The attraction of Olympic National Park rests in its diversity of habitat, scenic vistas, flora and fauna.
At Olympic, a visitor can walk alone on a remote ocean beach. A short drive away, the same visitor can walk amid the moss-laden trees of the temperate rain forest. A day trip to the park can end at Hurricane Ridge. Its 5,242-foot elevation allows a visitor to gaze south into the mountainous heart of the park or north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island.
The park is home to the largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk in the Northwest, trees that were old before the first Europeans gazed upon the Olympic Peninsula, and delicate alpine wildflowers, such as the Piper’s bellflower, found only in the Olympic Mountains.
It’s that natural diversity that led to the park’s creation June 29, 1938.
As the park celebrates its 75th anniversary, we compiled a list of 75 facts and suggestions of things to do in the park. If there is a time to visit the park, this just might be it.
GENERAL PARK INFO
The park covers 922,651 acres of three distinct habitat zones, the alpine region, the coastline and the temperate rain forest. At 1,441 square miles, the park is larger than Rhode Island (1,214 square miles).
In 1897, the land that is now within the park was first federally protected when President Grover Cleveland designated the Olympic Forest Reserve.
In 1909, hoping to protect the habitat of Roosevelt elk, President Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to designate part of the reserve as Mount Olympus National Monument.
In 1988, 95 percent of the park was designated as wilderness by Congress. This year the park started developing a wilderness stewardship plan.
In 1976, the park was named an International Biosphere Reserve by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. In 1981, the park was made a World Heritage Site by the World Heritage Convention.
In 2011, the U.S. Mint released a quarter honoring the park, part of the mint’s America the Beautiful series. The back of the quarter featured a Roosevelt elk standing on a gravel river bar of the Hoh River with a view of Mount Olympus
Olympic is home to 910 campsites in 16 campgrounds, more than Mount Rainier (four) and North Cascades (five) combined. All but Kalaloch are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Make your exploration of the park’s wilds a little comfier by staying at a lodge such as Kalaloch, Crescent Lake, Sol Duc Hot Springs or the Log Cabin Resort. For more information visit olympicnationalparks.com.
There were 2,824,908 recreational visits to the park in 2012. The park had its highest visitation in 1997, with 3,846,709 visits.
Whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise, the U.S. Highway 101 loop around the Olympic Peninsula might be the Northwest’s most iconic road trip. The loop takes you to or near every entry to Olympic National Park as well as many places worth stopping outside the park. Give yourself plenty of time to make this trip.
The Olympic Peninsula, and the park, has been the home of eight tribes – the Hoh, Ozette, Makah, Quinault, Quileute, Queets, Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam.
Archaeological investigations show human occupation of park lands dates back at least 12,000 years. More than 650 archaeological sites have been cataloged.
Fragments of a woven basket, estimated to be 2,900 years old, were found near Obstruction Point southeast of Hurricane Ridge.
In 2009, a park visitor discovered a fossilized sea star near Kalaloch Beach No. 4. It was later determined that the sea star was an estimated 15 million years old.
The Log Cabin Hotel, on the shore of Lake Crescent, was built in 1895. The current Log Cabin Resort sits on the same site.
Water, snow and ice
There are 60 named glaciers in the park. The longest glacier is the Hoh at 3.06 miles.
The 2.6-mile Blue Glacier is the largest in the park. Measuring 500-1,000 feet thick, one researcher calculated it would be equivalent to 20 trillion ice cubes.
Put skiing at the park on your to-do list for the winter. Olympic is one of only three National Parks with lift-served ski runs. The runs are short and you had better have good gloves because the ski area uses rope tows and a poma lift. Get more information at hurricaneridge.net
The Hurricane Ridge Ski Area opened in 1958. The Deer Park Ski Area, now closed, opened in 1936.
The ski area is open weekends and some holidays from mid-December through March. Getting an average annual snowfall of 400 inches, the ski area attracts about 5,000 people each winter.
It’s 1.8 miles round trip from the Storm King Information Station to the 90-foot Marymere Falls.
