Olympic National Park is located in the northwest corner of Washington
in the United States. It occupies the center of the Olympic Peninsula
, and is bound on three sides by water, the Pacific
to the west, the strait of Juan de Fuca
on the north, and the Hood Canal
and the Puget Sound
to the east. Mt. Olympus
, 7,965 feet high, is the tallest peak in the range.
Of any wilderness National Park, Olympic probably has the most variable climate. On its eastern edge it sits in a rainshadow, and the subalpine areas are close to desert, receiving less than 14 inches of rain per year. If you drive along the northern edge of the park, for each mile you go west, you will gain another inch of rain, until you reach the Hoh Rain Forest, at 230 inches per year. This means everything from tiny cacti to six of the worlds largest trees of their species all live here. The trees include sitka spruce, douglas fir, western redcedar big leaf maple, Alaska yellow cedar, western white pine, lodgepole pine, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, vine maple, western yew, pacific madrone, grand fir,pacific silver fir, subalpine fir, black cottonwood and red alder.
Olympic is a true wilderness park: no roads cut across it, and if you plan to really see it, bring either your hiking boots, or a horse, mule, or llama. Going on day hikes and seeing only the first few miles of each trail just won't cut it. Take three days and hike up the Dosewallips trail to Thousand Acre meadows, or better yet take a week and hike the entire park, north to south, or east to west. In plan, it looks like an irregular clock with nine numbers created by the rivers, and a ribbon of beach to the west. In the interior, you can hike up any river, travel over a pass, and come out in an entirely different ecosystem. The rivers, starting at 12 o'clock, moving clockwise, are the Elwha, Dungeness, Dosewallops, Skokomish, Quinault, Queets, Hoh, Bogachiel, and Sol Duc. (So maybe it also get an award for the silliest and most poetic river names.) Those are just the major rivers, there are a great many smaller creeks and trails, and the park shares a lot of boundaries with Olympic National Forest, as well.
Many of the rivers are names as the local Native American tribes named them, and they had the luck of living in one of the most resource-rich corners of the world. The rivers were teeming with salmon 100 years ago, including one species that took seven years to return to its spawning cround, because the fish had to grow so much to be able to climb up the Elwha rapids. "You could walk across the river on the salmons backs" when they were running.
If you backpack, the most exciting fauna you might run into are black bear, or if you are incredibly lucky and unusually stealthy, a cougar. The black bears are normally extremely wary of people, but if you come on one as you hike, move slowly away from it. Treat the bear with respect, and he will treat you similarly. Occasionally a bear will become a garbage bear and warnings will be posted at the trailheads. All food should either be hung or stored in a bear box; the same precautions apply as with the black bears of Yosemite, although Olympic Park bears are historically considerably less agressive.
A submission for the U.S. National Parks and Monuments quest. For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/olym/