Olympic National Park located in Washington State is a wonderland of natural beauty. Glacier-capped peaks, wildflowers of Eden, a paradise of mosses and ferns, rock-lined beaches with tucked away tide pools.
If you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, it is well worth it to road trip your way through this geographically diverse park. Olympic contains three distinct ecosystems, all are worthy of exploration.
A view from Hurricane Ridge is reminiscent of Austria. Crowns of snow-laden mountains, grazing deer, lush green meadows. You’ll find yourself looking over your shoulder expecting to see the Von Trapp children singing and twirling through the fields.
From the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center be sure to meander the paved paths of the Cirque Rim for sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains. Just down the road from the visitor center is a wonderful hike. Hurricane Hill is about 3.5 miles roundtrip and though it is an incline, the path is paved and lined with wildflowers, making the slope more bearable. At the top of the ridge look across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and wave to your Canadian neighbors.
Sub-alpine forests lie below the tree line of these mountains. Wind your way down the ridge and through the trees to Lake Crescent. This glacially-carved lake is perfect for kayaking or a shore-side stroll.
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With twelve to fourteen feet of rain a year, these temperate rainforests form the wettest lands in the continental United States. Such precipitation creates a fairyland of mosses and ferns that decorate the trees, stumps and dirt. The trees – mostly Sitka spruces and western hemlocks – are often hundreds of years old and can reach a height of 250 feet.
Walk through these American jungles by visiting the Hoh Rainforest Ranger Station. From there, you can choose to walk an assortment of flat, easy paths like the “Hall of Mosses” (a .8 mile loop) or the “Spruce Nature Trail” (a 1.2 mile path). You may also walk along the Hoh River – a river that begins from the top of Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in the Olympic Mountains, and makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. Though the Hoh River Trail in its entirety is 17.3 miles, you can easily choose to wander a few miles in and then turn around. Along the banks of the river you can often spot herds of elk that feed on the lichen, shrubs and ferns found in the forest.
If you’re unable to make it to the Hoh Rainforest, you can also choose to explore the Quinault Rainforest, farther south.
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Olympic National Park contains 73-miles of coastline, providing countless beaches to explore – some rugged, some sandy. Check the tide charts and walk along the beating Pacific Ocean or sit and enjoy a sunset.
If looking to stretch your legs, you should consider doing all or part of the Ozette Loop. Located in the northernmost part of the park, this hike wanders through coastal forest, reminiscent of the Hoh Rainforest though not as densely packed. Leaving from the Ozette Ranger Station, you can either choose to walk the 3.1 miles to Cape Alava or the 2.8 miles to Sandpoint. Both of these hikes have trails made mostly of boardwalk and end on the coastline, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. At this point, you can either choose to walk the 3.1 or 2.8 miles back to your car or, if you check the tide charts carefully, you can complete the Ozette Loop, walking another 3.1 miles on the beach and connect to the alternative path home, forming a 9-mile loop.
This beach, about 30 minutes west of the town of Forks, is filled with huge sun-bleached drift logs. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean, you can see seastacks, offshore islands that look like huge rocks jutting out of the water. If you check with the tide charts, you can walk 1.5 miles north on the beach to see “Hole-in-the-Wall,” an archway in a huge rock formed by the beatings of the ocean.
This is one of the most breathtaking beaches in the park that should not be missed. Explore the rugged coastline and driftwood. Neighboring beaches such as Beach 4 contain tide pools and during the summer park rangers provide talks and tours of these colorful, diverse habitats.
Nearby is Kalaloch Lodge, one of several hotels in the park. Stay or eat here and enjoy the spectacular view over the coastline.
This park contains 1,442 square miles of magical landscapes. It is hard to cover all the territory quickly but any glimpse into the wondrous mountains, rainforests or shorelines of the park is well worth it. Visit the National Park website for further details and tips.