared to Forks, WA, or Seattle, WA, due to the rainshadow effect of the Olympic Mountains. 

An amazing view of the snow-clad Olympic Mountains, snow-covered subalpine fir, and feet of snow on Hurricane Ridge in winter

Winter is the best time of year to visit Olympic National Park for winter activities like snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, and snowboarding.  Small mammals explore on top of the snow and resident birds can be heard and viewed during winter in the subalpine.  The road to Hurricane Ridge is open Friday to Sunday and holiday Mondays when the weather permits during the winter.  The road is usually also open during winter holidays, including the time around Christmas and New Years.  All visitor vehicles are required to carry tire chains with them during the winter and parking is very reduced (when compared to the summer).  Check that the road is open by calling 360-565-3131 or the Twitter feed for Hurricane Ridge between 8 and 9 AM on the morning you are interested in driving up the Hurricane Ridge road in the winter.