Olympic National 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.
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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

Lake Cushman near Hoodsport in Autumn

Lake Cushman near Hoodsport 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 Rain Forest in Olympic National Park

Tree in Hoh Rain Forest 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

Hiking the Hurricane Hill Trail

Hiking the Hurricane Hill Trail. 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.

Related

General locations of ferries to Olympic National Park

Where is Olympic National Park?

This park is in the northwest corner of the United States in Washington state on the Olympic Peninsula. It contains Pacific Ocean beaches and mountains.

The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park

4 Rainforests of Olympic National Park

The west-side area of this national park is one of the best places in the world to see a temperate rainforest ecosystem.

Park visitors get advice, permits, bear cans and maps from rangers at the Port Angeles Visitor Center near the Hurricane Ridge Entrance Station

Olympic National Park Entrances

Accessed via US 101, which circles the peninsula, Olympic National Park has many entry points. Here are the six most popular.

Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park

Visitor Centers in Olympic National Park

There are three visitor centers and multiple ranger stations in Olympic National Park. See exhibits and learn about the park.

Olympic Coast Sea Stacks. Photo by Justin Bailie

10 Best Things to Do on an Olympic National Park Vacation

Olympic National Park and the surrounding areas are a Things to Do Mecca! You’ll be hard-pressed to fit it all in a single vacation.

Rainbow over Hood Canal

Rainfall and Tides in Olympic National Park

Olympic has a reputation for rain—and true, parts of the peninsula receive 12 feet of rain every year, but summer brings warm, dry weather.

Waterfall in Olympic National Park in autumn

Autumn in Olympic National Park

Elk bugling to show off to their harems. Huge colored maple leaves twice as big as your hand. Eagles, otters, and bobcats feeding on spawning salmon.

Hiking to Sunrise Point on the High Ridge Trail at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Located at 5,242 feet in the park’s northeast corner, Hurricane Ridge is accessible by car and the quickest way to reach Olympic’s alpine zone.

Sea stacks on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park

Pacific Coast in Olympic National Park

The park’s wild coastline features both easy-access beaches and remote wilderness. Camp on the beaches year-round.