Two hours west of Seattle, three hours north of Portland and located on the infamous Highway 101 is one of the United State’s most beautiful and diverse parks. Encompassing 1,441 square miles of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula,
Olympic National Park is home to three distinct ecosystems, 60 miles of coastline, over 250 species of birds, and some of the world’s oldest and largest trees.
The first of the park’s three ecosystems is the rugged coastline, outlining the western border of the park. Given the temperate climate of the region and the rocky nature of the majority of the coast, these aren’t the lay out in the sun and tan kind of beaches found further south on the highway. Rather they are the type of beaches that make for exquisite walks, adventures, and camping. During the summer months it is warm enough to go for a swim, but the real beauty of the Olympic National park beaches lies in its unique landscape and marine wildlife. Rocky outcrops form tide pools littered with life and bigger rocks typically lying further out in the water create a stunning backdrop to your day at the beach. The coast is home to 29 species of marine mammal including various types of whales, sea lions, and otters. Puffins can also be seen lining the rocks on the horizon of the water.
Moving away from the coast, the environment changes to the temperate rainforest region of the park. Huge fir and spruce trees, with moss and ferns covering the trees and forest floors, dominate the park. This area of the park receives over 12 feet of rain per year and is home to some of the world’s cleanest and freshest air. The kind of air you wish could be bottled and sold in stores. This area of the park is littered with campgrounds and trails weaving throughout the colossal trees. In a park this expansive, there are plenty of options for where to stay and explore, the good thing about Olympic National Park is that you can’t really pick a bad spot, however I recommend The Quinault Valley. The valley hosts all the expansive hikes of the rainforest region, but is also divided by the Quinault River which runs into various lakes throughout the park creating great spots to go for a swim during a long hike.
The Quinault River originates in the third ecosystem within the park, deep within the Olympic Mountains. This region of subalpine forest and wildflower meadows creates another outstandingly beautiful area for outdoor activities and adventures. The highest peak on the mountains only goes to about 7,000 feet, which makes for hiking that isn’t terribly strenuous, but still allows for clear views of the entire region at the top. This region is also home to some unique wildlife, most famously the mountain goat. These big white creatures aren’t native to the mountain range, but were introduced in the 1920s and have made it their home, becoming one of the symbols for this region of the park. They look adorable and have a tendency to act adorably, but can be dangerous and have been reported to attack hikers, so I would probably resist the temptation to pet.
Weather may seem like a deterring factor given the park’s location. However, during the winter months the snow creates the perfect ski weekend or ethereal hiking environment, Hurricane Ridge opens for skiing during most weekends in the winter. During the spring and summer months when the sun is shining, there is no better place to be in the world. However, it does have a tendency to rain a lot, but what makes a more memorable camping trip than hiking through the rainforest and jumping into a lake as the rain comes cascading down on you from a misty blue sky? The rain only adds to the mystique of this beautiful region. Olympic National Park is a truly magical place, with a variety of wildlife and environments creating the perfect destination for either a weekend getaway or a long road trip along the 101.