Olympic National Park

When you think of the state of Washington, you might, in your mind’s eye think of a first world state of transportation and buzzy business. You might think of the 7-million people who live and work in Washington and contribute to the state’s economy with serious commercial commitment; people who wear ties and suits every day. The national park spans over almost 1-million acres and offers some of the most extraordinary landscapes. The original inhabitants of this area have histories that are estimated to reach back some 12,000 years. Photo: Photo: rruntsch/Fotolia

»History

History

Archaeological evidence has shown us that the history of Olympic National Park in Washington extends back in time to prehistory, to a time when dinosaurs roamed the planet. While it is understood that the people who lived in the area were nomadic and the place they called home depended on what food they could find where, it is known that a great percentage of them fed on huge mammals such as whales. But evidence is also existence of these people’s use of tools made of stone and items such as baskets, made of twigs.

The Olympic National Park that you will visit, however, first came into being from the mid-1850s, as a result of several treaties signed between American colonialists of the time and the indigenous Indian communities who were living in the region. There’s a certain amount of controversy around these treaties, when looked at with 21st century eyes, as to who they were benefiting more, but nevertheless, it’s the way history panned out.

In 1873, almost a decade after the end of the American Civil War, plans became effective to set up reservations near where people affiliated to communities such as the Quinault, Quileute, Hoh and Ozette lived. It was a time of great exploration and renaming and what was then called the Olympic Forest Reserve became known as the Olympic National Forest in 1907.

“Olympic?” you might frown. “Olympic? Doesn’t that word have something to do with sports and not with Washington? Or with a Greek meaning?” You would not be wrong. Photo: stevenwellingson/Fotolia

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»More Olympic National Park History

More Olympic National Park History

Olympus, where the word ‘Olympic’ derives is the name for the highest mountain in Greece and the mountain which early Greeks believed to be the home of their gods. Residents of the area around what is today Olympic National Park traditionally referred to the area as a gift from the sea. And if you look at its features, it certainly is some gift! It’s a huge piece of ground which contains three distinct ecosystems inside an almost circular mountain range. No less than 13 rivers radiate from the mountain range.

Picture all of this in your mind’s eye, remembering that most of its features were indeed formed by the sea – the massive rocks, many of which still have marine fossils embedded in them – come from under the ocean. The basalt in the rock faces originates from undersea volcanic explosions. Archaeologists explain that this miraculous-seeming environment came about with movements in the oceanic plates about 30 million years ago. Glaciers which were probably about one mile thick became the tools that sculpted the environment with such drama and complete beauty.

But further to these geological evolutions, Ice Age isolation led to some animal plants and species evolving only in this part of the planet – and these include the Olympic mountain milkvetch, a plant which has oblong hairy leaves and greenish white and purple-veined petals; the Olympic Mazama pocket gopher, which looks like a mixture between a mole and a chipmunk and grows to a maximum of six inches in length; and the Olympic Beardlee trout, known to locals as “blue backs”, among others.

When you visit the park, you will see lots of mountain goats – those amazing creatures which are capable of trotting up the side of a sheer face of rock with seemingly no support or footholds. Curiously, the mountain goats are not native to the area. They were introduced here in the 1920s, before the park was officially formalized. But their population exploded in the area, and in 1981, attempts were made to thin the goat count a bit. Photo: mheston/Fotolia

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»Facilities

Facilities

Because of its rich mixture of history, culture and geology, the best way to begin your trip to the Olympic National Park is with an audio tour. With a Park Overview as well as features on the Staircase, the Hoh community and Hurricane Ridge, to name but a few key elements, you can quickly orient yourself to the full picture of this extraordinary space. The audio tour is designed for cell phone use and normal cell phone rates apply.

Boating is a very popular activity in Olympic park, given the 13 rivers which flow around the mountain, but be warned: there are strict safety regulations which you must adhere to. This is because the weather is subject to dramatic and rapid shifts which can often be unpredictable. Each river and lake has a different ‘personality’ and conditions, and you need to be fairly seasoned with navigating a boat to take a trip by yourself through any of them. Also depending on what kind of boat you want to use, there may be restrictions – you can use motorized boats in some of the areas, but not others, and fishing boats, kayaks and rafts only on specified bodies of water, for which there are permits. Photo: Roger /Fotolia

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»More Things to Do

More Things to Do

The variety of rock types in the mountainous regions of Olympic Park also makes for varied rock climbing experiences. The texture and robustness of the rocks, which range from shale and sandstone, soft basalt and pillow lava is not uniform. The park will insist that you don’t go meandering with vague ideas of what you’re looking for. They will ask you to explain exactly where you’re going and how you will be returning – so it’s important to do your homework. You don’t want the park sending out search parties for you, after dark or in difficult weather. The main peaks: Mount Olympus, Mount Deception and Mount Constance, are truly spectacular but don’t attempt them alone. These mountains are dangerous and won’t be gentle on the boasts of mavericks.

Fishing is certainly encouraged in the Olympic National Park, but the emphasis is on catch-and-release fishing which is deemed good for the aquatic balance of the ecosystem. You need to follow the rules with care so that you are not responsible for disrupting things.

If you’re not up for any of the hectic and scary possibilities of traversing the mountains or the rivers, there are the tide pools, which come with their own etiquette, as they too are part of the ecosystem. Kalaloch Beach’s 4 and Mora’s Hole are the Park’s most popular tide pools. Don’t try and jump from rock to rock as you gaze into the pools: things may be covered in algae and a lot more slippery than they look. Also, be aware of sneaky waves which may catch you by surprise: these are not called tide pools for fun: the tide does rush in, and it means business!

But with rangers at hand, and ranger-led trails, there’s always someone to rely on, even in the trickiest of weather or geological conditions. If you’re not a seasoned explorer, rely on the extensive knowledge and training of your ranger. Photo: Aleksei Potov/Fotolia

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»Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit

Because of the extreme weather that Olympic National Park experiences, particularly in summer, it is recommended that you plan your trip for the winter months, or the late winter months, when snow is beginning to melt. Be aware, however, that it is a wet season, and dress accordingly.

To get into the park, you need a pass, which you can purchase from the “America the Beautiful” Series, which offers access to numerous wild areas in the United States. An annual pass costs $80, but you can obtain educational waivers on fees, if you are bringing a tour group.

There are four primary visitor centers in the Olympic National Park. And they are there to assist you in whatever way you need them to.

All things considered, a visit to the Olympic National Park in Washington is by no manner or means the kind of thing you can do on a whim. You need to equip yourself properly, plan your trip with great care and with an understanding of the dangers than can lurk in areas that you’re not completely familiar with. But having said all of that and having rung all the warning bells possible, it’s truly an experience worth experiencing. Not only will it open your eyes to the sheer magnificence in the world in which we live, but it will heighten your appreciation for what tiny cogs we are, as human beings in such a big deep world.

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3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362, website, Phone: 360-565-3130 Photo: jfergusonphotos/Fotolia

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Olympic National Park in Washington State