Olympic National Park: Mountains, forests and shores

Olympic National Park is located in the same state as Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains and volcanic Mount St. Helens, but it still holds its own as a tourist attraction and cultural touchpoint.

While Rainier, the Cascades and St. Helens are merely mountains, the 922,651-acre Olympic is “three parks in one,” as the National Park Service puts it. Like them, it has snow-capped peaks, but the park also includes more than 60 miles of wild coastline as well as old-growth forest and temperate rainforest.

Participants in the first expeditions to the once-isolated Olympic Mountains in the 1890s so appreciated the rugged beauty of the Olympic Peninsula that they began lobbying to have them protected for the public. Future Alaska pioneer judge James Wickersham didn’t even wait, writing letters calling for the land to be set aside while he was still touring.

The area was initially made a 2-million-acre forest preserve in 1897. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as Mount Olympus National Monument. President Franklin Roosevelt made it Olympic National Park in 1938.

The park’s different ecosystems offer “a chance for people to experience nature in a way we don’t usually do in our daily lives,” park spokeswoman Penny Wagner says.

Some of the park’s top spots include Hurricane Ridge for its eye-popping views of the park and the water, the Elwha River Valley for a short hike through lowland old-growth forest to Madison Falls, driftwood-lined Rialto Beach for shore walks and tidal pools, and the Hall of Mosses Trail in the lush Hoh Rain Forest, where 12 feet of rain falls every year.

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