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Olympic National Park is located in the same state as Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains and volcanic Mount St. Helens, but it still holds its own as a tourist attraction and cultural touchpoint.
While Rainier, the Cascades and St. Helens are merely mountains, the 922,651-acre Olympic is “three parks in one,” as the National Park Service puts it. Like them, it has snow-capped peaks, but the park also includes more than 60 miles of wild coastline as well as old-growth forest and temperate rainforest.
Participants in the first expeditions to the once-isolated Olympic Mountains in the 1890s so appreciated the rugged beauty of the Olympic Peninsula that they began lobbying to have them protected for the public. Future Alaska pioneer judge James Wickersham didn’t even wait, writing letters calling for the land to be set aside while he was still touring.
The area was initially made a 2-million-acre forest preserve in 1897. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as Mount Olympus National Monument. President Franklin Roosevelt made it Olympic National Park in 1938.
The park’s different ecosystems offer “a chance for people to experience nature in a way we don’t usually do in our daily lives,” park spokeswoman Penny Wagner says.
Some of the park’s top spots include Hurricane Ridge for its eye-popping views of the park and the water, the Elwha River Valley for a short hike through lowland old-growth forest to Madison Falls, driftwood-lined Rialto Beach for shore walks and tidal pools, and the Hall of Mosses Trail in the lush Hoh Rain Forest, where 12 feet of rain falls every year.
Twilight fans will be interested in knowing that the park is close to the town of Forks, the home of that book and movies series’ angst-filled teenage vampires and werewolves.
While the park may be more accessible now than it was in the 1890s, it still remains somewhat isolated, requiring a ferry ride and a long drive to get there from Seattle.
Seattle resident Elizabeth Skirm considers that part of the park’s appeal.
“It’s so beautiful because it’s hard to get to. It’s really not as visited as the Alpine Lakes region (a popular hiking area just outside Seattle). So you are much more likely to have a solitary experience.
“You can see stuff you can’t see anywhere else, (but) you do have to decide where you want to go and what approach you’re going to take because the park is huge — just huge.”
About the park
Size: 922,651 acres.
Visitors: 2,824,908 in 2016.
History: In the 1930s, concern over the logging of old-growth forest and the slaughter of elk helped generate support for protecting the area as a full-fledged national park. That movement met opposition from extractive industries and Congress until Franklin Roosevelt agreed to reduce the size of the 2-million-acre park to 638,280 acres. He later added back more than 250,000 acres.
When visiting: Because the park is so large, it can take a long time to get from one stop to the next. For example, the Hoh Rain Forest is more than three hours from Hurricane Ridge. Schedule accordingly, and don’t forget to check park conditions before you go to avoid delays. For more info: 360-565-3130 or nps.gov/olym/.
Of note: The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
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