Olympic National Park is in the northwestern corner of Washington State and takes up most of the Olympic Peninsula. Much of the park is not accessible to us mere mortals due to the rugged and varied landscapes. There are three distinct ecosystems within the park the rugged Pacific coast, temperate rainforests and glaciated subalpine mountains.
It is also a very large park at almost a million acres and is accessed mainly via US Hwy 101 which circles the peninsula. There are several roads that penetrate the park from various areas, but none that cross the mountain range therefore reaching the various areas requires a lot of driving in-between. Of course, you can hike as far as you would like to see more of the interior, but for us mere mortals a distant view will have to do.
The Coastal region is obviously on the western side of the peninsula. The national park runs about 60 miles long but only a few wide. The area is mostly wilderness with a few long in and out roads, but a 10 mile stretch is accessible on Hwy 101. We did not spend a lot of time here since we have spent a lot of time on a variety of beaches during the last couple of months but did stop to see Ruby Beach and a glimpse of Destruction Island with a lighthouse about 4 miles off shore.
Our destination on that day was the Hoh Rainforest, an almost 2 hour each way drive from our home in Hoquiam. The drive was pretty unamazing thru thick forests with a lot of evidence of recent logging. Logging is very much a thriving industry in western Oregon and Washington. There were very few communities along the way (would not call them towns) and little traffic which was nice. So it was quite surprising when we arrived at the rainforest how packed with people it was.
Of course, we had been driving thru the rainforest for a while, but the park area for parking, visitor center and trails was full. Little to no parking even for a picnic. This rainforest is a temperate forest as opposed to a tropical rainforest. The large Olympic mountain range makes it difficult for rain to cross thus keeping most of the moisture on the western side. It received an average of 150 inches of rain per year while the eastern side of the mountains only get about 30 inches. It is covered with coniferous trees, hemlock, firs, spruce and red cedar and has one of the largest collections of biomass in the world. This is most evident by the mosses growing on every surface.
The final ecosystem is the glaciated Olympic Mountain. The tallest is Mt. Olympus at almost 8,000 feet which is really pretty low to have glaciers. The glaciers are shrinking and have lost over 30% of their area in the last 30 years. These mountains were formed via uplifting from tectonic plate movement millions of years ago not from volcanoes like the nearby Cascades. They formed in a single dome shape and were since carved into multiple peaks and valleys by encroaching and retreating glaciers. This is only the second time we have seen glaciers on our travels the first were very small in the Tetons. We are afraid that these may not be around for many generations to come, but hope to see larger ones soon on Mt Rainier.
The best view of the mountains is from Hurricane Ridge on the north side. It is a 17 mile winding road up from Port Angeles and provides stunning views of both the mountains and the Straight of Juan de Fuca separating the peninsula from Vancouver Island and Canada. On a clear day you can see Victoria, Canada, we could see it, but not very clearly and not a good picture!!!
Peace Love and Justice for all.