Diversity takes centerstage at Olympic National Park. Often referred to as “three parks in one,” this wonderland boasts three different ecosystems: rugged, glacier-capped peaks, old-growth and temperate rain forests and over seventy miles of wild Pacific coastline.
Much of the park’s interior is accessible only by trail, but there are several scenic drives that lead to various key destinations.
At the southwest end of the park is the Quinault Valley, known as the “Valley of the Giants.” It’s home to the largest Sitka Spruce tree in the world. Within the valley is the Quinault Rain Forest, which boasts an average of twelve feet of rain per year. Make sure to take your waterproof gear no matter when you visit.
Hiking is plentiful in this area and dripping, moss-draped maples create a mystical and primordial scene. Keep your eye out for the stately Roosevelt Elk, as up to 600 of these majestic creatures make their home here.
If you don’t have time for a stay at historic Lake Quinault Lodge, make sure to stop in for a peek, have a meal or go for a boat ride. Lake Quinault is a natural lake formed by a glacier that receded into the mountains many thousands of years ago. Meander the trail that goes along the water for lovely views.
To learn about the fascinating history of the Lake Quinault area, visit the Lake Quinault Museum, across the road from the lodge. Artifacts, photos and written materials reflect many aspects of native and pioneering life. Continue your journey back in time with a walk along the Kestner Homestead trail. You’ll find remnants of the original Kestner Homestead of 1891, as well as those of the Higley family, who purchased the farm in 1946.
Experience a different environment by heading along the coast to Kalaloch Lodge. This property is perched on a picturesque bluff above the ocean, where you’ll go to bed at night lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. In the morning, grab your cup of coffee and stroll down the path to the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a whale or two breaching and maybe a sea lion sunning itself on the rocks. I guarantee you’ll spot a few bald eagles soaring above.
From Kalaloch, make your way to the Hoh Rainforest, but first stop at Ruby Beach to see the dramatic sea stacks. Known as “ghosts of former islands,” these mammoth rocks are actually remnants of eroded cliffs that loom out of the water, appearing as sentinels of the coastline. The beach, by the way, got its name for its often garnet-colored sand.
For a quick and easy introduction to Hoh’s unique ecosystem, take the Hall of Mosses path. It’s a short loop that will lead you into the older part of the forest. The primeval spirit is strong among these colossal trees that seem as old as the earth. Moss hangs like beards off their shaggy branches and the light plays peek-a-boo in the leafy canopy overhead.
Then head out on the Hoh River Trail to explore more of this verdant paradise. You’ll meander past waterfalls and creeks as you follow the sometimes teal, sometimes grey river. And in the distance, you’ll see the snowcapped peaks of the Olympics.
The Hoh Valley is one of the wettest places in the country with an average 140 inches of annual rainfall, so you’re bound to get some liquid sunshine. Even if the rain gods are absent during your visit, you’ll always feel a condensed mist in the rain forest. It just adds to the mysterious and eerie quality of this distinctive setting.
Continue your journey to Sol Duc, where you can hike to the Sol Duc Falls overlook, climb to Mink Lake or do the Lover’s Lane loop. In fall, the Salmon Cascades overlook attracts visitors, who come to view Coho salmon leap over the falls on their way to spawn upstream in the Sol Duc River. When you’re ready to relax, enjoy soaking in the mineral pools at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.
Another scenic spot is Lake Crescent. The water of this glacially-carved lake is so clear you can see as far down as sixty feet in places. This clarity and reflecting light give Lake Crescent its stunning blue-green color. Rent a boat, take a swim or simply laze on the beach. There are also trails, some of which climb the surrounding mountains, while others explore the lowland forests. The hike to Marymere Falls is a personal favorite.
Lake Crescent Lodge makes an ideal base for enjoying this section of the park while experiencing the charm of a turn-of-the-century resort.
At the northeast corner of the park is Hurricane Ridge. Nearly a mile high, the ridge is accessed via a winding road. Once at the top, gaze at the dramatic views of jagged mountains and wilderness. If you hear a high-pitched whistle while there, it’s the Olympic marmot announcing its presence. These creatures are endemic to the Olympic Peninsula, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.