Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

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Calhoon
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Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Calhoon » Wed Jul 10, 2019 7:05 am

Planning a road trip from Wisconsin to Olympic National Park, along I-90 in Montana/Idaho/Washington. Was never in this part of the Rockies before and am debating whether to rent or drive my own car. In the past we'd usually rent a car, especially in the mountains. Didn't trust them. Got a new car so that's no longer an issue, but now I'm wondering if I want to beat the crap out of the car driving through rugged mountains. However, was thinking it was the interstate so how bad could it be.

onourway
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by onourway » Wed Jul 10, 2019 7:18 am

There is nothing challenging to your vehicle about driving I-90 through those mountains. Personally, I buy cars I like to drive, and very rarely get the same when I rent, so I would drive my own vehicle without a second thought.

cshell2
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by cshell2 » Wed Jul 10, 2019 7:45 am

I've taken a 4 cyl 95 Toyota Tercel loaded down with a roof rack cargo carrier to Washington from WI on !90 with no issues. Going that way the end of the month in a 12 year old minivan. I90 is fine. It's not like you're taking minimum maintenance back roads.

trueblueky
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by trueblueky » Wed Jul 10, 2019 8:12 am

The mountains are a series of passes in Montana. Not a problem in good weather. We did it in a fully-loaded, 8-year-old subcompact to move a child west.

If you are driving round-trip, recommend you use I-94 one way.

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Watty
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Watty » Wed Jul 10, 2019 8:31 am

I did much of that drive last summer and there is a lot of great stuff to see once you get to the Black Hills/Devils Tower/Badlands/Yellowstone/Custer State Park/Mt. Rushmore/etc. One way you could also swing down and see the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon and Washington border too. Likewise you could also swing up to see Glacier National park. That can be a world class road trip so have a great time.

I got as far as Spokane on this trip. In the summer the interstate and major side roads are fine for any normal passenger car.

It was years ago but I have also driven in the area past Spokane and that area is known as the Scablands and which were created in the Missoula floods(an interesting story to Google), that should not be challenging driving either if you stay on the main roads.

Winter can come early though in the mountains so if you are looking at doing this in September or later be sure to research the winter road conditions. I did notice that even on the interstate they had a number of drop down barriers when they could close the highway when the road conditions were too bad in the winter.

There are some long stretches in Montana and South Dakota where there are few services so don't let your gas get too low.

That should be a fantastic road trip if you can take the time to enjoy it but there will be LONG boring stretches too so it would be good to take audible books with you to help pass the time.

Whakamole
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Whakamole » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:36 am

What time of year?

Snoqualmie pass (I-90 just east of Seattle) can close, or be made traction tires/chains only, during the winter.

nimo956
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by nimo956 » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:39 am

I got a flat tire driving off-road to the Grand Ridge Loop, so be careful of that.

Side note, look into kayaking at Lake Crescent. Favorite part of my trip there.
50% VTI / 50% VXUS

adamthesmythe
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by adamthesmythe » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:41 am

Nothing is as bad for your car as starting the engine in the middle of winter in Wisconsin.

chevca
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by chevca » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:43 am

That's an easy and beautiful drive! I've done it a couple of times myself. My trips were in the spring and summer, so weather was not an issue. It gets pretty steep in the Idaho part of the drive. But, it's still the freeway and no need to worry about beating the crap out of your car. We do have paved freeways out here in the northwest, you know? :happy

If you're concerned about all the miles, that's one thing. But, this rugged road talk???

And yes, winter driving in the midwest beats the crap out of your car much more than any freeway trip could.

drk
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by drk » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:08 am

OP, it really depends on the time of year. During summer or fall, you'll have no trouble. It's a beautiful drive, although there are a few long stretches that can be boring (the middle of SD, eastern MT, and the middle of WA). Between November and May, you'll generally need to have traction tires once you hit the mountain passes in Washington State and to carry chains if the vehicle is not AWD/4WD.

