Olympic Park Ecosystem Zones

Olympic National Park contains four distinct and remarkable ecosystems—and even better, it’s possible to see all four in one day. Here’s what to expect.

Coast

Mistly sea stacks on Olympic Coast. Photo by Justin Bailie

Olympic features 73 miles of the wild Washington coast—a storm-swept strip of sand, rock, and massive trees. Here, you’ll find tidepools filled with colorful sea stars, hermit crabs, and anemones; looming sea stacks and rock arches; steep headland cliffs; and wildlife like whales, seals, sea lions, sea otters, raccoons, and eagles. It’s possible to hike most of the length of the coast uninterrupted, though changing tides make the journey tricky.

Drive-up beaches include Rialto, Kalaloch, and Ruby Beaches. For a short hike, head to Third, Second, or Shi Shi Beaches. To escape civilization on a wilderness beach, experienced backpackers can travel to the Chilean or Norwegian Memorials north of Rialto.

Lowland Forest

Crescent Lake in Autumn. Photo by Justin Bailie

Huge trees older than 200 years blanket much of the park’s lower elevations, accentuated by big rivers and scenic lakes. Species like Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar provide a canopy over huckleberries, salal, and trillium, and wildlife such as spotted owls and rare fishers move among the trunks.

To explore the lowland forest, head to the Elwha, Sol Duc, and Staircase areas. Lake Crescent, one of the park’s prettiest lakes, is also part of this ecosystem.

Temperate Rainforest

Tree in Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park

Green, otherworldly landscapes flourish on the park’s west side, where abundant rainfall and moderate year-round temperatures support the rare temperate rainforest ecosystem. Here, Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar grow to gargantuan size (250 feet or taller) and old age (hundreds of years).

Roosevelt elk, deer, and river otters make their homes in the forest. The best-known place to experience the temperate rainforest is the Hoh Rainforest area, but the Bogachiel, Quinault, and Queets areas are equally stunning with more solitude.

Mountains

Mountain hiking in Washington. Photo by Justin Bailie

Dramatic, glacier-topped peaks dominate Olympic’s central zone. Journeying up to these heights brings fantastic views of the ocean, forests, lakes, and surrounding peaks, plus a chance to spot black bears, mountain goats, and marmots. Stellar hiking trails trace ridgelines and meadows throughout this ecosystem, and mountaineers can attempt the park’s tallest peaks, like 7,980-foot Mt. Olympus.

Top mountain environments include Hurricane Ridge, Royal Basin, Deer Park, and Anderson Pass.

Campfire under the stars on the Olympic Coast. Photo by Justin Bailie

Photos of Olympic’s Diverse Ecosystem by Justin Bailie

Photographer Justin Bailie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in the town of Manzanita, Oregon. Read More...