No one fails to be impressed by the lush temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park. Averaging an incredible 12 ft/4 m of rainfall per year, these spectacular forests of tall, moss-covered trees surround lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The park also encompasses the Olympic Mountains, which reach heights of 7,000 ft/2,170 m, as well as unspoiled coastline and mist-shrouded old growth forest.
Because few roads penetrate the rugged interior, most visitors circumnavigate the area on Highway 101. Plan at least two days to drive around the park and see the highlights. The park experiences some closures from snow. Call 360-565-3131 for the latest information. http://www.nps.gov/olym.
Beginning on the northern side of the park, near Port Angeles, make the 40-minute drive up to Hurricane Ridge, where there are magnificent overlook views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the higher mountain peaks farther inside the park. The parking lot at the top of Hurricane Ridge is the starting point for several hiking trails—some short jaunts through alpine meadows, some base areas for multiday backpacking trips. Don't be surprised to find snow alongside the trails even in the warmer months.
Heading west on Highway 101 from Port Angeles, you'll wind past beautiful Lake Crescent, which merits a stop for fishing or hiking. The 1916 lakeside lodges welcome overnight visitors. Farther on, a road leaves Highway 101 and runs to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, which offers cabins, a swimming pool and an RV park, in addition to the hot-spring pools.
After the highway swings south, take the turnoff to the Hoh Rain Forest. This is a must-see—an area of moss-covered old-growth forest that contains Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and western hemlocks that tower 20 stories high. Short trails loop through the forest, where the tree-filtered sunlight tints everything green. The much longer Hoh River Trail takes backpackers farther into the park.
Highway 101 continues southwest to a separate section of the park on the Pacific Ocean. It contains 57 mi/92 km of pristine shoreline, one of the longest unbroken stretches in the contiguous U.S. In the community of Kalaloch, the park operates the oceanfront Kalaloch Lodge, which offers a nice setting for strolls. The scenery is fantastic: waves, wind and enormous piles of driftwood.
Swinging back to the east, Highway 101 leaves the park and passes through a very unattractive area where timber has been clear-cut, some of it on the Quinault Indian Reservation. Approximately 30 mi/45 km down the road, the beauty returns when you reach Lake Quinault. This lovely body of water is framed by forested hills full of old-growth red cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock. Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1926, stands on the south shore. This stately, shingle-sided building is definitely vintage, and its rooms show it: The beautiful setting and cozy lobby with a fireplace make it an enjoyable place to stay or visit. Hiking trails begin right outside the lodge. Other routes include the excellent Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail and Graves Creek Nature Trail.
After Lake Quinault, Highway 101 heads south and out of the park. It connects with Highways 12 and 8, which can return you to Olympia, Puget Sound and the Seattle-Tacoma area. Olympic National Park begins 40 mi/65 km west of Seattle.
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