If you intend to do any backcountry hikes, you should be aware that Olympic National Park trailheads tend to sit at the end of 10-mile-plus drives up forest roads. They're very efficient at landing scrapes and scratches on cars.

jebmke
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by jebmke » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:23 am

drk wrote:
Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:08 am
If you intend to do any backcountry hikes, you should be aware that Olympic National Park trailheads tend to sit at the end of 10-mile-plus drives up forest roads. They're very efficient at landing scrapes and scratches on cars.
I was thinking the same thing. Some of the best trailheads are at the long end of non-paved roads. We spend some time every year or so in the mountains of Virginia during bird migration in the spring. The best areas are mountain-top to bottom narrow, unpaved roads with hairpin turns. Some of them have trail crossings which are good access to hiking trails or trail-heads that lead to good overlook or waterfalls. I always take my 4WD on those trips.
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Wilderness Librarian
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:54 am

Agree with pretty much 100% of the above including advice about potentially rough drives to trailheads (but this is true with entire NW). Some areas have had washouts & landslides since I took my VW up those roads 20 yrs ago . Note you don't say time of year or total time door to door or maybe number of days driving & number of days at the primary destination. That last point is probably the most important. Have no idea why you thought freeway travel would be hard on the car except in worst weather. Interstates are interstates period. Part of their existence is to make long distance travel as uniform and easy as possible. Your biggest problems are likely to be underestimating driving time general fatigue & boredom along with heavy traffic in urban areas.

Your choice of Olympic P. is excellent. Lots to see & do there. As you probably know a UNESCO World Heritage area ( I think for biodiversity more so than physical but I could be wrong). Many years ago I lived in Tacoma. Going around Puget Sound southern route through Olympia etc. has less traffic than northern. Through Idaho I would recommend Wallace over Kellogg and probably CdA (although its been 25 yrs since I have actually been to CdA proper). Even growing up in the 60s thought Lake CdA nice but overrated. Also if you have watercraft, Idaho will likely expect you to exit freeway for inspection for zebra & quaaga muscles. See recent book Death and Life of the Great Lakes. Author credits Idaho for its effective program in this regard.

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Calhoon
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Calhoon » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:35 pm

Thanks everyone for feedback. Exactly what I was looking for.

The suggestions were great. If anyone has any other suggestions of what to see/do there or on the way I'd be interested. Mount Reneer was one spot that we were talking about.

As for the drive 00 10 years ago wound up on a pretty intense road going through the rockies that wasn't rugged, the road was fine, but it was costantly switchbacking, hairpin turns with steep drop offs. That was with the rented car and I think by the time we got back it needed new brakes and the transmission fluid changed. Strangely, the only other time I had been in the rockies was when I was a kid and that time it could've very well been the same road. Until recently I assumed that the Rockies were so rough that this was what you had to go through to cross them, which was where the question came from.

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MP123
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by MP123 » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:00 pm

Assuming this is a summer trip you'll be just fine. None of the passes on I90 are particularly difficult or hard on cars. In the winter there may be closures and delays with snow though.

There are plenty of sketchy roads up in the mountains like you described but you generally have to seek them out, they wouldn't be part of a cross-country drive on I90.

If you've got a new car take it on a road trip!

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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by jbranx » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:15 pm

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bigb
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by bigb » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:32 pm

Recommend on the way there taking highway 20 through Washington to see cascade national park. From there continue the drive on 20 to coupeville on whidbey island to take the ferry to port Townsend in order to reach the peninsula/Olympic national park. This route will take you over deception pass which is a must see/stop. If your planning a long trip you could also spend some extra time taking the ferries to visit the San Juan islands. If you enjoy hiking my favorite is shi shi beach (if you do this walk to the end of the beach for point of the arches). Also near shi shi is a very short walk to the flattery rocks overlook, also a must see. It’s the most northwest point of the continental US. If you want more recommendations feel free to message me.

Chase

suemarkp
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by suemarkp » Wed Jul 10, 2019 11:28 pm

Also, don't plan on going 70 MPH on highway 101 on he Olympic peninsula. I think the speed limit is 60 and many times you get stuck behind motorhomes going slow. Sometimes, highway 101 goes through the middle of town so it slows way down there too.

I hope you have a lot of time planned for this trip so you can take it all in, do the detours, and not be rushed.
Mark | Kent, WA

psy1
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by psy1 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:49 am

My advice is to fly and then rent a car. Yes, the drive is nice if you have never done it but it eats up a lot of time. You did not mention the length of your trip, but it is a month or more I would not chew up that much time with driving. Keep in mind that Olympic National Park is large so you will be driving a fair amount during that part of the trip. And Olympic is near Ranier NP which is worth seeing. And both are pretty close to Cascades NP. Lots to see out there including island hopping and the coast north of Seattle. All much better than driving through eastern Montana.

If you really want the drive, consider a one-way rental car out there and a one-way flight back. Or vice versa depending on cost and planning.

