World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park
IUCN category II (national park)
Map showing the location of Olympic National Park
Location of Olympic National Park
Location Jefferson, Clallam, Mason, and Grays Harbor counties, Washington, USA
Nearest city Port Angeles
Area 922,650 acres (373,380 ha)[1]
Established June 29, 1938
Visitors 2,966,502 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service
Type Natural
Criteria vii, ix
Designated 1981 (5th session)
Reference no. 151
State Party  United States
Region Europe and North America

Olympic National Park is a United States national park located in the state of Washington, in the Olympic Peninsula.[3] The park has four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest and the forests of the drier east side.[4]

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt originally created Mount Olympus National Monument on 2 March 1909.[5] [6]It was designated a national park by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 29, 1938. In 1976, Olympic National Park became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1988, Congress designated 95 percent of the park as the Olympic Wilderness.[7][8]


  • Natural/Geologic history 1
    • Coastline 1.1
    • Glaciated mountains 1.2
    • Temperate rainforest 1.3
    • Ecology 1.4
  • Climate 2
  • Human history 3
  • Recreation 4
  • Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links and literature 8

Natural/Geologic history


The coastal portion of the park is a rugged, sandy beach along with a strip of adjacent forest. It is 60 miles (97 km) long but just a few miles wide, with native communities at the mouths of two rivers. The Hoh River has the Hoh people and at the town of La Push at the mouth of the Quileute River live the Quileute.[9]

Tide pools form at low tide

The beach has unbroken stretches of wilderness ranging from 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km). While some beaches are primarily sand, others are covered with heavy rock and very large boulders. Bushy overgrowth, slippery footing, tides and misty rain forest weather all hinder foot travel. (Times to hike should typically be doubled.) The coastal strip is more readily accessible than the interior of the Olympics; due to the difficult terrain, very few backpackers venture beyond casual day-hiking distances.

The most popular piece of the coastal strip is the 9-mile (14 km) Ozette Loop. The Park Service runs a registration and reservation program to control usage levels of this area. From the trailhead at Ozette Lake, a 3-mile (4.8 km) leg of the trail is a boardwalk-enhanced path through near primal coastal cedar swamp. Arriving at the ocean, it is a 3-mile walk supplemented by headland trails for high tides. This area has traditionally been favored by the Makah from Neah Bay. The third 3-mile leg is enabled by a boardwalk which has enhanced the loop's popularity.

There are thick groves of trees adjacent to the sand, which results in chunks of timber from fallen trees on the beach. The mostly unaltered Hoh River, toward the south end of the park, discharges large amounts of naturally eroded timber and other drift, which moves north, enriching the beaches. The removal of driftwood – logs, dead-heads, tops and root-wads from streams and beaches was a major domestication measure across North America. Even today driftwood deposits form a commanding presence, biologically as well as visually, giving a taste of the original condition of the beach viewable to some extent in early photos. Drift-material often comes from a considerable distance; the Columbia River formerly contributed huge amounts to the Northwest Pacific coasts.

The smaller coastal portion of the park is separated from the larger, inland portion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt originally had supported connecting them with a continuous strip of park land.

A 3D computer generated aerial view

The park is known for its unique turbidites. It has very exposed turbidities with white calcite veins. Turbidites are rocks or sediments that travel into the ocean as suspended particles in the flow of water, causing a sedimentary layering effect on the ocean floor. Over time the sediments and rock compact and the process repeats as a constant cycle. The park also is known for its tectonic mélanges that have been deemed 'smell rocks' by the locals due to its strong petroleum odor. Mélanges are large individual rocks that are large enough that they are accounted for in map drawings. The Olympic mélanges can be as large as a house.

Glaciated mountains

The summit of Mount Olympus from the Blue Glacier
Subalpine fir in a meadow on Hurricane Ridge

Within the center of Olympic National Park rise the Olympic Mountains whose sides and ridgelines are topped with massive, ancient glaciers. The mountains themselves are products of accretionary wedge uplifting related to the Juan De Fuca Plate subduction zone. The geologic composition is a curious mélange of basaltic and oceanic sedimentary rock. The western half of the range is dominated by the peak of Mount Olympus, which rises to 7,965 feet (2,428 m). Mount Olympus receives a large amount of snow, and consequently has the greatest glaciation of any non-volcanic peak in the contiguous United States outside of the North Cascades. It has several glaciers, the largest of which is the Hoh Glacier, nearly five kilometers in length. Looking to the east, the range becomes much drier due to the rain shadow of the western mountains. Here, there are numerous high peaks and craggy ridges. The tallest summit of this area is Mount Deception, at 7,788 feet (2,374 m).

