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Online Extra
July 2004

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Traveling to Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park Online Extra
Photograph by Melissa Farlow

Vine maples in fiery autumn colors surround the Sol Duc River in Olympic National Park

By Saadia Iqbal

Forests of Sitka spruce and Douglas fir. Alpine meadows of vibrant wildflowers. Sandy beaches dimpled with silvery tidal pools. To some, Olympic National Park defines paradise.

Acclaimed as America's most geographically diverse park, its 922,657 acres (373,386 hectares) unfurl in northwest Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. Mountains, rain forest, and coastline shape a scenic wilderness with widely different climate conditions, one reason for UNESCO's 1981 designation as a World Heritage Park.

The spectacular cliffs and deep, forested valleys of the rugged Olympic Mountains are at the park's core, with Mount Olympus rising highest at 7,965 feet (2,438 meters). Coniferous rain forests with lakes, streams, and immense old trees lie on the western flanks of the mountains. A thick carpet of moss and dense fern glades cover the forest floor, where many species of small animals such as Pacific tree frogs, raccoon, and bobcats find food and habitat. On the upper slopes near the timberline, forests of Alaska cedar, mountain hemlock, and subalpine fir mingle with wildflowers. Western hemlock, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and Western red cedar cover the foothills, considered by many to be among the richest and most biologically productive forested regions on Earth.

Olympic National Park's 63 miles (101 kilometers) of coastline shelters large seabird colonies and contains abundant fishing sites. Numerous species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises swim along this coast.

Visitors to the park can see bald eagles, black bears, Roosevelt elk, deer, coyotes, cougars, and Olympic marmots. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, eight of which are found nowhere else in the world. It is also a safe haven for more than 200 types of birds and 70 kinds of mammals.

In 1988 nearly 95 percent of the park was designated as wilderness, which restricts any road building, mining, logging, hunting, and motorized vehicles within its boundaries. Only paved roads skirt the park, with spurs leading a short distance—never more than 20 miles (30 kilometers)—into the park. Access to the major part of the park is through its 600 miles (950 kilometers) of trails, which can be traversed on foot or on horseback.

Getting There

Flying In

Visitors can fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, located ten miles (15 kilometers) south of downtown Seattle and a three-hour drive from the park. Also, San Juan Airlines offers daily flights to Port Angeles's William R. Fairchild International Airport. Horizon Air serves both airports. Many car rental firms also service the airports.

Taking the Bus

Greyhound Lines operate from Port Angeles. Clallum Transit also conducts trips from downtown Port Angeles to select areas of the park.

Hitting the Highway

U.S. Route 101 forms an inverted "U" around Olympic National Park and the adjacent Olympic National Forest, making it easy to reach all points.

When to Go

Although the coastal lowlands and forested areas of the park are accessible year-round and always teem with plant and animal life, summer is the best season to visit, when the temperatures on the peninsula rarely exceed 80°F (26°C). The west side of the park gets heavy rainfall during the rest of the year. And parts of the high country are usually closed for snow from early fall until July.

What to Take

The weather in Olympic National Park is as varied as its geography, with rain always imminent. So adequate rain gear is necessary. Hikers should also have a first-aid kit, flashlight, pocketknife, map, compass, matches or fire-starter, food and water, extra clothing, sun protection, and a tent. Those planning extended stays in the backcountry will need some means of purifying drinking water.


What to See and Do

Deer Park

A subalpine meadow at an elevation of 5,757 feet (1,755 meters), Deer Park is rife with endemic plants. It offers amazing glimpses of the backcountry and choice locations to begin hiking along the Gray Wolf River or into the heart of the Olympic Mountains. Deer Park is located at the northeast corner of Olympic National Park. The rather primitive campground is open mid-June through late September, with a ranger station available only in the summer.

Deer Park can be reached from U.S. Route 101, which turns south onto Deer Park Road about five miles (eight kilometers) east of Port Angeles.

Elwha River Valley

Starting from the Elwha River's headwaters near Mount Olympus to its outlet into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Elwha River Valley is about 40 miles (60 kilometers) long. Within the valley, hikers can trek along the river that was a prodigious salmon-fishing destination before dams blocked the water's flow in the 1920s. Visitors can also enjoy boating and fishing above the dam.

After reaching Elwha River Valley, the road passes by Lake Mills, climbs to an observation point, and continues along Boulder Creek. At the road's end, a trail leads to the Olympic Hot Springs. Visitors can bathe here, but the springs are not monitored or maintained. According to the park's website, they may contain high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

The Elwha River Valley entrance is located some eight miles (12 kilometers) west of Port Angeles on U.S. Route 101.

Sol Duc Valley

Sol Duc Valley offers hiking trails along the Sol Duc River through splendid expanses of low-elevation forest. Near the end of the entrance road is the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, where swimming pools filled with the spring's water are the main attraction. About a mile and a half (two kilometers) past the resort, a trail leads to the picturesque Sol Duc Falls.

