In 2018, outdoor recreation is more popular than ever, which has led to innumerable subjective rankings of locations, and of the fifty-nine National Park units. While various social media users and webpages debate whether Yellowstone or Yosemite are the best parks, under the surface, many park units escape the public consciousness. Quietly, however, some of the online and in person discussion has turned to 2017’s eighth most visited National Park, Olympic, and its surrounding wild areas. This is a change in that for many years, Washington’s most popular park was Mount Rainier, and many outdoor purists both in and out of Washington sought to keep the trails of the Olympic peninsula secret. But, with greater information available on the internet, popular media, and word of mouth, many visitors are now seeking out Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest to enjoy some of the jewels of the Pacific Northwest and national public land system as a whole.
While there are three temperate rainforests inside the boundaries of Olympic National Park (Hoh, Quinault, and Queets), the most popular and well-known is the Hoh Rainforest. In addition to its notoriety, the Hoh Rainforest is also the only one of the three to be named a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Before it received this type of recognition, however, the Hoh itself was one of the main reasons for establishing Olympic National Park, as the park itself was created to preserve “the finest example of primeval forest…”. Located on the slopes of the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the Hoh is also a spot that receives a great deal of precipitation, averaging over fourteen feet of rain per year. All of this rain has encouraged the growth of tall stands of sitka spruces and western hemlocks, and many other plants throughout the forest. While there are many trails that explore the Hoh Rainforest, the easiest and most accessible introduction to the region is the Hall of Mosses trail.
Olympic National Park is one of the National Park system’s crown jewels, and to many people, may be the brightest jewel in the crown. Because of its beauty, in the last ten to fifteen years, the park has seen increased traffic and visitation in many areas. Even though Olympic has gradually become more popular, like the National Park system as a whole, it still has large areas of wilderness in which adventurous travelers can experience silence and solitude. One of these areas is the Staircase region of the park, which is located in the southeast corner of Olympic National Park. The Staircase region was named by Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil during his 1890 expedition to explore the southern Olympic Mountains because of the enormous cedar staircase that he and his men constructed up and over a rock bluff, which was ultimately known as the “Devil’s Staircase”. While the enormous cedar staircase is now gone, what remains is the serene silence of old growth Douglas fir forests. One of the best and most accessible ways to experience the Staircase region is along the Shady Lane trail.
For most people, Washington is the land of trees, mountains, rain, waterfalls, and the Space Needle. While Washington is more than all of these things, it is a state with stunning waterfalls. Like any location, all of the state’s waterfalls have the own unique charm and features, which makes rating them a subjective task at best. However, in my opinion, the one of the best – if not the best waterfalls in the entire state of Washington is Sol Duc Falls, which is easily accessible by a short hike in Olympic National Park. If the “best waterfall of Washington” claim wasn’t enticing enough, the falls are also located in a historic area of the park, the Sol Duc region.
One of the reasons to visit Olympic National Park is that it is one of the most unique biomes in the continental United States, if not the world. Although there are many factors that have led to Olympic National Park becoming such a unique location, one of the factors has been the frequent and abundant rainfall that the region has received throughout the years. Even though rainfall totals vary, in general, the park receives at least 140 inches of rain per year; and all of the rainfall that the park receives has also led to the formation of large rivers, and spectacular waterfalls. While the park has many accessible waterfalls that visitors can view and explore, the easiest waterfall to view and visit is Merriman Falls, even though the waterfall is technically slightly outside of the park’s boundaries in the Olympic National Forest.
A couple weeks ago, I was up at White Mountain in California. The standard route up White Mountain leads past the Barcroft Research Station, which is one of the highest, if not the highest research laboratory in the world. On our way back down from White Mountain, my climbing partner brought my attention to a sign that was near the road/trail to Barcroft. It said, “Attention Hikers. Report all Mountain Goats sightings to DHS.” At the time, we were ready to get off the mountain and back to the car, so we didn’t stop to take a picture of this sign. However, within fifty feet of the sign we were having a vigorous discussion about why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would want to know about mountain goats. We quickly agreed that it would make rational sense if the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or Department of Fish and Game wanted to know about mountain goat sightings. But the Department of Homeland Security? Were these terrorist goats? Or terrorists disguised as goats? Or, even worse, goats disguised as terrorists? As we walked, the more the “goat sign” felt like a Doctor Strangelove type situation to me. Were these goats trying to get at our precious bodily fluids? And, while the Department of Homeland Security has to secure the nation from the many threats it faces, since when did goats become a threat?