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Olympic National Park in Washington State is one of America’s most magnificent regions, yet it also happens to be one of the less-visited parks, which means much of the time you’ll be able to enjoy the myriad of spectacular sights without the crowds. This park is home to everything from dramatic mountains and wildflower-filled meadows to hot springs, waterfalls, wild coastlines, abundant wildlife and so much more. These things are some of the top options for experiencing the best it has to offer.
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When coming from the east, you’ll first encounter an opportunity for a scenic drive to Hurricane Ridge, which is the park’s most easily accessed mountain area. It’s renowned for its lush meadows filled with wildflowers in late spring and summer as well as all sorts of wildlife like black-tailed deer, mountain goats, marmots and even bobcat, though the feline is rather elusive. As a ski area is located here, the road is usually open in the winter and is transformed into a magical winter wonderland. You can also glide down the slopes for some great family-friendly skiing that doesn’t come with that typical high price tag.
One of the prettiest falls around can be reached via a short but rewarding hike. The .8-mile trek to Marymere Falls leaves from the Storm King Visitor Center and meanders under a lush, green canopy of moss-covered trees. The waterfall itself is simply stunning as it plunges nearly 90 feet into a tranquil emerald pool below. Not only does it make a picture-perfect photo op, but you’ll want to stop and capture many of the gorgeous scenes along the way.
This glacially-carved lake is a must visit with so many recreational activities it offers as well as just the chance to relax and soak up its jaw-dropping natural beauty. The crystal-clear turquoise waters are nearly 60 feet deep and are home two types of trout that are found nowhere else on Earth: Beardslee and Crescenti trout. On a warm summer’s day, the pristine waters are ideal for a refreshing swim, as well as numerous other active pursuits. Rentals, including pedal boats, row boats, hydro bikes, kayaks and canoes are all available for exploring the huge body of water.
Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is among the only protected temperate rain forests in the Northern Hemisphere, near the park’s west side closer to the coast. With an annual average of 140 inches of precipitation, the Hoh and the nearby Queets and Quinault valleys are true temperate rain forests, with an annual precipitation that can reach as much as 200 inches in the highlands. Situated about 20 miles inland from Highway 101, check out the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center and then walk one or more of the three loop trails nearby that offer an easy stroll and a wonderful sample of the area. The one-and-a-quarter-mile Spruce Nature Trail meanders through the younger forests of red alder and cottonwood along the glacier-fed river, while the three-quarter-mile Hall of Mosses Trail reveals the moss-covered maples that are especially stunning in the spring.
Shi Shi Beach is just northwest of the park’s borders and is truly a must-visit, often rated among the most stunning wild beaches in the world, with some of the most magnificent vistas of the rugged Olympic coast around. It requires a 4-mile out-and-back hike to access, but is well worth the reward as a sandy beach dotted with gnarled logs and branches bleached and battered by the surf. The waves thrash upon the sea stacks offshore, while bald eagles and a wide range of other seabirds soar overhead and sit perched in the trees. The last stretch of the trail is Point of Arches, with some incredible sea stacks rising up out of the water for a mile or more.
If you’re up for a longer, more challenging adventure, the 9.4-mile Ozette Triangle Loop is one of the top treks in the region, with just one of the highlights the Makah petroglyphs that have etched into the Wedding Rocks, a cluster of boulders that cling to the shore about midway along the coast. Sacred artifacts, they predate European settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, you can gaze out at the sea stacks and typically lots of wildlife too, like sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, and the occasional whale. A little over three miles of the route follows the shoreline for searching through those tide pools and checking out the oystercatchers that are digging for their meals.
With over 75 miles of Pacific coastline, 600 lakes and 4,000 miles of rivers and streams that support some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout and char, the park is an angler’s dream. A Washington State Recreational Fishing License is not required in the park, unless you fish along the ocean shore, but you may want to invest in one with hundreds of outstanding fishing spots just outside of the park too. There are over 30 species of fish here, from cutthroat trout and dolly varden to bull trout, steel trout and five species of Pacific salmon.
After a long day of play and exploring in the park, one of the best ways to soothe sore muscles and relax is to soak in one of the hot springs, with Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort the most popular. It features a variety of other facilities too, though it can get a bit crowded here. The resort also offers massage, a poolside deli, casual eatery, gift shop and convenience store. At Olympic Hot Springs in the Elwha River Valley, you’ll need to take a 2.5-mile hike from the Boulder Creek Trailhead, but it offers a lot more privacy and features 21 springs in a bank on Boulder Creek, a tributary of the Elwha River in the park where water temperatures range anywhere from lukewarm to a sizzling 138 degrees.