Olympic National Park is located in the U.S. state of Washington, in the Olympic Peninsula.
The park is divided into four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest and the forests of the drier east side.
President Theodore Roosevelt originally created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 and after Congress voted to authorize a re-designation to National Park status, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the legislation in 1938. In 1976, Olympic National Park became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1988, Congress designated 95 percent of the park as the Olympic Wilderness.
The coastal portion of the park is a rugged, sandy beach along with a strip of adjacent forest. It is 73 miles (117 km) long but just a few miles wide, with native communities at the mouths of two rivers. The Hoh River has the Hoh people and at the town of La Push at the mouth of the Quileute River live the Quileute.
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. (Times to hike should typically be doubled.) 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.
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 popularity.
There are thick groves of trees adjacent to the sand, which results in chunks of timber from fallen trees on the beach. The mostly unaltered Hoh River, toward the south end of the park, discharges large amounts of naturally eroded timber and other drift, which moves north, enriching the beaches. The removal of driftwood - logs, dead-heads, tops and root-wads from streams and beaches was a major domestication measure across North America. Even today driftwood deposits form a commanding presence, biologically as well as visually, giving a taste of the original condition of the beach viewable to some extent in early photos. Drift-material often comes from a considerable distance; the Columbia River formerly contributed huge amounts to the Northwest Pacific coasts.
The smaller coastal portion of the park is separated from the larger, inland portion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt originally had supported connecting them with a continuous strip of park land.
Within the center of Olympic National Park rise the Olympic Mountains whose sides and ridgelines are topped with massive, ancient glaciers. The mountains themselves are products of accretionary wedge uplifting related to the Juan De Fuca Plate subduction zone. The geologic composition is a curious mélange of basaltic and oceanic sedimentary rock. The western half of the range is dominated by the peak of Mount Olympus, which rises to 7,965 feet (2,428 m).
Mount Olympus receives a large amount of snow, and consequently has the greatest glaciation of any non-volcanic peak in the contiguous United States outside of the North Cascades. It has several glaciers, the largest of which is the Hoh Glacier, nearly five kilometers in length. Looking to the east, the range becomes much drier due to the rain shadow of the western mountains. Here, there are numerous high peaks and craggy ridges. The tallest summit of this area is Mount Deception, at 7,788 feet (2,374 m).
The western side of the park is mantled by a temperate rain forest, including the Hoh Rain Forest and Quinault Rain Forest, which receive annual precipitation of about 150 inches (380 cm), making this perhaps the wettest area in the continental United States (the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii gets more rain).
Because this is a temperate rainforest, as opposed to a tropical one like the Amazon Rainforest in South America, it is dominated by dense coniferous timber, including Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Coast Douglas-fir and Western redcedar and mosses that coat the bark of these trees and even drip down from their branches in green, moist tendrils.
Valleys on the eastern side of the park also have notable old-growth forest, but the climate is notably drier. Sitka Spruce is absent, trees on average are somewhat smaller, and undergrowth is generally less dense and different in character. Immediately northeast of the park is a rather small rainshadow area where annual precipitation averages about 16 inches.
Because the park sits on an isolated peninsula, with a high mountain range dividing it from the land to the south, it developed many endemic plant and animal species (like the Olympic Marmot and Piper's bellflower). The southwestern coastline of the Olympic Peninsula is also the northernmost non-glaciated region on the Pacific coast of North America, with the result that - aided by the distance from peaks to the coast at the Last Glacial Maximum being about twice what it is today - it served as a refuge from which plants colonized glaciated regions to the north.
It also provides habitat for many species (like the Roosevelt elk) that are native only to the Pacific Northwest coast. Because of this importance, scientists have declared it to be a biological reserve, and study its unique species to better understand how plants and animals evolve.
The park contains an estimated 366,000 acres (572 sq mi; 1,480 km2) of old-growth forests.
Prior to the influx of European settlers, Olympic's human population consisted of Native Americans, whose use of the peninsula was thought to have consisted mainly of fishing and hunting. However, recent reviews of the record, coupled with systematic archaeological surveys of the mountains (Olympic and other Northwest ranges) are pointing to much more extensive tribal use of especially the subalpine meadows than seemed formerly to be the case.
Most if not all Pacific Northwest indigenous cultures were adversely affected by European diseases (often decimated) and other factors, well before ethnographers, business operations and settlers arrived in the region, so what they saw and recorded was a much-reduced native culture-base. Large numbers of cultural sites are now identified in the Olympic mountains, and important artifacts have been found.
When settlers began to appear, extractive industry in the Pacific Northwest was on the rise, particularly in regards to the harvesting of timber, which began heavily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Public dissent against logging began to take hold in the 1920s, when people got their first glimpses of the clear-cut hillsides. This period saw an explosion of people's interest in the outdoors; with the growing use of the automobile, people took to touring previously remote places like the Olympic Peninsula.
The formal record of a proposal for a new national park on the Olympic Peninsula begins with the expeditions of well-known figures Lieutenant Joseph O'Neil and Judge James Wickersham, during the 1890s. These notables met in the Olympic wilderness while exploring, and subsequently combined their political efforts to have the area placed within some protected status. Following unsuccessful efforts in the Washington State Legislature in the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909, primarily to protect the subalpine calving grounds and summer range of the Roosevelt elk herds native to the Olympics.
Public desire for preservation of some of the area grew until President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared ONP a national park in 1938. Even after ONP was declared a park, though, illegal logging continued there, and political battles continue to this day over the incredibly valuable timber contained within its boundaries. Logging continues on the Olympic Peninsula, but not within the park. A book detailing the history of the fight for ONP's timber is Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation by Carsten Lien.
A short hike leads to Sol Duc Falls.There are several roads in the park, but none penetrate far into the interior. The park features a network of hiking trails, although the size and remoteness means that it will usually take more than a weekend to get to the high country in the interior. The sights of the rain forest, with plants run riot and dozens of hues of green, are well worth the possibility of rain sometime during the trip, although months of July, August and September frequently have long dry spells.
An unusual feature of ONP is the opportunity for backpacking along the beach. The length of the coastline in the park is sufficient for multi-day trips, with the entire day spent walking along the beach. Although idyllic compared to toiling up a mountainside (Seven Lakes Basin is a notable example), one must be aware of the tide; at the narrowest parts of the beaches, high tide washes up to the cliffs behind, blocking passage. There are also several promontories that must be struggled over, using a combination of muddy steep trail and fixed ropes.
During winter, the popular viewpoint known as Hurricane Ridge offers alpine and Nordic skiing opportunities. The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club operates Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area, a not for profit alpine ski area which offers ski lessons, rentals, and inexpensive lift tickets. The small alpine area is serviced by two rope tows and one poma lift. Backcountry skiers often make their way down to the main Hurricane Ridge Road in order to hitchhike their way back to the top. Rafting is available on both the Elwha and Hoh Rivers.
Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project
The Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project is the second largest ecosystem restoration project in the history of the National Park Service after the Everglades.
It will consist of removing the 210 feet (64 m) Glines Canyon Dam and draining its reservoir, Lake Mills and removing the 108 feet (33 m) Elwha Dam and its reservoir Lake Aldwell from the Elwha River.
Upon removal, the park will revegetate the slopes and river bottoms to prevent erosion and speed up ecological recovery. The primary purpose of this project is to restore anadromous stocks of Pacific Salmon and Steelhead to the Elwha River, which have been denied access to the upper 65 miles (105 km) of river habitat for more than 95 years by these dams.