On the tip of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, more or less due west of Seattle, sits Olympic National Park. Just north of Olympic, across the Juan de Fuca Strait, is Canada’s Vancouver Island. After an extended stay in British Columbia, we broke camp, pulled the Airstream trailer into the bowels of a Black Ball Ferry and watched the bow split the water as we crossed from Victoria British Columbia to Port Angeles Washington. For sure, entering the United States by ferry is far less aggravating than crossing through border control on the busy road routes.
Like many National Parks, resource preservation motivated the establishment of Olympic NP. Teddy Roosevelt designated Olympic as a National Monument in 1909. Later Congress reclassified the area as a National Park in 1938. In 1981, UNESCO assigned World Heritage Site status to the park. Still, despite the years and the conservation efforts, protecting the areas timberlands remains contentious.
Olympic is the 23rd National Park that we have visited in the last year and a half. We are not alone in visiting the park. In 2010, Olympic was the sixth most visited National Park in the United States with 2.8 million visits recorded. Only Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain were more frequented. It is easy to suggest that Olympic’s visitor numbers are inflated by the proximity to the metropolis of Seattle until you realize that one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48, North Cascades, is also near Seattle. Closeness to Seattle is not the only reason for Olympic’s popularity.
The terrain in Olympic National Park is varied. Less than 33 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Mount Olympus in the park’s central highlands approach 8,000 feet. At the National Park’s western edge is a long stretch of Pacific Coastline. Temperate rainforest covers the western slopes of the Olympic’s mountains. The western slopes collect around 150 inches of rain a year making the area perhaps the wettest region in the lower 48 states. Not far away in the rain shadow of the mountains, it is much drier. Nearby Port Angeles at the park’s border receives around 25 inches of rain yearly; most directly in the rain shadow of the mountains, Sequim Washington registers a mere 16 inches of precipitation annually.
With the heavy precipitation, Mount Olympus supports the third largest glacier system in the lower 48 states. Not that we could verify the glaciers extent. Our route through the park did not provide for much of a view. And if we decide we want to get a good vista of the ice fields we’d best return soon; like all of the other glaciated areas in the world that we have visited, the Olympic’s glaciers are retreating.
For sure two days to explore the expanse of Olympic National Park is inadequate. We managed visits up high amongst the alpine wildflowers on Hurricane Ridge, along the shores of Crescent Lake, in the mist of Sol Duc Falls, and under the canopy of the lush Hoh Rainforest. (Ironically, after suffering numerous rainouts on our trip, it did not rain in the rainforest. Too bad, rainforests best experienced in the wet.) There’s much remaining to see in the park.
Indeed, there is a lot to see in Olympic National Park. The map reports that we barely scratched the surface. And we were certainly making an effort. A polite National Park Service officer even pulled us over to give us a special “memento” for making such fast progress through the park. The ticket, I guess, was proof that such a large and varied park insists on a longer stay. That’s especially true if the speed limits are obeyed.
For the full picture set check Picasa.