Last week we “visited” Maine’s beautiful coastal national park, this week we travel 3,000 miles west to Washington’s similarly-located, but significantly more mountainous Olympic National Park. The park (and the adjacent Olympic National Forest) take up most of the land on the Olympic Peninsula. And it’s all within a couple of hours of driving from Seattle.
The official web site for the park says that “Olympic is like three magical parks in one” and that’s not just a PR slogan. The park consists of several disconnected pieces, including a 73-mile stretch of coastline. While there’s plenty of sand on the beaches of the Olympic peninsula, there’s also plenty of rocky areas that help to make it yet another paradise for landscape photographers. The largest piece, at the center of the peninsula, comprises the majestic Olympic Mountains. And we’re not just talking beautiful snow-capped mountains – we’re talking glaciers, people! Then there’s the rain – lots and lots of rain – in the old rainforests on the western side of the park. At over 150 inches of precipitation annually, it may be the rainiest place in the continental United States.
The primary visitors center for Olympic National Park is at the northern end of the park, just outside the town of Port Angeles, Washington. From there it’s a memorable drive up to the Hurricane Ridge visitors center, where you’ll find great views of the park’s mountain areas. On the western side of the park you can venture up to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitors Center, from where you can trek further on trails that follow the Hoh River deeper into the rainforests. U.S. Route 101 goes completely around the park, with many more roads (some unpaved) that lead you toward the heart of the park. There are, however, no roads that completely cross the park.
Olympic National Park has plenty of opportunities for camping – the National Park Service operates 16 campgrounds here. Almost all of them operate on a “first come, first served” basis, so you’d better arrive early during peak seasons. The Kalaloch campground does have an online reservation system for the summer months.
If you’re looking for more comfortable accommodations, Port Angeles has most of the hotels closest to Olympic National Park. A short drive east of Port Angeles is the coastal Sequim Valley and you’ll find more places to stay in the town of Sequim. For a different way of arriving or departing the peninsula, there’s a ferry that makes 90-minute trips between Port Angeles and Victoria on Vancouver Island in Canada.