Charon
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Charon » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:34 pm

Calhoon wrote:
Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:35 pm
As for the drive 00 10 years ago wound up on a pretty intense road going through the rockies that wasn't rugged, the road was fine, but it was costantly switchbacking, hairpin turns with steep drop offs. That was with the rented car and I think by the time we got back it needed new brakes and the transmission fluid changed.
For those from flat places, remember that on long downhills you should downshift to avoid riding the brake all the time. There are people who drive I-70 in Colorado every week - you don't think they need to change their brakes that frequently, do you?

I-90 is a mellow drive, and will be pretty once you hit western Montana. The northern Rockies are not as high as the Colorado Rockies. (The passes can still be exciting if you're in a thunderstorm, but...) If you go through Mount Rainier NP, that will be the most mountainous (steep drop off, etc.) portion of your drive, but people do it in RVs.

High clearance vehicles can be nice for trailheads. 4WD is not necessary.

Olympic NP is special. It is once of the places on Earth most isolated from human-caused noise. Allow enough time to savor it.

TheMadEph
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by TheMadEph » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:45 pm

bigb wrote:
Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:32 pm
Recommend on the way there taking highway 20 through Washington to see cascade national park. From there continue the drive on 20 to coupeville on whidbey island to take the ferry to port Townsend in order to reach the peninsula/Olympic national park. This route will take you over deception pass which is a must see/stop. If your planning a long trip you could also spend some extra time taking the ferries to visit the San Juan islands. If you enjoy hiking my favorite is shi shi beach (if you do this walk to the end of the beach for point of the arches). Also near shi shi is a very short walk to the flattery rocks overlook, also a must see. It’s the most northwest point of the continental US. If you want more recommendations feel free to message me.

Chase
This guy is dialed in on correct route! North Cascades are awesome, stay in winthrop/mazama one night. Hikes from H20 are easily accessed too. I do not recommend taking I-90 unless it is winter when Highway 20 is closed.
May need to get a reservation for coupeville to port townsend ferry in summer.
Olympics are amazing, but most have long approach drives as mentioned above. If you drive to Hurricane Ridge, get there early because the parking lot fills up and you have to wait at bottom.

No one has mentioned this, but I would consider, if I were you, doing the return trip up into Canada - take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Then you could check out Vancouver island (maybe time for visit to Tofino/Ucluelet), before taking ferry back to mainland Canada and then driving through the provinces on Highway 1 in Canada. Stops in Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, etc. and a million other amazing places. But this is definitely more like a multiple week trip....

WhiteMaxima
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by WhiteMaxima » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:48 pm

Did twice from Michigan to Seattle. You will pass Mt Rushmore, Badland NP, Yellow Stone NP, Grand Tenton NP, Glacier NP, Mt Rainer NP and then Olympic NP. Best experience.

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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by alpenglow » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:57 pm

TheMadEph wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:45 pm
No one has mentioned this, but I would consider, if I were you, doing the return trip up into Canada - take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Then you could check out Vancouver island (maybe time for visit to Tofino/Ucluelet), before taking ferry back to mainland Canada and then driving through the provinces on Highway 1 in Canada. Stops in Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, etc. and a million other amazing places. But this is definitely more like a multiple week trip....
I think this is superb advice. My wife and I did a long trip before kids out of Seattle looping through Vancouver, Canadian Cascades, Revelstoke, Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Glacier NP, and back to Seattle. What a great trip - can't wait to get my kids out there for a shorter version. We've also done other loops with Olympic NP, Mt. Rainier, coastal Washington/Oregon, and Portland. There is just so much to see out there (we live in Metro NY area). I'm not exactly the spiritual type, but Mt. Rainier really had a presence.

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alpenglow
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by alpenglow » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:58 pm

TheMadEph wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:45 pm
No one has mentioned this, but I would consider, if I were you, doing the return trip up into Canada - take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Then you could check out Vancouver island (maybe time for visit to Tofino/Ucluelet), before taking ferry back to mainland Canada and then driving through the provinces on Highway 1 in Canada. Stops in Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, etc. and a million other amazing places. But this is definitely more like a multiple week trip....
I think this is superb advice. My wife and I did a long trip before kids out of Seattle looping through Vancouver, Canadian Cascades, Revelstoke, Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Glacier NP, and back to Seattle. What a great trip - can't wait to get my kids out there for a shorter version. We've also done other loops with Olympic NP, Mt. Rainier, coastal Washington/Oregon, and Portland. There is just so much to see out there (we live in Metro NY area). I'm not exactly the spiritual type, but Mt. Rainier really had a presence.

Edit: I'd still like to get out to the San Juan Islands some day.

