Olympic National Park

Rhode Island has nothing on this place

June 29, 2021

At 922,649 acres – about 1,411 square miles – Olympic National Park (ONP) is roughly the same size as Rhode Island. Comparing something to Rhode Island is, of course, what American’s do.

The Olympic mountains dressed up for summer with wildflowers.
Photo from ONP official website

Beyond the fact that Rhode Island borders an ocean, that’s where the similarity ends. Its highest and lowest points range from sea level to just over 800 feet. Olympic National Park, on the other hand, ranges from sea level to just under 8,000 feet with 7,965 foot tall Mount Olympus in the heart of the Olympic Mountains, the center of the park.

While one could traverse all of Rhode Island in a short span of time, to travel around Olympic NP requires planning for a variety of terrains with summer, fall, winter, and spring all possible this time of year.

It was on June 29, 1938 when the area became a National Park, the 13th largest U.S. National Park and the seventh largest in the contiguous US.

The Olympic Marmot

ONP is a true gem in the National Park system. It has a number of distinct animal species found nowhere else in the world including the snow mole, Mazama pocket gopher, Olympic chipmunk, and Olympic marmot. The Hoh River rain forest looks like a scene from a fantasy film with its moss draped trees – the result of receiving 150 inches of rain a year – making it the wettest National Park. The park also features glaciers in the mountains and over 60 miles of pristine beaches.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“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. 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.

Tree framed sea stacks.

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 visitor numbers.”

Unlike its Washington State counterpart, Rainier National Park, Olympic is not overrun with visitors each year. One can visit Olympic and encounter the occasional hiker and a handful of intrepid souls who trek to the beach for its incomparable vistas. One often feels as though they are an explorer from another century, viewing the landscape in much the same way those first settlers saw it.

I first went to ONP as a teenager on a day trip up to Hurricane Ridge. Most of what I recall about that trip was my dad stopping the car in a wide spot so we could get out and visit with a local – that is a deer – who was unafraid of people.

Me and the kids at Heart of the Hills campground in 2004

Although I’ve made the foray into the park a number of times, I still feel as though I don’t really know it. Of the 60 miles of beaches I’ve only ever seen the areas near Klaloch, Ozette, and Rialto. There is a stunning beauty when you stand at the Pacific Ocean’s edge and see the sea stacks, crashing waves, and hundreds of birds soaring overhead.

During a 2004 trip with the kids and hubby, we found ourselves communing with a herd of elk – again the elk were unconcerned at the human’s among them – an event which I’m certain the kids still recall. We marveled at the Hoh river rain forest, and all of us got a little bit fatigued at the driving required to traverse the sheer distance between places.

Even so, we still only experienced a tiny portion of the park.

The hubby and I have had on our bucket list to visit every National Park and although we’ve been to Olympic several times, it definitely deserves another trip or ten.

But don’t tell anyone – us Washingtonians like having Olympic all to ourselves.

The kid’s on Rialto Beach summer 2004

The links:



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