I have had the good fortune to have visited many U.S. National Parks over the years, but this fall was my first opportunity to see Olympic National Park, which is in the state of Washington, and occupies almost a million acres of the Olympic peninsula.
The Olympic National Park Visitor Center is in the town of Port Angeles, Washington. This amphitheater made of split logs provides a great setting for outdoor classes/lectures conducted by park rangers and volunteers.
It also provides a scenic spot for a picnic, that overlooks the vast body of water on the horizon, that is a part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Even if the Visitor Center is closed, there is an excellent map mounted on the exterior wall that can be helpful in planning your exploration of the park. And you need not look for a "short cut" route through the mountains, to get to the western edge of the peninsula. Any access roads into the interior, end in fewer than twenty miles into the park. This policy of no roads passing through the interior, is to preserve the wilderness.
I would recommend timing your visit so that the Visitor Center will be open, because it helps you develop an appreciation for the wilderness you will be seeing, through its museum displays, that relate the history of the Northwest Coast Indians.
This large, wall-mounted topographical map helped me visualize the terrain I would be driving through, as well as the terrain I would be seeing on the distant vistas.
This "slice" of Olympic timber, was appropriately called an "EpiLOG", and had been expertly dated from its beginning in the year 1359, up through the year it was harvested in the early 1900's.
The Visitor Center also has animal mounts representing some of those creatures found within the park boundaries.
I have found the gift shops in national parks to provide more than souvenirs of your visit, as they can provide a preview of all the magnificent scenery you are about to experience. An instructor at a photography workshop I went to advised us students to ALWAYS check out the post cards for sale at a new area you are visiting. He said it will give you some clues as to what the most scenic locations will be along your journey. This is also the place you can use the unique (free!) National Park date stamp for the place you are visiting. You usually have to ask a clerk for it, as it is sometimes kept under the counter to keep the ink pad from drying out. I like to stamp several blank sheets of paper with the date and location, that I can later put with photographs I have taken, or in my travel journal. This is also the place where you can get that little brass souvenir medallion to add to your hiking stick.
The most accessible mountain area is Hurricane Ridge at 5,242 feet. To get there, you take this paved road for 17 miles from the Visitor Center in Port Angeles .
Other areas in the park take you along the famous Highway 101, with sections of it being designated as a part of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.
In addition to taking you by the Pacific Coast, Highway 101 also passes along the southern shore of Lake Crescent. This photo is a reminder to say that sailing is one of the water recreation sports available there, as well as canoeing and kayaking.
There are a very limited number of spots along Lake Crescent where you can pull over to do photography, so I was not at all disturbed by the frequent delays along that stretch, for road repairs. It gave me an opportunity to take some photographs!
Lake Crescent is surrounded by high mountains with expansive forests of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar.
This is one of the places along your scenic drive where you can pull off to park to do a little hiking and exploring of the ecosystems of the park. The placards there describe the areas you are seeing, as well as some of their history.
At the bottom, you are rewarded with some closeup views of "sea stacks"---those irregularly shaped islands that result from eons of wave and wind erosion.
Of course, with this much water around, it is not surprising that there are light houses to explore, which is always fun for the people who are fascinated by these historic beacons for navigation. Just as the light from their tower has been the salvation of many a sailor, so Psalm 27:1 reminds us "The LORD is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear?"
The national parks of the United States of America truly are a national treasure. Did you know that 264 of our 397 national parks NEVER charge an entry fee? Although the entry fees are never prohibitive, during Veterans Day weekend of November 10 - 12, 2012, entry fees for ALL national parks are waived. So start planning your visit now! Just log on to www.nps.gov/olym for in depth information about Olympic National Park and the resources available to you. Visiting this national treasure will give you miles of smiles! Tricia