OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
American Park Network
The three areas of Olympic National Park - the mountains, forest, and coast - are accessed by U.S. 101 with spur roads leading to some areas. For an orientation to the park, begin your visit at Olympic Park Visitor Center, located in Port Angeles. If you only have a day to spend in the area, see the aptly titled section "If You Only Have a Day."
Take the spur road off U.S. 101 leading to Hurricane Ridge. Leaving the coastal plain of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the road enters the lowland forest at Olympic Park Visitor Center and winds up to the high mountain ridges. The magnificent vistas of Hurricane Ridge showcase the glacier-covered peaks, subalpine tundra, and steep river valleys of the Olympic Mountains. In summer, wildflowers carpet the subalpine meadows, spreading softly before a backdrop of rugged peaks and glaciers. Join a park naturalist in summer for a walk through the meadows.
The best view of Mount Olympus is from Obstruction Point Road, which is a steep 8.4-mile dirt road going east from Hurricane Ridge. (Open mid-summer to early fall.)
"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harper hoar, wit hbeards that rest on their bosoms."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Return to Port Angeles and continue west on U.S. 101. Soon you will see glacier-carved Lake Crescent, a deep, freshwater fishing lake known for its Beardslee trout. Travel writer H. F. Dodge wrote of it in 1903, "As I turned for a last glimpse of the beautiful blue lake dissolving in the firs, I said to myself, 'This is surely hard to beat.' Gem indeed of the Olympics, and worth three times the stay." For information on boat tours click here. Less than a mile from the lake is Marymere Falls, a ribbon of water cascading 90 feet to a pool below. West of Lake Crescent, a spur road leads to Sol Duc. According to Native American legend, the Sol Duc Hot Springs here were formed when two dragons had a great fight lasting many years. They knocked down all the timber from the tops of the mountains and scattered boulders throug hthe valleys. The dragons' skins flew off and became the mosses and lichens hanging from the trees of the rain forest. When neither dragon could defeat the other, they both crept back to their caves. The hot tears they cried formed Sol Duc and Olympic hot springs. Trails lead to Salmon Cascades, Sol Duc Falls and to ancient forests.
Access the Hoh Rain Forest and its visitor center by taking a spur road off coastal U.S. 101. When you enter the emerald-green, primeval world of the Hoh Rain Forest, you almost expect to see elves and fairies hiding among the towering, moss-covered trees. Located on the moist west side of the park, 30 miles from the coast, this temperate rain forest receives 140 inches of rainfall annually. Some of the world's largest trees grow here. Sitka spruce, western red cedar, and western hemlock tower up to 200 feet above the ground. Ferns arc like feathers from the forest floor. Mosses shroud the trees, covering the trunks in fuzzy green. The air is heavy with moisture, and sounds are muffled. Nowhere is bare earth visible as salmonberry, blackberry, trillium, licorice, sword and maidenhair fern, vine maple, and countless other plants compete for space and nutrients.
Stretch your legs on a self-guided trail or a ranger-led nature walk in the rain forest. The Hall of Mosses Trail, a self-guided 0.75-mile nature trail, gives an introduction to the flora and ecology of the rain forest. The Spruce Nature Trail, 1.3 miles, offers a slightly longer foray into the forest. The Hoh River Trail leads the hiker deep into the hushed, primeval world of the Hoh. This 17-mile trail continues on to Glacier Meadows, with its summer wildflowers, and the Blue Glacier moraine. Blue Glacier is one of the six glaciers that adorn the slopes of Mount Olympus. This icy expanse flowing down the face of the mountain is 3 miles long and 900 feet thick. This is also the shortest route up 7,965-foot Mount Olympus, the highest point in the park, but reaching the summit requires mountaineering skills.
Another accessible but less crowded rain forest is Quinault, located in the Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest (32 miles south of Kalaloch). Take the North or South Shore spur roads off U.S. 101. Glacier- carved Lake Quinault, with its deep, clear waters and forest-ringed shore, is a popular fishing site. You can obtain a fishing permit from the Quinault Indian Reservation at local stores.
Why So Much Rain?
When it comes to rain, the Olympic Peninsula has few equals; the western valleys of the Olympic Mountains receive from 120 to 167 inches of rain annually. That is more rain than anywhere else in the continental U.S. Three factors produce the amazing amount of rain that falls on the Peninsula - the cool ocean currents, prevailing westerly winds, and the Olympic Mountains. When moisture-laden clouds moving east from the Pacific meet the Olympic Mountains, they rise sharply. The clouds cool further and release their moisture in the form of rain or snow. Much of the moisture has rained out of the clouds by the time they cross the mountains, creating a dry rain shadow on the northeastern side. While the top of Mount Olympus is deluged by 200 inches of precipitation annually, the town of Sequim may get less than 16 inches because it is located on the dry northeastern side of the Olympics.
A COASTAL WORLD
While the large, interior portion of the park is characterized by forests and mountains, the coastal zone is a world apart. Eerie sea stacks, remnants of eroded coastal cliffs that loom out of the water, seem to guard the coastline. From Shi Shi Beach to Kalaloch, more than 50 miles of wilderness beaches off coastal U.S. 101 preserve a remnant of coastal habitat. Most beaches are accessible only by foot or by boat. In the pools and on the rocks of the tidal zone lives a diversity of marine life - barnacles, starfish, small crabs, and many other animals.
Join a park ranger for a summer guided tide pool walk or take a hike through the coastal forests at Mora or Kalaloch. Paths lead down to six different beaches from Ruby Beach to Kalaloch. Information, brochures, and publications are available at the Mora and Kalaloch ranger stations.
Ozette, located on a spur road off U.S. 112, in the far northwestern corner of the park, is home to several beaches where you can view sea stacks. Ozette Lake, the largest natural body of fresh water in Washington State, is also located here. Overnight hikes require reservations. You can hike, fish, boat, or visit the Makah Cultural and Research Center in nearby Neah Bay as well.