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Clallam County
Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

Morning at Lake Crescent

The Olympic National Park is huge and the vast majority of it is maintained as wilderness. It's location on the Olympic peninsula isolates it from other nearby land masses and helps to account for it's unique character. Part of the park stretches along the northwestern coast of Washington State and the rest occupies the heart of the peninsula. Highway 101 rings the park on the west, north, and south sides and provides access to it. The highway distance from Amanda Park on the southwestern corner of the park to Hoodsport near the southeastern corner is just over 200 miles. This is definitely not a park that can be "done" in a day or even a week. It is worthy of many visits and the folks who live nearby are very fortunate to have ready access to it's many wonders.

Numerous campgrounds are located near ranger stations and around the periphery of the park. A half dozen lodges are located within the park and numerous other lodging facilities are located in communities outside the park boundaries with most being concentrated in Port Angeles, Port Townsend, and Forks. Dining options are pretty well confined to where the lodging is located and other tourist services are to be found there as well. If you are visiting during the summer, I recommend that you make reservations early - whether you are camping or looking to stay in a particular community. (I found out the hard way that motels can fill up early.)

ReflectionsThe lower third of the coastal area of the park is accessed easily by Highway 101 which runs through it with a half dozen turnoffs giving access to the beach. The upper two thirds of the coastal portion of the park is accessed by three principal roads leading out from Highway 101 to three seaside Indian Reservations (Hoh, Quileute, and Ozette). The heart of the park (roughly 40 by 50 miles in size) is primarily accessed by eight roads that lead to ranger stations located just inside the park boundary. The mountainous center of the park is free of roads and is dominated by snow capped Mount Olympus which rises a mile and a half above sea level (home for six glaciers).

With an average rainfall measured in feet rather than inches (as much as twenty feet per year in some places), there is water everywhere. There are four large lakes inside the park and one more bordering it in the southeast. Rivers and streams flow away from the central mountains in every direction. Much of the area just outside of the park is part of the Olympic National Forest and there are several smaller wilderness areas tucked in against the eastern and southern borders of the park. The multifaceted forest that covers this area is the largest old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. Ancient trees that started life about the time that Leif Ericson was discovering North America, a thousand or so years ago, tower grandly above one of the most diverse gardens imaginable. Sitka Spruce as tall as Sequoia sempervirens, cedar trees with the girth of a Sequoiadendron giganteum, western hemlock and Douglas fir to match those giants that have been logged out elsewhere. Unique plants not found anywhere else are also present along with a bounty of wildflowers of every hue and color.

Animals abound in this forest. Cougar, bear, elk, deer, as well as a diverse collection of avifauna from huge eagles to tiny humming birds. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness protect the coastal waters to the west of the Olympic Peninsula and several other wildlife refuges are to be found along the coast bordering on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. Ocean waters provide habitat for a wide variety of sea creatures from the the largest whales to the tiniest denizens of the tide pool. Wild salmon still spawn in the Olympic Rivers and streams and are a dramatic and easily understood part of the cycle of life.

As they do in all of their parks, the National Park Service recommends that you stop by one of their many visitor centers to plan your visit. This is a good idea for several reasons. First, you will get up-to-date information about the park generally and about the places that you intend to visit specifically. Second, the rangers know their park better than you do and they very well may have some good ideas for your particular visit. Third, you can get an up-to-date map.

rain forest

Hoh Rain Forest