Located in north west Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula, the Olympic National Park was created in 1938. It became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It extends for 2,319 km2 (1,441 mi2) and 95% of the park has been designated wilderness, guaranteeing it protection from development.
The park spans a range of landscape types, climates and therefore wildlife habitats – from Pacific coast line to temperate rainforest to alpine forest and mountain peaks sculpted by glaciation.
The park’s coastal strip is 117 km (~73 mi) long, but only a few kilometers wide and is separated from the inner, significantly larger, portion of the park. It features a mixture of beach types from sand to heavy rocks and boulders. Offshore stacks and islands provide colonies for nesting seabirds and the beaches contain many tide pools inhabited by wildly colourful sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Thick tangled rainforests grow adjacent to the sand, the ground a carpet of spongy moss and ferns.
The rocky interior of the park features the Olympic Mountains, still topped with huge glaciers that have shaped them. The eponymous Mount Olympus stands at 7,980 feet and around it lie other mountain peaks and valleys with scattered subalpine forests, meadows and lakes.
There are several species endemic and unique to this area such as the Olympic Marmot, the Olympic snow mole and Olympic torrent salamander. Larger mammals include deer, elk, cougars and bears. With over 300 species of birds, the park is truly alive with wildlife.
There are around 3 million visitors to the park every year. However, the majority visit the beach, and although there are plenty of roads into the main body of the park, there are none either linking the coastal strip to the rest of the park, or through the park itself. This ensures that the interior is a haven of quiet and isolation for those willing to take the time to get there. Hiking and backpacking are the obvious recreational pastimes, although Hurricane Ridge provides skiing opportunities in winter and fishing is good.