Bob Gooding of Olympic Sports Goods in Forks says the park has “gobs of lakes with great fishing. But most of them are a long walk and most of the people who visit them are hikers.” Ozette Lake, he says, is a good place for catching trout, yellow perch and bass.” Lake Crescent is home to Beardslee strain rainbow trout and Crescenti cutthroat trout.
Except for recent years, you have been able to dig for razor clams in the Kalaloch area. The area where clamming is allowed is between South Beach and Third Beach at Kalaloch. The area was closed for the 2012-13 season. For more information on razor clam regulations, visit wdfw.wa.gov
Lake Ozette, the third-largest lake in Washington, can be an excellent place for a boating adventure. There are several small backcountry camps along the shore that can be reached by boat, but the most popular destination is Ericson’s Bay Camp. It’s the only camp with pit toilets. The camp is about a 4-mile paddle from the boat launch at the north end of the lake.
A short wheelchair accessible path from Elwha Valley Road takes visitors to Madison Falls, cascading over a green mossy cliff.
A short walk (less than a mile) takes visitors to the 50-foot Sol Duc Falls. Viewed from a bridge, the falls start above visitors’ heads and drop far below their feet.
ELWHA RIVER RESTORATION
In September 2011, the park and partners began the largest dam removal project in the United States, taking down the Elwha (began operations in 1913) and Glines Canyon (1927) dams on the Elwha River. The $300 million project should be completed in September 2014.
More than 2,000 pounds of native seeds have been planted in former Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell. In addition, more than 67,000 seedlings have been planted to restore native vegetation at the dam sites and reservoirs. Over the next five years, another 350,000 native seedlings and 5,000 pounds of seeds will be planted.
When the removal is complete, an additional 70 miles of river habitat will be available for spawning by all five species of Pacific salmon and steelhead.
In August 2012, a female adult chinook salmon was seen in the Elwha river, less than five months after removal of the Elwha Dam began.
Port Angeles-based Olympic Raft and Kayak leads trips on the Elwha River starting inside the park. However, the guide service is still determining if it will be safe to guide on the river this summer. Sections of the river can be choked with logs during the restoration project, making the river unsafe. The company also guides on the Sol Duc and Hoh rivers. For more information, visit raftandkayak.com.
Daniel Phillips, a guide for Olympic Raft and Kayak, says the Elwha River drainage is one of his favorite places to hike in the park. “It’s one of the most beautiful rivers in the world,” he said.
From black bears, mountain goats and Roosevelt elk to marmots, raccoons and birds, Olympic National Park is an ideal place for viewing wildlife. Just be sure to keep your distance, hang your food in the backcountry and don’t feed the critters.
There are at least 16 kinds of animals that are endemic to the park. The list of animals includes the Olympic marmot, Olympic yellow-pine chipmunk and Arionid jumping slug.
There have been 37 native fish species identified in the park, including the Olympic mudminnow that is found only on the peninsula and other locations in Western Washington.
Adult Roosevelt elk can stand 4-5 feet high at the shoulder and weigh up to 1,100 pounds.
PARK PLANT LIFE
There are more than 1,450 types of vascular plants that grow on the Peninsula. According to park biologists, that is nearly the same number found on the British Isles, an area 30 times larger.
The Hoh Rain Forest receives 12-14 feet of rain each year, most of it falling during the winter.
The park is home to plenty of large trees, including the largest Alaska yellow cedar. At its widest, the tree’s circumference is 371/2 feet and the tree reaches a height of 120 feet. The tree is in the Quinault Rain Forest, just off the Big Creek Trail.
Home to ancient giant trees, the Quinault Rain Forest puts visitors in their place. Hike the Valley of the Giants and view these towering trees. Also, the Rainforest Loop Drive circles the lake. Get more info at quinaultrainforest.com.
Just off Highway 101 near Ruby Beach, you will find another epic photo op in the form of the Big Cedar Tree, rising 125 feet.
At the other end of the size spectrum, the pink flowers of smooth Douglasia grow only an inch or two above a dense mat of green leaves amid the rocks high in the mountains.
