Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is one of those rare jewels in America’s National Park System. It is sometimes referred to as “three parks in one.” The park offers a variety of bioclimatic zones within its boundaries—high mountains with glaciers and flower-laden, sub-alpine meadows, deep river valleys draped in temperate rainforest, and wild, rugged Pacific coast. Olympic’s west side receives roughly 135 inches of precipitation each year, while the park’s drier side receives as little as 16 inches annually. At nearly one million acres, the park is unique in that no road crosses its expanse, and thus, 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness. Visitors come from the world over to experience Olympic’s backcountry via its 611 miles of hiking trails. Yet, visitors to Olympic also find several options for a frontcountry experience. Visitor centers, grand lodges, rustic campgrounds, convenient picnic areas and easy trails to scenic destinations are found around the park’s perimeter.

Surrounded by saltwater on three sides, Olympic National Park is somewhat of an ecological island. Certain species found here are found nowhere else on earth, like the Olympic marmot and Piper’s bellflower. As such, Olympic National Park is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Record-size trees are found in several of the park’s west-side valleys, where conditions are just right for temperate rainforests. Also home to the park’s west side are the largest unmanaged herds of Roosevelt elk in the world. The elk played a large role in the protection of the park. Before Olympic was designated a national park in 1938, President Grover Cleveland created the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside Mount Olympus National Monument, in part, to protect the declining elk herds that today bear his name.

Human history in what is now Olympic National Park pre-dates the park’s creation by approximately 12,000 years. Evidence has been found around the Olympic Peninsula to suggest that the earliest inhabitants were hunters, followed by hunters and gatherers. As the human population of the peninsula grew, there was increased dependence on the abundant forests, rivers and ocean. Then, with the arrival of European explorers in the late 18th century, disease, competition for resources, and the disruption of customs forever changed the native way of life. Today, eight tribes have traditional associations with land inside Olympic National Park. The National Park Service works closely with these tribes to continue the protection of not only the precious natural resources, but also the cultural ties to park land and its resources.

NPCA’s Top Ten Olympic Experiences

  1. Stroll through an old growth, temperate rainforest in the Quinault or Hoh Valleys.
  2. Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk on Hurricane Ridge in the winter.
  3. Explore the Elwha Valley and learn about the historic restoration project that includes two dam removals to restore the Elwha watershed for salmon habitat.
  4. Plan a visit to Shi Shi Beach, one of Olympic’s most remote and scenic beaches. You might just see a passing whale!
  5. Spend a night in the charming Lake Crescent Lodge and wake up to the sound of the lapping waves of Lake Crescent, a deep, clear lake on the park’s northern boundary.
  6. If you enjoy waterfalls, don’t miss Sol Duc, Marymere and Madison Falls—for starters. There are many more waterfalls and cascades to be discovered in Olympic.
  7. For a good taste of pioneer history, hike the 5.5-mile Humes Ranch Loop Trail in the Elwha Valley. Don’t miss Goblins Gate along the way.
  8. Listen for the primal sounds of elk bugling in early autumn throughout Olympic’s west-side river valleys, like the Hoh, Bogachiel, Queets or Quinault.
  9. For backpacking, consider a trip to the Seven Lakes Basin/High Divide area or the Enchanted Valley. Chances of seeing a black bear in either destination are pretty high!
  10. Discover the rich cultural heritage of the Olympic Peninsula. Visit the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. Hike to the Wedding Rocks petroglyphs near Sand Point. Learn about the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe at their scenic rest area along U.S. Highway 101 in Blyn.

—Shane Farnor

Read More in NPCA's Park Advocate Blog

The Elwha River, Undammed at Last

The largest dam removal project in U.S. history is finally complete. Last month, park officials blasted out the last 30 feet of concrete from the Glines Canyon Dam, restoring the Elwha River to a free-flowing waterway.There’s plenty I could say about my recent rafting trip down the newly restored Elwha River, but sometimes a simple “Wooohoooo!” says it all. That was my natural reaction to more than a decade of work by NPCA and its partners to remove two antiquated dams from this spectacular northwestern river, restoring it to a […]

National Parks Plus Kids, Week Three: Olympic–A Gold Medal National Park for Kids

Lucas, Isabelle, and Craig Obey hug the largest spruce tree in the country.By Craig Obey, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Fresh after landing in Seattle and battling our rental car company to finally get the kind of vehicle we had reserved for a month on the road, we mercifully found ourselves in wondrous Olympic National Park. The massive trees enchanted us–towering, moss-laden rainforest wonders and carcasses littering […]

NPCA’s Favorite Trips: Tips for National Park Adventures Around the Country

denali-sleddogs-cThe summer travel season is here, and all 397 national parks will offer free admission this Saturday, June 9 for National Get Outdoors Day. Many of us are itching to get out into the parks for hiking, bird-watching, boating, and other adventures. Ready to try something different? Here are a few favorite destinations recommended by NPCA staff members around the country that […]
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Threats

Air pollution is among the most serious threats to national parks. The National Park Service has established the NPS air quality webcam network to show “live” digital images of more than a dozen parks. Click here to see current air conditions at Olympic National Park.