Another edit: The wildflowers on top of Blackwall Peak in the Canadian Cascades were phenomenal. And you can drive to the top! It was one of the lowest effort, highest reward hikes I've ever taken.
Last edited by alpenglow on Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Wilderness Librarian
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Thu Jul 11, 2019 2:41 pm

TheMadEph wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:45 pm
bigb wrote:
Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:32 pm
Recommend on the way there taking highway 20 through Washington to see cascade national park. From there continue the drive on 20 to coupeville on whidbey island to take the ferry to port Townsend in order to reach the peninsula/Olympic national park. This route will take you over deception pass which is a must see/stop. If your planning a long trip you could also spend some extra time taking the ferries to visit the San Juan islands. If you enjoy hiking my favorite is shi shi beach (if you do this walk to the end of the beach for point of the arches). Also near shi shi is a very short walk to the flattery rocks overlook, also a must see. It’s the most northwest point of the continental US. If you want more recommendations feel free to message me.

Chase
This guy is dialed in on correct route! North Cascades are awesome, stay in winthrop/mazama one night. Hikes from H20 are easily accessed too. I do not recommend taking I-90 unless it is winter when Highway 20 is closed.
May need to get a reservation for coupeville to port townsend ferry in summer.
Olympics are amazing, but most have long approach drives as mentioned above. If you drive to Hurricane Ridge, get there early because the parking lot fills up and you have to wait at bottom.

No one has mentioned this, but I would consider, if I were you, doing the return trip up into Canada - take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Then you could check out Vancouver island (maybe time for visit to Tofino/Ucluelet), before taking ferry back to mainland Canada and then driving through the provinces on Highway 1 in Canada. Stops in Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, etc. and a million other amazing places. But this is definitely more like a multiple week trip....
Actually I had thought about mentioning both North Cascades Highway & Canadian alternatives - but the original posting seems to be emphatic about highballing down the interstate and maxing other time in one single area. I don't think the OP has ever indicated a timeframe. Even highballing would probably mean a min. of 2 or 2.5 weeks door to door if much was done at the far end - 3 weeks better. So longer routes would increase this significantly. At least for me a return drive is really exhausting especially after doing vigorous hiking etc. So I would keep driving minimal unless 4 or more weeks door to door is possible.

wanderer
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by wanderer » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:51 pm

Some ideas I didn't see listed above.

If you ride bikes, very highly recommend https://www.ridethehiawatha.com/. It's in Idaho, near the Montana border.
Wallace, ID is a nice stop for mining history and great craft brewery/diner for dinner afterwards the ride.

Near Missoula, MT is one of the more convenient, and well documented stops for Lewis and Clark's routes - called Traveler's Rest (Near Lolo, MT).
Near Three Forks, MT is the Headwaters of the Missouri River, again a L&C site.

If you take I-94, Wibaux, MT had a nice craft brewery. Beach, ND has great artisan pottery. Teddy Roosevelt NP is by Medora, ND. If just a short time, at least stop at the Painted Canyon Overlook right off I-94.

In Montana, off the I-90 route, is Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument (Custer's Last stand).

All easily accessible by standard auto, by the way.

Mickey7
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Re: Drive to Olympic National Park from Midwest

Post by Mickey7 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 10:08 pm

OP what is your time frame and who is going with you?
It is 2000 miles from Madison to Olympic or approximately nearly 37 hours straight driving, one way.
If you have the time go for it, the Interstate will be fine. There is a lot to see, get some maps and start researching it out now. Many of the places mentioned are great, but each one will be an hour or two off 90. Be selective, if not you will be limiting your time in Olympic which is your goal. If you have a month or at least 3 weeks do everything, A park like Glacier is really a minimum 3-4 full days to get any feel for it, but worth every minute of it.
If it is just you and your SO or a friend, just fire it up and go, with kids, well you know them better than any of us.

With less time (2 weeks) and for more money, as it always works out, consider flying into Seattle and renting a car. You will free yourself up to see Mt. Rainier, Cascades and have more time in Olympic. Then if you want take a drive to Portland, there is a ton to see and experience. If you live near an Amtrak station, drop the car off in Portland and take the Amtrak home. This is one of the premier train rides going up the Columbia Gorge, through the Rockies and across the heartland. If your time is more limited, cut out the Portland side trip and take Amtrak from Seattle or fly home.

If your intent on the road trip, which is great in itself, consider driving straight through to Olympic to maximize your time and filling in the remainder of your trip with the other side trips.

For research get on the National Parks website, you can also make your camping reservations on it. Whatever you decide this will be a great trip!

Enjoy

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