It seems impossible to summarize the diversity of Olympic National Park in one photo. Spanning over 1441 square miles (3732 square km) in northwestern Washington, this park encompasses some of the most varied terrain in the entire US National Park Service. Along the Pacific coast sandy beaches are interspersed with rocky shores where tide pools teem with marine life. Dense temperate rainforests range from the coasts to the interior highlands where a variety of organisms benefit from the highest rainfall in the continental United States. Further inland the glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountains dominate the landscape, providing a home for alpine plants and animals. Perhaps more than any other national park, there’s something for everyone here.
My wife and I only had two days to see Olympic, but as tireless adventurers we set out to experience as much as possible in our limited time. Our first stops were along the string of beaches near Kalaloch where the Pacific Ocean meets the rocky edge of the temperate rainforest. Flight delays put us behind schedule but we managed to arrive at the coast just before sunset.
Perhaps the most fascinating features here were the abundant seastacks. These resistant sedimentary and volcanic beds have endured the force of relentless ocean waves, eroding more slowly than the rocks around them.
Later in our trip we would see some more of these geologic features near La Push. Rialto Beach in particular was intriguing for its massive pile-up of driftwood and dead trees along the storm-battered shore.
Here we were near the mouth of the Quillayute River, where a misty morning shrouded the landscape.
Among these brackish waters a number of California sea lions hunted, played, and barked occasionally. We spent some time sitting back, relaxing and observing, enchanted with their activity.
In this neck of the woods we also found an immature Bald Eagle perching on the driftwood…
…a mature Bald Eagle among the foggy tree tops…
…some kelp washed up on shore…
…as well as innumerable purple sailors stranded on the beach:
From the shore we traveled inland through the temperate rainforest that covers much of the Olympic Peninsula.
This region receives more rainfall than anywhere else in the continental United States. Twelve to fourteen FEET (3.7-4.3 METERS) of rain falls here annually, supporting massive trees. Dominant trees include Sitka spruce and western hemlock, along with a variety of other conifers and a few deciduous species.
The forest understory here is filled with ferns, mosses, lichens, and other moisture-loving plants.
Some of the more noticeable plants included salmonberries…
…as well as yellow skunk cabbage:
Lurking among the moist foliage were gigantic banana slugs…
…and also the much more gigantic Roosevelt elk:
From here we ventured into the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. The abundant snow and rain that falls on the highlands concentrates into raging rivers that support verdant landscapes.
Throughout autumn a number of salmon species fight their way up these rivers to spawn. At this time of year they can sometimes be seen launching themselves up the daunting rapids.
Water seems to flow everywhere in Olympic, and even the smallest cascades provide some idyllic scenes:
The hiking trails around Sol Duc Falls are really nice, and the falls themselves aren’t too shabby either:
Here we found a few pairs of Columbian black-tailed deer does and fawns, and even the babies seemed unmoved by human presence:
Near Sol Duc is Lake Crescent, a clear and gorgeous body of water among the Olympic foothills.
Near the shore we found this breeding pair of Common Mergansers shaking their tail feathers:
The sights around this lake were serene and beautiful, even more so when the sun settled into the mountainous horizon:
Moving ever higher in elevation, we eventually made our way up Hurricane Ridge into the heart of the Olympic Mountains.
Above about 4000 feet (1220 m) snow was still present in mid-April.
The road was closed beyond the Hurricane Ridge visitor center, and the presence of snow-removal equipment was a sign there was still work to be done to clear the road.
There was enough snow present at the visitor center that someone left a little snowman. He was a little melted from the mild temperature, but represented an otherwise welcoming host at this location.
The enduring spring snow also made the Olympic Mountains rather lovely. These peaks are the result of an accretionary wedge that has formed as the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate has subducted under the North American plate.
From the sandy beaches littered with driftwood and seastacks to the glaciated and forested peaks of the Olympic Mountains, Olympic National Park is astounding in both its size and scope of environments. Although my wife and I managed to sample the diversity in only two days, one could easily spend a week or more breathing it all in.