Q: We are traveling to Olympic National Park in July. We have two small children, ages three and four. Do you think the coastal hikes are realistic? Do we need reservations?
John Perdaems, Bozeman, Montana
A: Though there's plenty of challenge to be found in Olympic's 600-plus miles of trails, some of what passes for a "hike" in official park parlance would barely qualify as a stroll in other venues. Case in point: the Realto Beach Trail, a paved, 0.1-mile walkway that connects a parking lot to an ocean lookout. The payoff is a great view of the beach and a nearby island, but getting there wouldn't tire a toddler.
Assuming that blacktop isn't your terrain of choice, you might instead try the gentle, 0.7-mile path that runs from the end of La Push Road to sandy Second Beach. Tide pools are the big attraction here, but it's also an ideal place to view the park's famed sea stacks. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, you could head up north to the Lake Ozette region, where a wooden boardwalk runs three miles from the forest to the beach.
Reservations aren't an issuethe 16 campgrounds are first-come, first-served. In the summertime, it helps to get there on a weekday. But the only way to guarantee yourselves a place to sleep is to stay at one of the park's four lodges. The Kalaloch Lodge (www.visitkalaloch.com; 360-962-2271) ranks high among families because of its proximity to easy beach hikes. You can set up a comfy base camp in a Pacific-facing log cabin, then spend your days scouting anemones and digging for clams.
For trail maps and additional park info, contact the Visitor Center at 360-565-3130 or email OLYM_Visitor_Center@nps.gov.