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Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park offers a great variety of natural beauty including snowcapped mountain peaks, vast tracts of old-growth forest, rugged unspoiled shores and a temperate rain forest. It is an ideal destination for hiking, camping, backpacking, sea kayaking and sightseeing.

Where Is It?

The Olympic peninsula is located in the state of Washington, west of Seattle, at the northwestern tip of the lower 48 states. It is a square-shaped peninsula, approximately 100 miles on each side, bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, Puget Sound on the east and the Straight of Juan de Fuca on the north.

Olympic National Park covers a 50-mile circular area at the center of the peninsula plus most of the Pacific shoreline. Much of the land surrounding the Park is national forest.

Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park west of Seattle © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Nearly 8,000 ft. in elevation, Mount Olympus is the tallest mountain in the Olympic Mountains range and supports five glaciers.

The Olympic Mountains rise to just under 8000 feet but are heavily snowcapped and glaciated in all seasons. The constant warm, moist breezes from the Pacific Ocean bring astounding amounts of rain to the western slopes of the mountains and huge amounts of snow to the peaks. The western lowlands and valleys receive as much as 150 inches (380 cm) of rain every year, and the peaks can get over 125 feet (38 meters) of snow.

Olympic Park is easily accessible

The Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park are easy to reach with a few hours driving from Seattle, Washington. The quickest route is via ferryboat from Seattle to Bremerton, or from the northern Seattle suburb of Edmonds to Kingston. The voyage is very scenic and takes about an hour. The round-trip fare is roughly $15 for a car and $7 per passenger and pedestrian. You can also drive around the southern tip of Puget Sound at Tacoma and then drive north on the peninsula. But that will add many miles of driving and several extra hours to your journey.

The population on the Olympic peninsula is very sparse with most of the residents living in villages on the eastern and northern coasts. Port Townsend and Port Angeles on the northern shore are the main villages. There are also several other small but quaint fishing villages along this northern coast. The only significant town on the western side of the peninsula is the village of Forks. Port Townsend and Port Angeles offer a wide variety of accommodations. Forks has in the neighborhood of six motels and an equal number of restaurants.

There are few access roads into the park

Highway 101 almost completely circles the peninsula and the park. There are only a few access roads into the interior of the park. One popular access road goes south from Port Angeles for twenty miles and climbs 5000 feet to Hurricane Ridge. From there, the view of Mount Olympus and the interior of the park is fantastic. There are picnic facilities and restrooms at the visitor center and several good hiking trails. A small, unpaved road goes 9 miles south from Hurricane Ridge to Obstruction Point. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, but any car with reasonably high road clearance can make it. Few tourists ever try this road, so you will be away from crowds. The view is spectacular and the chances of seeing wild animals are great.

About 25 miles west of Port Angeles, another access road follows the Sol Duc River for 20 miles into the interior of the park to the Sol Duc Hot Springs. A resort there offers accommodations and camping near these natural mineral-laden hot waters.

More than 50 miles of undeveloped coast

The village of Forks lies 50 miles west of Port Angeles. It is a good place to stop for lunch or to stay overnight while exploring the Pacific beaches and the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains.

From Forks, and further south along route 101, there are several access roads westward to the Pacific shore. Here you find more than 50 miles of undeveloped natural shoreline. Most of it can be reached only by hiking or backpacking through the surrounding wilderness. The beaches are rugged with rocky cliffs, wave-carved promontories, sandy beaches and numerous isolated crags and rocky "haystacks" parked just off the shore. In many places the beaches are stacked with giant logs and tree stumps that have washed down from the mountain slopes and have been cast up and onto the shore by the pounding Pacific surf.

The rain forests are strange, mysterious places

About 15 miles south of Forks is an access road that follows the Hoh River Valley into the westward-facing slopes of the Olympic Mountains. It leads to the Hoh Rain Forest. About 40 miles farther south, another access road leads eastward along the Quinault River Valley to the Quinault Rain Forest. Both attractions have visitor centers with camping sites and nature trails.

Hoh Rain Forest on Olympic Penninsula west of Seattle © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center has two short nature trail loops: Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail. The Hoh River Trail, which leads to the backcountry, is also accessible at the visitor center.

The rain forests along these western slopes of the mountains are fantastic, mysterious places continuously shrouded in mist. Giant primeval fir trees tower as high as 300 feet above a forest floor carpeted with huge ferns and a wide variety of green plant life. The tree trunks and branches are festooned with curtains of green moss. Be sure to visit one of the rain forests!

This is a wonderland for hikers and backpackers

At the very northwestern tip of the peninsula, the Makah Indian Reservation covers a mere 6-mile square area. Here are some of the last Native Americans who continue to hunt whales with wooden harpoons from open canoes. The Makah Cultural Center has an interesting museum depicting the tribe's history and culture.

Olympic National Park, which has over 600 miles of trails, is a wonderland for hikers and backpackers. Some of the terrain is extremely rugged and wild. Although the mountains are not very high, they can be treacherous for unskilled mountaineers because of the year-round snowcaps and glaciers. This is authentic wilderness country.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: With its amazing ocean views, protruding sea stacks and tidal pools, Rialto Beach is a popular destination in Olympic National Park.