Monday, November 29, 2010
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: FROM SEA TO SKI
Mary by Sitka Spruce, 270 feet tall with a diameter of 12 ½ feet and estimated to be 500 to 550 years old.
The Olympic National Park’s 1,400 square miles situated in Washington’s northwest corner ranges from seashore to alpine wilderness. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness. This diverse national park with its wide scope of vistas and habitats is globally recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.
Highway 101 encircles the park and several spur roads lead to mountains, forests and coastline. The center of the park, untouched by roads, offers incredible wilderness adventures. The park is split into two major areas with hundreds of square miles inland to the east and a strip of about 73 miles of wild coastline to the west.
Olympic’s Wild Coast
The expansive, diverse shorelines offer a constantly changing performance with crashing waves, tidal cycles and turning seasons. Most of the beaches along this stretch are wide and sandy with superb hiking and beach combing. One of the best, Rialto Beach, is a photographers heaven with spectacular sunsets, huge stone haystacks, a natural stone arch called “Hole-in-the-Wall” and sweeping beaches.
Olympic’s Rain Forests
You’ll want your rain gear for this part of the trip. Drenched with over 12 feet of rain a year, the forests are magical with curtains of moss hanging like shaggy winter fur from some of the world’s largest trees. Ferns, salal and a multitude of berries and other groundcover take up every inch of space. We saw a healthy fern growing 20 feet up on the branch of an old live cedar. The world is lush green here and the air heavy with moisture.
Olympic’s Sparkling Lakes
Popular Lake Crescent is located 19 miles west of Port Angeles on Highway 101. This shimmering, 624-foot deep jewel was carved out by a huge glacier thousands of years ago. The lake offers swimming, boating and fishing. Other noteworthy lakes include Lakes Quinault and Ozette.
A worthwhile photo stop is the short hike to Marymere Falls, a ribbon of water cascading 90 feet to a pool below. The hike is mostly level with only the last section a little steep.
Olympic’s Majestic Mountains
The most accessible alpine area is Hurricane Ridge, at 5,242 feet and 17 miles up a paved road from Port Angeles. Hurricane Ridge is the only area in Olympic National Park where you can drive from sea level, through lowland, montane, and subalpine forests to the park’s high alpine country. At the top, the stunning view of mountains and valleys makes this destination alone reason enough to visit the park. Miles of trails offer breath-taking views of glaciers, forests and wildlife. Deer, oblivious to humans, graze close to hiking trails. The visitor center is a worthwhile stop.
The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area offers spectacular winter recreation for downhill and cross-country skiers, snowshoers and snowboarders.
Olympic has 17 campgrounds with a total of 955 sites. Camprounds offer a variety of sites, some with ocean views, with varying degrees of privacy. Several private RV parks with all the amenities are located on the Olympic Peninsula, but not within the park itself.
For campground information and to see which campgrounds are open year-round, visit www.olympic.national-park.com/camping.htm.