Standing sentinel against
the fierce storms which blow in across the Pacific, the 2,428 mt tall Mt Olympus
is one of the most beautiful peaks in the USA. Unlike its Greek namesake, this Mt Olympus
is not the abode of powerful gods and goddesses. For very little, divine or otherwise,
could hope to survive in the windswept, icy waste of that frozen summit. But Mt Olympus
is, nevertheless, an important peak- and very popular among the hundreds of avid
mountaineers and rock-climbers who attempt to conquer it, or just view it from the
surrounding region, that of Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park is situated in the
north-western region of the state of Washington, roughly in the centre of what is known as
the Olympic Peninsula. The park stretches inland from the ragged coastline of Washington
State, covering a vast expanse of icebound mountain ranges, damp green rainforests and
grasslands. Within this area are many discoveries to be made- just let serendipity take
over. Waterfalls, rippling brooks, glaciers (266 of them!), alpine meadows carpeted with
wildflowers, hot springs, quiet beaches- really not much missing here.
And what's better is that there's plenty to
do. Hike, cycle, fish, climb, canoe, kayak, go white-water rafting along the Hoh, Queets,
Sol Duc or Quinault Rivers- just get a taste of wild America at its best.
Olympic National Park's diversity of
terrain results in a corresponding diversity of animal life. Along the beaches you can see
otters, seals and plenty of seabirds. Further inland is more wildlife- black bear,
mountain lion, Roosevelt elk, marmot, fox, black-tailed deer and a large number of small
mammals, reptiles and birds.
The park has two visitor centres- the Hoh
Rainforest Visitor Centre and the Olympic Park Visitor Centre- besides a Ranger Station
(Hoodsport). Information and assistance are readily available at all three places. In
addition, interpretative programmes, nature study walks and park-specific discussions are
arranged by the park authorities.
All visitors to Olympic National Park need
an entry permit, costing US$ 5 per person. Permits valid for a week may be collected at
the park entrances at Hurricane Ridge, Elwha, Sol Duc, Hoh, Staircase, and Heart o' the
Hills. Annual passes are also issued by the park, for US$ 15. Extra charges are levied for
vehicles, tours, fishing licenses and use of facilities within the park.
American citizens are eligible for lifetime passes, which allow entry to all the national
parks in the country. These passes are free for those with permanent disabilities, and
cost a nominal amount- between US$ 10 and 50- for everybody else.
The main town for access to Olympic
National Park is that of Port Angeles, which lies on the northern coast, along the Strait
of Juan de Fuca. Port Angeles is connected to the rest of the country by air, road and
ferry. Horizon Air flights from Portland and Seattle land at Port Angeles Airport, while
ferries from British Columbia (Canada) and across the Puget Sound dock at Port Angeles.
Trains do not come as far as the Olympic Peninsula, but nearby railheads include Seattle,
Tacoma and Olympia. From either of these cities- or from towns such as Port Angeles,
Sequim and Grays Harbor- a bus can be taken, or a car hired, to get to the National Park.
Highway No. 101 leads directly to the park and does a circuit of the entire area too.
Once you're in the park, there are plenty
of options for seeing the region. Whether you hike, go riding or cycling, or prefer to go
along the rivers in a canoe or boat- you won't find yourself alone. Well-marked trails run
through much of the park, allowing visitors the opportunity to get fairly deep into the
wilderness without running the risk of getting lost. Mountaineering (including the
ultimate challenge of scaling Olympus itself) is possible, but should only be attempted by
If you really don't feel like getting out
of your car, go for a drive through Olympic. Among the best routes are the forest valleys
of the Sol Duc, Hoh and Quinault rivers; the stunning road along the Pacific Coast, and
the drive up to Hurricane Ridge.
Maps, both for hiking trails and for
driving, can be obtained at the park's visitor centres.
Best time to visit
Olympic National Park remains open
throughout the year, but summer is quite definitely the best time to visit. Winters,
besides being freezing- quite literally- are low season, and you might find some roads and
facilities closed. Time your trip for between April and October, but take along your
woollens anyway- high altitude areas are cold throughout the year.
Accommodation options in Olympic National
Park include campsites, two lodges and two cabin resorts. The resorts- one each at Sol Duc
Hot Springs and at Lake Crescent- are fairly upscale, as are the lodges. Lower budget
choices include the park's 17 campgrounds, which offer basic facilities and operate on a
first come-first served basis.
Nearby towns such as Quinault, Amanda Park,
Port Angeles, Forks, Sequim and Brinnon offer further options, in the form of hotels,
motels and inns. Tariffs can vary considerably, depending upon what facilities you're
Further information on Olympic National
Park is available from the National Park Service (Tel: 1-800-365-2267). Bookings for
accommodation and tours can also be made at the same phone number. Alternatively, you
could contact the park administration directly at Olympic National Park, 600 East Park
Avenue, Port Angeles, Washington (Tel: 360-452-4501).