Olympic National Park
Three distinct ecosystems make up this 1,427-square-mile peninsular park: Pacific shoreline, subalpine forest and meadowland, and coastal-Northwest rain forest. In addition, many rivers meander through the park’s glacier-carved mountain range, which is described by locals as a "gift from the sea." Is it any wonder that the park has been designated a United Nations' World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve? Glaciers isolated the peninsula from the continent during the Ice Age, resulting in more than 20 kinds of wildflowers and animals that are unique to the area. The Ice Age also kept out certain flora and fauna found elsewhere in the region.
You won't see grizzly bears or porcupines here. Instead, be on the lookout for gray whales, harbor seals, river and sea otters, several varieties of salamander, Olympic marmot, Roosevelt elk, black-tailed deer, bobcats, cougars, and black bears. (Some believe this list should include the giant hairy hominid known as Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Before you scoff at the idea, note that among the believers are lifelong and seasoned regional backcountry hikers, trackers, and hunters as well as biologists and other researchers.)
You can readily combine a trip to the park with coastal explorations. Beaches in the south tend to be sandy, while those to the north are rocky. Regardless, the drive along U.S. 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway/Scenic Byway) has many overlooks as well as several short trails down to the beach. Not far from shore, in the park’s southwestern reaches, is the Hoh Rain Forest. Learn about the mild climate and lush vegetation at its visitors center, just off U.S. 101. Then consider taking the mile-long Hall of Mosses or one of eight other trails into the forest to see conifer and maple trees covered in licorice ferns and club moss, as well as towering spruce, hemlock, and western red cedar. You can also follow the Hoh River on Spruce Nature Trail, which is just over a mile long. Red alder, willow, and Douglas fir reach above the rain forest while hemlock and spruce grow luxuriantly in their shadow.
Note that there are also Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest Service information centers 31 miles to the north, in the town of Forks, as well as an Olympic National Forest ranger station in Quinault, 67 miles south of Forks. The main visitors and wilderness-information center is in Port Angeles, on the park’s northeastern edge and some 56 miles north of Forks. En route from Forks is the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, where exhibits and information focus on the Olympic Mountains. On a clear day, the peak and glacier views from here are spectacular. Check the forecast before heading out, though; the ridge was named for its sometimes severe winter storms.
From here it’s a 45-minute, 17-mile drive amid subalpine forest and meadows to Port Angeles. Olympic National Park has more than 900 sites in its 16 campgrounds; some are open year-round (like the park itself, though, winter weather closes some roads) and have a two-week limit. All but the Kalaloch site are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reserve Kalaloch sites online June through September. Backpackers can venture into more remote sites with a permit.
3002 Mount Angeles Rd.
- Port Angeles, Washington 98362
- 48.09990100, -123.42501500
- Visit Website
- (360) 565-3130