Temperate rainforest

Elk grazing on a field by the Hoh Rainforest
Moss draped bigleaf maples near the Hoh River

The western side of the park is mantled by temperate rainforests, including the Hoh Rainforest and Quinault Rainforest, which receive annual precipitation of about 150 inches (380 cm), making this perhaps the wettest area in the continental United States (the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii gets more rain).[10]

As opposed to tropical rainforests and most other temperate rainforest regions, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are dominated by coniferous trees, including Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Coast Douglas-fir and Western redcedar. Mosses coat the bark of these trees and even drip down from their branches in green, moist tendrils.

Valleys on the eastern side of the park also have notable old-growth forest, but the climate is notably drier. Sitka Spruce is absent, trees on average are somewhat smaller, and undergrowth is generally less dense and different in character. Immediately northeast of the park is a rather small rainshadow area where annual precipitation averages about 16 inches.[11]


Varileaf cinquefoil along the Hurricane Hill trail

Because the park sits on an isolated peninsula, with a high mountain range dividing it from the land to the south, it developed many endemic plant and animal species (like the Olympic Marmot, Piper's bellflower and Flett's violet). The southwestern coastline of the Olympic Peninsula is also the northernmost non-glaciated region on the Pacific coast of North America, with the result that – aided by the distance from peaks to the coast at the Last Glacial Maximum being about twice what it is today – it served as a refuge from which plants colonized glaciated regions to the north.

It also provides habitat for many species (like the Roosevelt elk) that are native only to the Pacific Northwest coast. Because of this importance, scientists have declared it to be a biological reserve, and study its unique species to better understand how plants and animals evolve. The park is home to sizable populations of black bears and Black-tailed deer. The park also has a noteworthy cougar population, numbering about 150.[12] Mountain goats were accidentally introduced into the park into the 1920s and have caused much damage on the native flora. The NPS has activated management plans to control the goats.[13] The park contains an estimated 366,000 acres (572 sq mi; 1,480 km2) of old-growth forests.[14]

Forest fires are infrequent in the park. A severe drought after the driest spring in 100 years coupled with an extremely low snowpack from the preceding winter resulted in a rare rainforest fire in the summer of 2015.[2]


Climate data for Elwha RS, WA, 1981-2010 normals, extremes 1942-present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 61
Average high °F (°C) 42.0
Average low °F (°C) 32.9
Record low °F (°C) 2
Average precipitation inches (mm) 9.30
Average snowfall inches (cm) 0.9
Average precipitation days 18 16 17 14 11 9 6 5 6 14 18 16 150

Human history

Prior to the influx of European settlers, Olympic's human population consisted of Native Americans, whose use of the peninsula was thought to have consisted mainly of fishing and hunting. However, recent reviews of the record, coupled with systematic archaeological surveys of the mountains (Olympic and other Northwest ranges) are pointing to much more extensive tribal use of especially the subalpine meadows than seemed formerly to be the case. Most if not all Pacific Northwest indigenous cultures were adversely affected by European diseases (often decimated) and other factors, well before ethnographers, business operations and settlers arrived in the region, so what they saw and recorded was a much-reduced native culture-base. Large numbers of cultural sites are now identified in the Olympic mountains, and important artifacts have been found.

When settlers began to appear, extractive industry in the Pacific Northwest was on the rise, particularly in regards to the harvesting of timber, which began heavily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Public dissent against logging began to take hold in the 1920s, when people got their first glimpses of the clear-cut hillsides. This period saw an explosion of people's interest in the outdoors; with the growing use of the automobile, people took to touring previously remote places like the Olympic Peninsula.

The formal record of a proposal for a new national park on the Olympic Peninsula begins with the expeditions of well-known figures Lieutenant Joseph O'Neil and Judge James Wickersham, during the 1890s. These notables met in the Olympic wilderness while exploring, and subsequently combined their political efforts to have the area placed within some protected status. Following unsuccessful efforts in the Washington State Legislature in the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909, primarily to protect the subalpine calving grounds and summer range of the Roosevelt elk herds native to the Olympics.

Public desire for preservation of some of the area grew until President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared ONP a national park in 1938. Even after ONP was declared a park, though, illegal logging continued in the park, and political battles continue to this day over the incredibly valuable timber contained within its boundaries. Logging continues on the Olympic Peninsula, but not within the park. A book detailing the history of the fight for ONP's timber is Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation by Carsten Lien.