Trips

Pacific Northwest Legendary Landscapes

Explore the majestic natural environment of Mount Rainier and Olympic National parks on this late summer journey. 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

my face

August 31, 2014

what are they doing to conserve it

renee

May 27, 2014

we were delighted to be in this wonderful forest. its really amazayn!!!

mocking jay

March 31, 2014

wow i love this park its awesome

White Stallion

February 4, 2014

i like turtles :]

habibi

January 16, 2014

when was this park first opened

Bucky

December 28, 2013

Hi there everyone. We are planning on going to Washington State and visiting the three national parks out there. Any and all recommendation are truly appreciated. We would like info on trails especially getting as close as possible to the glaciers and the points for the best sunrises and sunsets. We cannot wait to camp and go hiking!!!!!!

ken

December 23, 2013

Please send me any information that would help me plan a trip in July/ August of 2014

Cairo

September 2, 2013

We were at Olympic for 3 days this summer. The park is simply stunning. There aren't many places that have the mountains, forests, and one of the top 10 beaches in the world (Ruby Beach, but it's far from the only option to choose from on the coast). The views from Hurricane Ridge and, if you have the time to hike up a bit farther, Hurricane Hill are incredible. You must go on a clear day, though. The rain forests have more shades of green than you could imagine existed, and the weathered stone pillars that appear as ghostly shadows through the fog on the beach are ethereal. Try to go at low tide to see the tide pools, but don't get caught when the tide comes in. Wildlife is plentiful as well - we saw elk and deer, and heard marmots. If you're in a hiking mood, you can really explore the interior of the park and see Mt. Olympus and the Blue Glacier up close via the trail to Glacier Meadows from the Hoh Rainforest, which probably connects with other trails as well. Backcountry hiking permits (needed for overnight camping) can be obtained at any visitor center, and camping sites are plentiful.

MrJoshua

February 27, 2012

One of the most special places IN THE WORLD! The proximity of rain forest, undeveloped beaches, and high alpine environments exists nowhere else on this planet. You will never forget it if you go...stays in your heart like a long lost love. The interior mountains are reminiscent of the North Cascades, and to camp on the beach trail while exploring tide pools at sunset is fabulous. As Warren Miller says at the end of all his ski movies...."Go now, because if you don't, you'll be one year older when you do"

Mark

November 26, 2011

When I first settled in Seattle years ago, almost literally the first thing I did was to set out--with a friend who had driven me to the city and helped me move in--to visit Olympic National Park. We were so unfamiliar with the area that (I guess somehow) we didn't know about the ferries and drove the long way via Tacoma. Arriving at the visitors center at Port Angeles, it was dark and rainy--and this was in August! Yet the word coming down from Hurricaine Ridge was that it was sunny and cloudless on top. We started up and couldn't help but wonder as mile after mile the rain continued to fall and the clouds darkened. Almost at the top, a glimmer of light! The last few twists and the blue sky began to reveal itself. Finally, arriving at the Ridge, an awesome sight I will never forget. All of a sudden it was bright and sunny, the snow capped mountains beyond separated from us by deep green valleys. I have returned many times since to Hurricaine Ridge, but nothing can compare with that first visit.

RCD

November 10, 2011

It was my first visit to Olympic National Park, and I can honestly say there wasn't a part of it that didn't take my breath away. The beautiful beaches, the mountains, the amazing trees in the rain forests...Need I say more. I can't tell you the amazing impact that this beautiful place(s) had on me. I hope that all who live in the area take full advantage of the beauty that surrounds you.

Vance McDill

November 10, 2011

I have backpacked to Shi Shi, Cape Alava and Sandpoint beaches. These areas are the epitime of the North American continent at their rawest. I can just imagine Native American fishing vilages camps along the shores where you would find salmon drying out on racks, ocean-going canoes, and the roar of the ocean's surf with noone else in sight for miles, just the people and the elements at their rawest. I have all respect for any one who can live in that environment on a day to day basis without any of the conveniences we take for granted in todays modern society.

Words

November 10, 2011

I recently drove across the country from Cochran, GA to Tacoma, WA visiting many parks along the way. Once I had been settled into the Pac NW for a while I began to spend time in it's numerous and wonderful National Parks. An ex-girlfriend and I spent 4 days camping out at Kalaloch beach. It was one of the most beautiful sights that I had ever seen. My first Pacific ocean sunset surrounded by the vast nature of Olympic National Park. We visited the Hoh Rainforest and hiked along many of the beach trails that dot the coast line. The pictures that we took and our experience with an elk makes this trip unforgettable.

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