Olympic National Park (Washington)

Olympic National Park and its surrounding buffer zones make up most of the extraordinarily diverse Olympic Peninsula in Washington, almost one million acres (400,000 ha) in the northwest U.S. corner just south of Canada. It is one of the most varied ecosystems in the lower U.S., a largely pristine U.N. World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve where up to 200 inches (510 cm) of rain every year drenches North America’s only temperate rain forest. Mostly remote and roadless, almost everything the eye falls on is bright green—gigantic virgin Sitka spruce and western hemlocks 300 feet (100 m) tall and 25 feet (8 m) around, draped with mosses, ferns, lichens, and epiphytes, under a canopy so thick that winter’s snow never reaches the ground.

The park includes snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and fragile alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers and over 60 miles (100 km) of primitive Pacific seacoast, rugged, surf-torn, often fog-shrouded, marked with majestic arches and sea stacks, myriad-hued sands strewn with driftwood and tidal pools teeming with marine life, patrolled by black oystercatchers and bald eagles.

Olympic has 12 major rivers, 200 streams, and a lake over 600 feet (200 m) deep. Thick vegetation along 600 miles (1,000 km) of hiking trails makes most wildlife except black-tailed deer difficult to see. Yet black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, river otters, brilliant harlequin ducks, and the large Roosevelt elk for which Olympic was set aside, all are here. Altogether there are 70 mammal species, 300 kinds of birds, and over 1,200 higher plants, some of which exist only on the Olympic Peninsula. Best times are summer through early October.