In the Hoh Rain Forest, the moss-covered trees, hanging lichen and thick trees blocking out the sun create an eerie beauty. Be sure to check out the Hall of Mosses Trail, where you’ll find more green than inside of LeBron James’ wallet. Get away from the crowds by hiking or camping on the South Fork of the Hoh.
The highest point in the Olympic Mountains, Mount Olympus’ West Peak, is 7,980 feet above sea level. The mountain ranks fourth in the state in terms of prominence, but is not among Washington’s 100 highest peaks.
Mount Olympus was first sighted in 1774 by the Spanish explorer Juan Pérez, who named it “El Cerro de la Santa Rosalia.” On July 4, 1778, British explorer John Meares gave the mountain its current name.
Getting to the top of Mount Olympus is no easy feat. You’ll have to make a 17.4-mile approach along the Hoh River just to reach the Blue Glacier.
At 7,330 feet high, Mount Anderson is at the center of three major watersheds in the Olympic Range. From its slopes, water flows into Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Eleven major river systems flow out of the Olympics.
The Olympics were originally called “Sun-a-do” by the Duwamish Indians. Geologists estimate the mountains began rising out of the ocean about 12 million years ago.
You’ll have to log about 50 miles to hike the entire Skyline Trail. The trail is sometimes as primitive and challenging as it is scenic. This route at the south end of the park is best traveled in late summer. Check in with rangers for most recent route conditions before your trip.
The park includes 73 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. Among the beaches are easy-to-reach locations such as Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach and Kalaloch. The park also is known for remote destinations such as Shi Shi Beach.
Point of the Arches, at the southern end of Shi Shi Beach, has also been named a National Natural Landmark.
The Point of the Arches is a photographer’s dream and an ideal place to spend a day absorbing the coast’s beauty. Hikers can link Cape Alava and Shi Shi for a scenic one-way hike. Know the tides before you go so you don’t get trapped.
Ocean overlooks in the Kalaloch area offer good opportunities to spot migrating gray whales. March, April and May are the best times to see the whales as they migrate from the waters off Baja California to Alaska.
Even if you’re over the “Twilight” vampire love phenomenon, Second Beach at the end of a sometimes-muddy three-quarter-mile hike is a great place to enjoy Washington’s coastal beauty. And yes, for you Twi-hards, it was used for a scene in one of Stephenie Meyer’s books.
Kalaloch is one of the most coveted campgrounds on the Olympic Peninsula. Make sure one of the 170 sites are available before you make the drive. Reservations cna be made June 19-Sept. 2.
Hole in the Wall, an arch in a rock outcropping on Rialto Beach, is a splendid photo opportunity and just a 1-mile stroll from the beach parking lot. Camping is permitted in the area.
The easy 3-mile boardwalk, one of two in the area, to Cape Alava is an excellent choice for children’s first backpacking trip. But be warned: Dry firewood is hard to come by and the raccoons will steal your food if you don’t use bear canisters. Can’t choose between Cape Alava and Rialto Beach? Why not link them with a 23-mile backpacking trip.
In a manner of speaking, rock skipping is an Olympic sport and Ruby Beach is the training ground. A short downhill walk from the parking lot, the beach is covered with rocks worn smooth by the ocean.
Take your pick of long or short hikes, take in the views of the mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca or learn about the park at the visitor center. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Climb 4,300 feet over 18 miles from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge on Aug. 4 during Ride the Hurricane, a non-competitive bicycle ride. The road will be closed to vehicle traffic from 7 a.m.-noon. Registration is $35 and $5 from each entry goes to the development of the Olympic Discovery Trail. For more information, visit www.portangeles.org.
One of several scenic hikes starting at Hurricane Ridge, you can almost always count on seeing plenty of hikers on the 3-mile trip to Hurricane Hill. Pass through fields of colorful wildflowers before reaching the top where the view includes peaks in British Columbia and Washington’s North Cascades.
Staircase, in the southeast corner of the park, is the closest park access point to Tacoma and Olympia. Day hikes in the area range from easy (Rapids Loop) to challenging (Wagonwheel Lake).
