The Enchanting Forests Of Olympic National Park
Hard-core hikers and campers who think they've seen it all will never forget the wonder of the Olympic National Park, even after just one visit. The deep, damp rain forests, the frosted mountaintops, the aquamarine rivers have a fantastical allure, seeming to leap from the pages of storybooks. Auto roads barely penetrate the park, but more than 600 miles of hiking trails meander through, crossing and connecting the park’s virgin forest core, its matchless beaches, and its alpine peaks.
Olympic National Park is probably most famous for the lush rain forests that carpet the western flanks of the mountains. The best known and most visited is Hoh Rain Forest, but the others—Quinault and Queets—are fascinating, too, and visitors are more likely to have a more personal experience.
Soaking up the ample rainfall, enormous spruce, cedar, fir, and hemlock trees covered with moss and lichen tower over the traveler, forcing a certain degree of perspective on life. The crystal-clear rivers and streams, the thick scent of fertility, and the tickle of mist on your eyelashes give this forest an unforgettable feeling of enchantment.
The diversity of climate and geography in Olympic National Park’s 908,720 acres of wilderness is one of many reasons it was among the 100 parks named a World Heritage Park by the United Nations in 1981. The largest old-growth coniferous forest in the Lower 48 states, the park is home to 200 species of birds and 70 species of mammals, including Roosevelt elk, black bear, deer, bald eagles, and Olympic marmots.
Today Olympic National Park sees over four million visitors a year. Despite its popularity, the park’s size and hard-to-reach interior mean it’s not hard to find peaceful solitude on the many lakes and trails.
Olympic National Park is unique in that there are no roads running through its pristine land—the only way to visit the interior is to hike or ride horseback. A ringed network of roads makes sightseeing easy here. Highway 101 follows three sides of the peninsula and joins Highways 8 and 12 to complete the loop. Visitors can continue their journey down Highway 101 past Willapa Bay all the way down to the Columbia River.
Nature is the main attraction at Olympic National Park and a few of the key points of interest are:
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Rialto Beach Area
Hoh Rain Forest
Trailheads within the Olympic National Forest require a Northwest Forest Pass (800/270-7504, www.fs.fed.us/r6/passespermits/nwfp, $30 annual, $5 daily). The Olympic coastline can be dangerous to hikers. Two “watch out” situations are attempting to round headlands and getting caught by incoming tides, and being struck by floating logs in the surf. Park Service offices have a helpful Olympic Coastal Strip handout with a map and dos and don’ts for backcountry users.
Note that the Hoh and Quillayute Rivers are too deep to ford at any time, and that other creeks and rivers may be difficult to cross, particularly at high tide or when runoff is strong. Always take a tide chart and use caution. This is, after all, the wilderness.
The park is circled by the Highway 101 loop. A $15 park entrance fee, good for seven days, is charged for vehicles, or $5 for those on foot or bikes. A variety of annual and lifetime National Park passes are also available from the park service.
Entrance fees are collected at Elwha, Hurricane Ridge/Heart O’ the Hills, Hoh, Sol Duc, and Staircase entrance stations. Backcountry users should be sure to request a copy of the Olympic Wilderness Trip Planner from the Wilderness Information Center (360/565-3100, www.nps.gov/olym) in Port Angeles.
Wilderness use permits ($5 for the permit, plus $2 pp/night) are required for backcountry camping; pick one up at the WIC or the ranger station nearest your point of departure. Because of overuse, summer quotas are in effect and reservations are required for overnight hikes in the Ozette, Flapjack Lakes, Hoh, Grand and Badger Valleys, Lake Constance, and Sol Duc areas.