Camping site on the shores of Lake Quinault

There are several roads in the park, but none penetrate far into the interior. The park features a network of hiking trails, although the size and remoteness means that it will usually take more than a weekend to get to the high country in the interior. The sights of the rain forest, with plants run riot and dozens of hues of green, are well worth the possibility of rain sometime during the trip, although months of July, August and September frequently have long dry spells.

A short hike leads to Sol Duc Falls

An unusual feature of ONP is the opportunity for backpacking along the beach. The length of the coastline in the park is sufficient for multi-day trips, with the entire day spent walking along the beach. Although idyllic compared to toiling up a mountainside (Seven Lakes Basin is a notable example), one must be aware of the tide; at the narrowest parts of the beaches, high tide washes up to the cliffs behind, blocking passage. There are also several promontories that must be struggled over, using a combination of muddy steep trail and fixed ropes.

During winter, the popular viewpoint known as Hurricane Ridge offers numerous winter sports activities. The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club operates Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area, a not for profit alpine ski area which offers ski lessons, rentals, and inexpensive lift tickets. The small alpine area is serviced by two rope tows and one poma lift. A large amount of backcountry terrain is accessible for skiers, snowboarders, and other backcountry travelers when the Hurricane Ridge Road is open. Winter access to the Hurricane Ridge Road is currently limited to Friday through Sunday weather permitting. The Hurricane Ridge Winter Access Coalition is a community effort to restore seven-day-a-week access via the Hurricane Ridge Road (the only park road accessing alpine terrain in winter).

Rafting is available on both the Elwha and Hoh Rivers.

Hurricane Ridge trail west of the visitor center.

Spectacular views of the Olympic National Park can be seen from the Hurricane Ridge viewpoint. The road leading west from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center is dotted with picnic areas and trail heads. A paved trail called the Hurricane hill trail is popular with visitors, and is about 1.6 miles long (one-way) with an elevation gain of about 700 ft. It is not uncommon to find snow on the trails even as late as July. Several other dirt trails of varying distances and difficulty levels branch off of the Hurricane hill trail. The picnic areas are open only in the summer, and have restrooms, water and paved access to picnic tables.

The Hurricane Ridge visitor center offers several conveniences, including an information desk, gift shop, restrooms, and a snack bar. The exhibits in the visitor center are open daily.

Panoramic view of the Olympic National Park as seen from near the Hurricane Ridge visitor center. The visitor center itself is visible on the right of the image.

Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project

The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project is the second largest ecosystem restoration project in the history of the National Park Service after the Everglades. It consisted of removing the 210 feet (64 m) Glines Canyon Dam and draining its reservoir, Lake Mills and removing the 108 feet (33 m) Elwha Dam and its reservoir Lake Aldwell from the Elwha River. Upon removal, the park will revegetate the slopes and river bottoms to prevent erosion and speed up ecological recovery. The primary purpose of this project is to restore anadromous stocks of Pacific Salmon and steelhead to the Elwha River, which have been denied access to the upper 65 miles (105 km) of river habitat for more than 95 years by these dams. Removal of the dams was completed in 2014.

See also


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  3. ^ "Olympic National Park: Directions". National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  4. ^ "The Economy of the Olympic Peninsula and Potential Impacts of the Draft Congressional Watershed Conservation Proposal" (PDF). Headwaters Economics (Bozeman, Montana). p. 6. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  5. ^ "Park Newsletter July/August 2009". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The National Parks Index 2009–2011". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  8. ^ "Olympic Wilderness". Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  9. ^ "Olympic National Park: Coast". National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  10. ^ "City of Sequim". Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  11. ^ "Monthly Averages for Sequim, WA". The Weather Channel. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  12. ^ "Cougar warning". Kitsap Sun (17 May 1992). Retrieved January 8, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Mountain Goats in Olympic National Park: Biology and Management of an Introduced Species". National Park Service. Retrieved January 8, 2014. 
  14. ^ Bolsinger, Charles L.; Waddell, Karen L. (1993). "Area of old-growth forests in California, Oregon, and Washington" (PDF).  

External links and literature

  • "Olympic National Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  • "The Pacific Northwest Olympic Peninsula Community Museum". University of Washington. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  • "The Evergreen Playground Online museum". University of Washington. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  • Olympic National Park Documentary produced by Full Focus
  • "Winter Access". 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.