The second part of Olympic National Park is the forest. Rainfall in the park ranges from 40 to 240 inches a year and elevation ranges from sea=level to almost 8000 feet. This creates an amazingly wide variety of ecosystems. Olympic National Park protects the largest old growth forest in the Northwest. Many of the trees here are up to 1000 years old. There are two main locations in the park to enjoy these rain forests: Hoh Rain Forest on the West side of the park and Quinalt Rain Forest in the Southwest corner of the park. I opted for Hoh.
One interesting spot along the Sol Duc River is the Salmon Cascades. Salmon swimming upstream and jumping these cascades used to be a common sight in early Autumn; but over-fishing has caused the numbers of salmon in the river to decrease making it less likely you will get to see this bit of nature.
The Sol Duc River begins its long journey to the Pacific Ocean at 5000 feet near the High Divide. As it winds its path through Sol Duc Valley it is at times calm and gentle and at times a raging river. It shores and pools provide a habitat for a number of species of plants and animals.
There is no visitors center along Sol Duc Road but there is the historic Eagle Ranger Station. This station is only manned intermittently (it was not manned when I visited). There are facilities farther up the road at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.
Another road into the mountain portion of Olympic National Park is the 14 mile long Sol Duc Road. Sol Duc Road is shorter than the Hurricane Ridge Road and does not have quite as spectacular views but it does have nice views of the Sol Duc River, good fishing, and a hot springs at the end of the road. There is also a camping area here.
By far, the biggest lake in the park is Lake Crescent, which is located in the Northwest part of the park. There are two lodges at Lake Crescent that are right by the lake with beautiful views. There are a number of recreational facilities available here too including boating and hiking trails. The lodges serve food too.
There is another viewpoint near the visitors center along the Cirque Rim Trail. This viewpoint offers some of the best views of the strait and of Canada I saw in the park. You can even see Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia from here (see photo 2).
If you look closely, you can see a difference in the color of the trees on these slopes. The lighter colored foliage shows where fires have burned the vegetation over the last few hundred years. Most of these fires have been caused by lightning and area a natural part of the life of a forest and mountain. You may also see a few areas cleared of trees indicating a winter avalanche or a landslide.
From the viewpoint at the visitors center you can see a long ridgeline showing many of the peaks that make up the Olympic Mountain Range including the West Peak of Mt Olympus which at almost 8000 feet is the highest peak in the park.
Near the end of the road is the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center Complex. The complex is dominated by the very attractive visitors center. There is also a large parking area, a nice viewpoint, and the trailheads for a couple of nice hiking trails. For more info on the hiking trails see my Sports Tips.
The Olympic Mountains have a major effect on the ecosystems on the peninsula. Farmlands to the Northeast get only about 20 inches of rain a year so they must be irrigated to get any crops to grow. Meanwhile, just 40 miles west of here is a tropical rainforest that gets 140 to 180 inches of rain a year.
Also along Hurricane Ridge Road is a nice pullout for the Mount Baker Viewpoint. On a clear day you can see parts of Canada, Strait of Juan de Fuca, some towns on the other side of Puget Sound, and some of the Cascade Mountains. The day when I was there was a bit cloudy so I could not see that well. The large mountain you see is Mount Baker which is almost 11,000 feet high. Photo 2 is Mount Baker taken with a telephoto lens.
Thousands of years ago a giant sheet of ice flowed south from Canada into Puget Sound and West into the Strait Juan de Fuca. This ice sheet joined up with glaciers in the Olympic Mountains to block the opening between Round Mountain and Blue Mountain. Then as the climate warmed, the valley you see here filled with Lake Morse. As the climate warmed more, the ice sheet melted and the lake drained out the opening. Today Morse Creek is a small creek paralleling the roadway.
Although the origin of the Olympic Mountains is still being debated, it appear that several factors were involved. There are no volcanoes in the Olympic Mountain Range; but volcanoes played a part in the formation of this landscape. Some 50 million years ago, lava gushed from volcanic rips underwater, hardening into layers of basalt. Later an immense delta of hardened sandstone and shale formed farther out in the Pacific, slowly rode the continental drift toward shore, then jammed under the basalt raising the Olympics. The valleys and mountains were also carved by ice-age glaciers unto the form you see today. The valley in the photo is one of these glacier carved valleys. The glaciers also carved the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound isolating the Olympic Peninsula nurturing a rich biodiversity which includes over 20 plant and animal species found nowhere else.
Just beyond the main visitors center is the entrance to the park via the Hurricane Ridge Road. This road winds up from the Heart O’ the Hills, through the Klahhane Range to Hurricane Ridge near Hurricane Hill. There are a number of pull offs along the way that offer you breathtaking views of the mountains, glaciers, lakes and creeks along the way as well as trailheads for some nice hikes. There are also interpretive signs providing fascinating glimpses into the formation of this spectacular scenery.