Olympic National Park
Often referred to as "three parks in one," Olympic National Park encompasses three distinctly different ecosystems?rugged glacier-capped mountains, more than 60 miles of wild Pacific coast, and magnificent stands of old-growth and temperate rain forest. These diverse ecosystems are still largely pristine in character?about 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness.
Olympic is also known for its biological diversity. Isolated for eons by glacial ice, the waters of Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Peninsula has developed its own distinct array of plants and animals. Eight kinds of plants and five kinds of animals that live nowhere else in the world are found on the peninsula.
With Olympic's nearly one million acres and three distinct ecosystems, plan on spending at least one very full day to get a feeling for the park's diversity. With this amount of time, visitors often drive to Hurricane Ridge for a taste of the park's high country and mountain vistas. From there, a three-hour drive to the west will bring you to the Hoh Rain Forest, where over 12 feet of rain per year creates a stunning world of huge trees and profuse greenery. Views of the Pacific Coast and Olympic's wilderness beaches can be seen by an additional 30-40-minute drive to Rialto or Ruby Beach.
Olympic is a wilderness park, with much of its interior accessible only by trail. A variety of spur roads lead to various destinations around the park. Scenic drives to Hurricane Ridge, along the Pacific Coast and through the forested valleys of the Sol Duc, Hoh, and Quinault Rivers provide glimpses of Olympic's diversity.
The best way to see the park, however, is by getting out of your car. Short (one-quarter to one-half mile) nature trails are located at Hurricane Ridge (spring through fall only), Elwha, Sol Duc, the Hoh Rain Forest, and Quinault. Some of these are wheelchair accessible. Longer trails provide access to other areas of the park, including the park's wilderness beaches and rugged mountainous interior.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication