Mountains and Rainforests and Beaches, Oh My! The Varied Landscapes of Olympic National Park
by Candice Cravins, Girls Who Hike Alabama Ambassador
Glacier-capped mountains, lush, temperate rainforests, and sandy, rocky beaches thriving with some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna make up the beauty that is Olympic National Park. Located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, Olympic National Park offers a little something for everyone! Designated a National Park in 1938 and encompassing nearly one million acres, Olympic provides visitors with the opportunity to interact with three distinct ecosystems. Feeling beachy? Explore over 70 miles of wild, untouched Pacific coastline and visit Rialto Beach! Up for chasing waterfalls? Hike along Lake Crescent and make a stop at the enchanting 90-foot high Marymere Falls! Are the mountains calling? Throw on your hiking shoes and take in some of the most amazing scenic vistas along Hurricane Ridge! Believe it or not, you can get a little taste of ALL three distinct ecosystems in one day.
My visit to Olympic National Park was truly one of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life. On a summer trip to Seattle while in graduate school, I decided to hop (err, drive) on to the ferry to Bainbridge Island to do a little wilderness exploring. I didn’t have much time, but I wanted to take in as much as I could of what the area had to offer. A stop at the Park’s visitor’s center and a quick chat with one of the staff members helped narrow down some “hotspots,” and I was able to effectively map out a route that would allow me to hit the beach, the mountains, and the forest all in one day! I hiked alongside visitors from all over the world and took in a feast for my eyes at Hurricane Ridge, where I was struck by the contrast between the lush, green mountainsides covered in colorful wildflowers set against the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks. I made a trek through the shaded rainforest to stop for a photo op at Marymere Falls, and nearly froze to death (an exaggeration of course, but my spontaneous self was not totally prepared for cold, windy, and misty weather on this particular day!) at the beach as I admired the rocky coastline, which was so different than the southern California beaches I had grown up visiting.
John Muir, Father of our National Parks, once said, “ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” It was amazing to be able to take in such a wide variety of landscapes all in one place, and I left the Park at the end of that day totally at peace, with a great sense of accomplishment and an even greater appreciation for the natural wonders of our world. Only later would I realize how much of an impact that trip would have on me – that I would so vividly remember it years later is a testament to nature’s power.