Just a few short hours from Seattle by car, Olympic National Park consists of nearly 1 million acres comprised of three different ecosystems. Surrounded on three sides by Puget Sound, the park is also the home of Mount Olympus, whose peak stands a stunning 2, 500 metres above sea level. A gem of the U.S. National Park service and a World Heritage Site, the park features over 800 kilometres of hiking trails, charming hot springs, snow moles and other fascinating fauna as well as excellent skiing.
For anyone about thinking about visiting Olympic National Park on a holiday, there are a few things to know that will enable you to get the most out of your trip while simultaneously ensuring the protection of the park’s ecosystem. From fickle weather patterns to endemic and invasive species, here are some helpful tips for anyone heading into this beautiful part of the American Northwest.
The Threat of Invasive Species
Delicate ecosystems can be sensitive to non-native species. These species, when grown in new habitats, can disrupt flora, fauna and even potentially pose a danger to humans. Japanese knotweed and Himalayan blackberries pose a regular and ongoing threat to the park’s native species due to their tendency to smother or choke out other plants. The National Park Service makes the following recommendations for visitors who want to help keep down the threat of invasive species in Olympic National Park:
- Before you arrive in the park, clean and brush off shoes, clothes, pets, vehicles and any other gear that may transport plants or seeds.
- Pack out everything that you bring into the park.
- Learn to identify the seven worst invasive plants in the park: Scot’s broom, Canada thistle, Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, English holly, Herb Robert and Japanese knotweed.
The Changeable Climate and Weather
Because of the variable climate, ecosystem and the vast range of the park, being prepared for the weather can be challenging. While the Olympic Peninsula’s climate tends to provide mild summers and winters, rain gear and layered clothing is recommended year-round. In the winter, snowfall can be significant — as much as three metres at higher elevations — which makes avalanche a real danger. Before you head to Olympic National Park, be sure to check in with Seattle’s National Weather Service Forecast Office so you can be well-prepared for whatever the region may throw at you.
Due to Ice Age isolation, there are at least 16 endemic species found within Olympic National Park. It’s one of the reasons the park enjoys status as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Some of the endemic species you may spy here and nowhere else in the world include:
- Olympic marmot
- Olympic yellow-pine chipmunk
- Olympic snow mole
- Olympic torrent salamander
- Olympic mudminnow
- Olympic grasshopper
- Mann’s gazelle beetle
- Arionid slug
The lower and middle elevations of Olympic National Park are covered in forest — much of it old-growth Douglas fir, Western hemlock, Western red cedar and more. In addition to the old-growth forests, temperate rainforests like Hoh and Quinault feature amazing plant and animal life. The vegetation in the summer months is so thick that, at times, walking through these woodlands can require the use of a daytime flashlight. There is excellent hiking and camping to be had, and if you’re lucky, you may spy a herd of Roosevelt elk — Olympic National Park boasts the largest unmanaged herd of these mighty creatures in the world.
Olympic National Forest has 115 kilometres of wild coastline. From rocky shores to stunning cliffs, the beaches that surround the edge of the park are diverse. If you’re exploring the shore, be sure to carry a tide chart — some beaches actually disappear at high tide — and pack your binoculars. Dolphins, whales and special birds are easily sighted from the many coastline trails that stretch across the park’s coast.
Mt. Olympus is the most impressive peak in the park’s range, but for the less-enthusiastic climber, there are plenty of other peaks to tackle. Hurricane Ridge is arguably the most popular mountain destination at the park as it offers plenty of self-guided trails, campgrounds and ranger-sourced programs. Deer Park is another popular alpine choice that can be reached via a 30-kilometre road — the latter half of which is not suitable for RVs or trailers. Deer Park is only open from late spring through the fall, and its ranger station is sporadically staffed.
A trip to Olympic National Park will be remembered for a lifetime — and only for the good times if you keep these tips and insights in mind. From its offerings of mountains, coastline and trees to its remarkable biodiversity, few places in the United States offer as much outdoor splendour.
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