Portions of the North Fork Skokomish River Trail in the Staircase area of the park follow the trail first cut in 1890. Lieutenant Joseph P. O’Neil led the first exploratory expedition that crossed the southern stretch of the Olympics. The expedition members cut a 5-foot-wide path across 93 miles of wilderness.
The Staircase area got its name from the 1890 expedition. As they built the path, a rock bluff across the river from the present-day campground stood in the way. To get over it, expedition members built a staircase out of cedar logs. Until 1911, when the Shady Lane Trail was built, the “Devil’s Staircase” was the only way over the bluff.
Just to the north, challenge yourself with a 14-mile roundtrip hike climbing high above Lena Lake in Olympic National Forest and continue into the park to Upper Lena Lake. The way can be rough and is best traveled in late summer.
THE NORTH SIDE
The Sol Duc Hot Springs have a freshwater pool and three hot spring soaking pools varying in temperature. The pools are cleaned nightly and tested twice a day. The undeveloped Olympic Hot Springs are a less-crowded option, but the Olympic Hot Spring Road is closed during the Elwha Restoration project. The springs can still be accessed by hiking in over Aurora Ridge or Appleton Pass.
Located on the northern end of Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent is an ideal place to camp, play in the water and tell ghost stories. Local lore includes the tale of a woman whose body was found in the lake. She was bound, strangled and her body turned to soap. Some say her spirit still haunts the lake.
The 20-mile High Divide loop on the north side of the park is one of the peninsula’s classic backpacking trips. The trip offers views of the mountains, lakes, waterfalls and an above average chance of seeing bears.
HITTING THE TRAIL
There are 611 miles of trails in the park. That would be the equivalent of driving Interstate 5 from Tacoma to Corning, Calif.
The Washington Trails Association organizes crews to help maintain and repair trails in Olympic National Park. On Tuesday, a crew is working on the Lena Lake Trail. On Saturday, they’re tending to the Dry Creek Trail. Visit wta.org to find information on other work parties.
Starting from the Graves Creek campground, the Enchanted Valley carved by the Quinault River offers an excellent backpacking destination. The 26.4-mile roundtrip to the valley campground offers several photo ops including waterfalls.
Lake Angeles, a sub-alpine basin with its trademark island, can be reached with a 3.5-mile climb from the Heart O’ the Hills Ranger Station. The trail is open to livestock. Up for a bigger day? Continue up to Klahhane Ridge and over Victor Pass before looping back to the ranger station via the Heather Park Trail to finish the 12.5-mile circuit.
The trail to Lake Constance, climbs more than 3,000 feet in 2 miles and requires scrambling in some sections. Definitely not a hike for everybody, but definitely an opportunity for experienced hikers to get away from the crowds.
Visiting Royal Basin and Royal Lake requires a 14-mile roundtrip but can be done in a day or as a backpacking trip. This hike starts in Olympic National Forest off of Forest Road 2870 south of Sequim, but soon enters the park. The trail follows Royal Creek most of the way.
The Bailey Traverse, the park’s famous off-trail route usually traveled north to south, offers consistently stunning scenery and should only be attempted by experienced backcountry travelers with proven route finding skills. You’ll spend several days scrambling across the mountain tops to complete this trip and you aren’t likely to see many others along the way.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Phone: 360-565-3130; road and weather hotline, 360-565-3131
Online: nps.gov/olym, facebook.com/OlympicNPS
Friends of Olympic National Park: friendsonp.org
Lodging: For Sol Duc Hot Springs, Lake Crescent Lodge, Log Cabin Resort and Lake Quinault Lodge (outside the park), go to olympicnationalparks.com. For Kalaloch Lodge, go to thekalalochlodge.com.
GET IN FREE
As part of the park’s 75th anniversary celebration, the $15 entrance fee will be waived Saturday.
“We invite people to come make new memories in the park, especially on our official birthday date, when entrance fees will be waived,” superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement.
Campground and overnight wilderness use fees still will apply.