Editor’s note: As public lands begin to reopen, we encourage you to keep maintaining good social distancing. The Seattle Times has a list of what that looks like on the trail.
In 1937, President Theodore Roosevelt toured the Olympic Peninsula in northwestern Washington. He took in the area’s towering trees, its glaciated mountains, its wild and pristine coastal stretches. Roosevelt spent a night on Lake Crescent, where blue, nitrogen-free water sparkles with unmatched clarity.
The following year, moved by what he had seen and heard on his tour, Roosevelt signed the act that would create Olympic National Park.
Today, the 922,000-acre park endures thanks in part to Roosevelt but also to the natural beauty and wilderness that make Olympic one of the most amazing national parks in the country. Every year it draws close to 3 million visitors to its forests, rivers, mountains and coastline.
While that might seem like a lot of people — it is — there’s plenty of Olympic National Park to go around, especially if you focus on some of the park’s lesser-known gems. Here are a few favorites.
Tree of Life
A natural oddity is part of Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park. Known as the Tree of Life, it is a massive living spruce tree on the coast. A stream has eroded away the land below it, leaving its roots exposed and the tree itself precariously perched on the cliff’s edge. It’s a natural wonder not to be missed.
Much of the foot traffic in Olympic National Park treads through the Hoh Rain Forest, and deservedly so. But a hike through the park’s Quinault Valley, say on the East Fork Quinault River Trail, will take you along a scenic route full of soaring trees that’s just as magical and maybe a tad less traveled. Hearty hikers can take this trail all the way to Enchanted Valley, which makes for a 13-mile one-way trek. There are lots of good places to turn around earlier or pitch a tent to make it a multi-day overnight.
Ozette Archeological Site
Technically on the Makah Reservation and not in the national park, the Ozette Archeological Site is nonetheless a fascinating place to visit for a look back in time. In 1970, a storm washed away a portion of land, revealing an old Makah village that had been inundated in a mudslide in 1560. An 11-year excavation of the site found more than 55,000 artifacts, including multiple houses, bows and arrows, knives and other tools. The Makah Tribe displays the artifacts at the Makah Cultural & Research Center.
Waterfall fans will be in heaven in Olympic National Park, a place that literally gushes with cascades across its expanses. Hit some of the best by following the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail, which marks no fewer than 24 waterfalls sprinkled across the park and the surrounding area.
Olympic Hot Springs
You used to be able to drive to within just a few miles of Olympic Hot Springs, but undamming the Elwah River — one of the largest dam removal projects in the world —has led to the road washing out much lower down. As a result, it’s now about a 10.5-mile hike to get to these heavenly pools. While that’s not ideal for everyone, it’s made it a little more likely that you’ll get to soak solo when you get there.
Image by kellyvandellen