The Sol Duc entrance is 30 miles (45 kilometers) west of Port Angeles and 12 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of U.S. Route 101.


Hoh Rain Forest

The most accessible rain forest of the park is located in the Hoh River Valley on the park's west side. Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and other conifers—some more than a thousand years old—form the canopy of this temperate rain forest.

Hoh Rain Forest offers camping and picnic facilities and hiking trails that wind into the core of the Olympic Mountains, all the way to the base of Mount Olympus and the Blue Glacier—the largest mountain and largest glacier, respectively, in the Olympic Mountains.

The rain forest entrance is accessible via a 19-mile (31-kilometer) paved road off U.S. Route 101, 13 miles (20 kilometers) south of Forks.

Hurricane Hill Trail

This is Olympic National Park's most famous hike. The partially paved trail starts at 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) at the Visitor Center and climbs some 700 feet (200 meters) up Hurricane Ridge to the summit of Hurricane Hill. The first part of the ascent goes through subalpine meadows, where wildflowers bloom from late June through October and where you can often spot Olympic marmots eating grass or sunbathing. The trees, mostly wind-stunted firs, get sparser and shorter at higher elevations, revealing panoramic views of hillsides where deer or black bear sometimes roam. The trail rises somewhat steeply through more picturesque meadows to the flat summit. The easier Meadow Loop Trail starts just outside the Visitor Center and winds through subalpine meadows, where purple lupine and magenta paintbrush color the south slope of the ridge.

Hurricane Ridge

Between late December and late March, Hurricane Ridge is a popular place for winter activities. Park naturalists offer guided snowshoe walks. Ski and snowshoe rentals as well as instruction are available at the visitor center.

Lake Crescent

The name says it. This curved, deep, freshwater lake is surrounded by high mountains, including 4,534-foot (1,382-meter) Storm King Mountain. At ten miles (16 kilometers) long and 624 feet (190 meters) deep, the highly scenic lake is one of the largest in the park and is especially attractive to swimmers as well as anglers hoping to land their share of its plentiful trout.

Boating is especially good in Lake Crescent. Visitors can rent paddleboats, rowboats, and canoes at the Log Cabin Resort.

You can get to Lake Crescent from U.S. Route 101, 17 miles (27 kilometers) west of Port Angeles.


Nature Activities

Several of the park's visitor centers display exhibits of wildlife, plants, geology, and Indian cultures of the Northwest, complemented by informative presentations from rangers and naturalists.


With its close proximity to the sea and the mountains, Olympic National Park is a great place for bird-watching. Bald eagles, blue herons, wild ducks, blue grouse, hawks, gray-crowned rosy finch, and red-headed pileated woodpeckers are only a few of the region's birds.


Rainbow, brook, and sea-run cutthroat trout thrive in the many streams and lakes at Olympic National Park. No license is necessary for fishing within park boundaries, but punch cards are required in season for fishing salmon and steelhead trout. Salmon fishing is excellent in the ocean and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Whitewater Rafting

Rafting and sea kayaking trips are offered daily year-round. Many companies in the area organize expeditions. For more information, visit

Rock Climbing

Olympic National Park's mountains are not very high, but their jagged rock walls make for a challenging climb and attract many enthusiasts each year. Crevassed glaciers and vertical rock walls offer excellent snow and ice climbing. Climbers must register at the ranger station nearest their route. Guided climbs are also available.


The park has 17 major camping areas with 955 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Wilderness Information Center and ranger stations at the trailheads keep information on backcountry camping for hikers.

Guided Tours

Various outfitters conduct guided backpacking trips through Olympic National Park. They include America's Adventure, Mountain Madness, Trailmark Outdoor Adventures, and Wilderness Ventures.

Lodging and Dining

The park has limited lodging facilities. Lake Crescent Lodge, Log Cabin Resort at Lake Crescent, and Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort are open spring through early fall. Kalaloch Lodge on the southwestern edge of the park is open throughout the year. All serve meals.

Nearby Port Angeles, Sequim, Forks, La Push, Quinault, Quilcene, Brinnon, and Hoodsport offer many lodging and dining facilities.


Related Links

National Park Service
This site outlines park service activities and programs and provides tips for planning your trip. You can also call the Visitor Center at 360-565-3130 for more information.

Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center
This site answers questions about wilderness, trails, permits, reservations, quotas, food storage requirements, or weather. You can also call at 360-565-3100.

Olympic Park Institute
This nonprofit organization provides outdoor education programs for youth and adults.

Mountain Madness
Go to this site to arrange guided mountain climbing expeditions and to register for special outdoor courses.

Kalaloch Lodge
Learn about package deals when you visit this site, or call the lodge at 360-962-2271.

Lake Crescent Lodge
Get lodging information and view photos of the area at this website. You can also contact the lodge at 360-928-3211.

Log Cabin Resort
Make reservations at this scenic resort and learn about special tours. Call 360-928-3325 for more information.

ol Duc Hot Springs
The hot springs at this lodge attract many visitors. Call 360-327-3583 for more information.


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