Washington State's National Parks: Olympic National Park Rainforest
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Rainforests - Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park has few roads inside the park as 95% of it is designated wilderness. However, many trails are a short drive off Highway 101. A ferry ride plus a two hour drive from Seattle gets you to Port Angeles, the primary gateway to the park.
8,000 foot high Mount Olympus of the Olympic Mountain range is the highest peak in the Park (unlike Mt. Rainier, it is not a volcano). An easy drive in the park can be accomplished in the Hurricane Ridge area. Start in Port Angeles at the Visitor Center, just off Highway 101, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The movie and exhibits tell about the park. The 17 mile drive from the entrance gate to the top at Hurricane Ridge has several interesting places to stop. Some stops are at pullouts to look at scenery, hike around a small waterfall, or to see a deer casually munching on foliage not far from the road. Take time to stop at Heart O' the Hills campground. The two mile Heart of the Forest Trail starts at the campground. The first part of this old-growth forest has large ferns, mushrooms in late spring and early fall, and small wildflowers throughout the summer.
When you return to the road, drive all the way to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, and then continue on to the end of the road. The trail here is a delightful hiking path that will give you an opportunity to overlook the basin, where on a clear day you can see out across the mountain range. In the winter, strap on the snowshoes or cross-country skis to get around in this area.
If you stay overnight in Port Angeles, head out the next day to explore the Hoh Rain Forest area 12 miles south of Forks on Highway 101. There is a smaller Visitor Center here (open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) from which two easy trails start.
The Hoh River, from a Native word meaning "fast moving water", is the largest river in the Park. Glaciers from Mount Olympus and other peaks drain into the river. Because of its placement so close to the coast, this area receives large amounts of precipitation which leads to a temperate rainforest. It receives an average of over 140 inches of rain annually. Remember to bring raingear, even if the day starts out dry in Port Angeles!
The easy 0.8 mile trail Hall of Mosses, is a good introduction to a temperate rainforest. Children are enchanted with the wispy mosses hanging off the trees. This is a likely place to see Roosevelt elk in fall and winter. The half mile longer Spruce Nature Loop covers both old growth and a newer forest along the edge of the Hoh River.
If you want to stay overnight in the area, consider Kalaloch Lodge, near the Pacific Coast. There are seven beaches to walk near the lodge.
For more information call the Olympic Park Visitor Center at 360 452-0330 or visit http://www.nps.gov/olym/.
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Janice Lovelace, a freelance photojournalist, lives in Western Washington. This is the perfect jumping off point for many outdoor activities throughout the year. She writes and photographs primarily about nature and outdoor travel. She has traveled with her camera throughout most of the US (including Alaska and Hawai'i), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Russia and SE Asia. Her articles have appeared in regional and national magazines.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author