Stretching nearly a million miles across the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington state, the Alpine mountains, temperate rainforests and beautiful coastline of Olympic National Park protect countless plant species and animals while offering important recreational sites to visitors.
President Theodore Roosevelt originally designated this awe-inspiring landscape as a Mount Olympus National Monument on March 2, 1909, and was later re-designated a National Park by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 29, 1938.
Find out what makes this unique national park truly special.
95% of Olympic National Park is a federally designated wilderness area
One of the largest wilderness areas in the contiguous United States, Olympic National Park dedicates 95% of its landscape, or 876,669 acres, to the protection of the country’s wilderness. This is thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System to protect parts of the country that have remained underdeveloped and uninhabited by humans.
The wilderness of Olympic National Park was originally designated in 1988 and then redesignated in 2016 as the “Daniel J. Evans Wilderness” in honor of the former governor of Washington.
There are 60 active glaciers inside the park
Olympic’s eclectic ecosystems culminate in alpine meadows and glacial mountains protected by old-growth forest, one of the best examples of intact and protected temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest.
The mountains contain at least 60 known active glaciers in an area considered to be the lowest latitude where glaciers start at elevations below 6,500 feet and exist below 3,300 feet on Earth.
13 animal species are listed as threatened or endangered under ESA
With such a diverse landscape, it’s no wonder that Olympic National Park is teeming with wildlife, many of which are threatened or endangered by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act.
Gray wolves may have been wiped out in the 1920s (although the park is considered to have high potential for wolf reintroduction projects in the future), but endangered species like the tailed albatross short are still present inside the park. Other endangered animals include the northern spotted owl, Lake Ozette sockeye salmon, and Puget Sound rainbow trout.
The Olympic National Park contains more than 650 archaeological sites
The large amount of archaeological sites inside Olympic National Park help document the 10,000 year history of human occupation in the region. The First Olympic Peninsula was made up of eight contemporary groups, including the Makah, Quileute, Hoh, Quinault, Skokomish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam.
In 1890, famous naturalist John Muir led the first documented exploration of the peninsula, subsequently proposing the creation of a national park there.
The park is famous for its ponds
It’s hard to imagine that a park known for its towering ice peaks would also be famous for its beaches and tidal pools, but Olympic is no ordinary park.
Rangers run educational programs in some of the most popular tidal pools to teach visitors about the richness of the aquatic life inside. Whether it’s the common periwinkle sea snail, purple-shelled Dungeness crab, or vibrant ocher starfish, there’s plenty to see.
Olympic is also a popular place for whale watching
Among Olympic’s endangered species, you’ll find fin whales, blue whales, bowhead whales and sperm whales.
The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary shares 65 miles of Olympic National Park coastline and works closely with Seattle-based nonprofit The Whale Trail. The conservation project is organized by a core team of partners and regional planning teams such as NOAA Fisheries, National Marine Sanctuary, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is home to one of the last temperate rainforests in the United States
The Hoh Rainforest takes its name from the river that runs through Mount Olympus Park to the Pacific coast. Topped by a lush canopy of coniferous and deciduous tree species ranging from Sitka spruce and red cedar to Bigleaf maple and Douglas fir, the temperate rainforest receives the majority of the 140 inches of rain that the park receives each year.
Under this green canopy, dense vegetation composed of mosses and ferns provide habitat for large mammals such as elk, black bears and even bobcats and pumas.
Visitors can ‘adopt a fish’ at the park
The park’s âAdopt-A-Fishâ radio-tracking program began in 2014, the same year the park completed the largest dam removal project in US history. This project involved the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams that had blocked salmon migrations in Olympic National Park for more than a century.
Adopt-A-Fish aims to track fish movements in the Elwha watershed and monitor the success of the dam removal while educating the public about salmon migrations.
House cat-sized rodent species endemic to the Olympics
Known as the Olympic Groundhog, these playful mammals are not found anywhere else on Earth outside of the National Park. Adults can weigh over 15 pounds when they go into hibernation in early fall and mostly inhabit mountain meadows above 4,000 feet.
The park has intensified its conservation efforts and monitored marmot populations since 2010 (numbers declined sharply in the 1990s and 2000s due to predation by non-native coyotes), asking visitors to record the presence or l absence of animals when hiking near known habitats.