OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

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.

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Entry Permits

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.

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Access

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 experienced climbers.

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.

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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.

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Accommodation

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 looking at.

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).


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National Parks

- Acadia National Park
- Denali National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
 
State Parks
- Adirondack Park

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