Olympic National Park – A Photographer’s Guide
by Stephen Beck
Whether you are a photographer or just enjoy beautiful scenery, Olympic National Park has something for you. Often referred to as "three parks in one", Olympic National Park encompasses three distinctly different ecosystems -- rugged glacier capped mountains, over 60 miles of wild Pacific coast and magnificent stands of old-growth and temperate rain forest. These diverse ecosystems are still largely pristine in character -- about 95% of the park is designated wilderness.
Activities to enjoy while in the park are but not limited to: backpacking, beach hiking, camping, fishing, flora gazing, horseback
riding, mountaineering, photography, skiing, snowshoeing, star gazing and wildlife watching.
A variety of ranger led programs and activities are offered throughout the summer at a number of sites around the park. Free campfire programs, interpretive walks and talks are offered during the summer. Current schedules are printed in the park's free newspaper, available throughout the summer at visitor centers and ranger stations.
My first trip to Olympic National Park occurred during late August. After spending about a year of researching the available sites to visit, I narrowed my trip down to what I believe are the most beautiful features. By no means is this list complete, but my visit only lasted 3 days. In that amount of time, there just simply isn't enough time to see everything. The following is my “Must See” list of places to visit.
Hoh Rain Forest
Located about 20 minutes south of Forks, Washington off Highway 101. It is a wet and wild forest with huge 500-year-old trees. Warning: it is called a rain forest for a very good reason—this area receives about 150 inches of rain annually. Several miles west near the coast, the sun can be shining brightly with no clouds in the sky. But as soon as you enter the Hoh Rain Forest, expect to get rained on! Come prepared with rain gear—you will need it.
OK, I’ve warned you. With all that said, I don’t believe you can find a more beautiful area in the entire park! For a short hike the whole family can enjoy, try the Hall of Mosses or the Spruce Nature Trail, two short nature trails near the ranger station. The Hall of Mosses wanders through the heart of the rain forest with stands of conifers and big leaf maples, adorned with long, thick shawls of moss, decorated by ferns. Some of these dignified giants are 500 years old and stand more than 250 feet high, and they seem proud of it. Although the trail remains relatively close to the ranger station, don’t be fooled—after two minutes on the trail, you will not be able to see the parking lot nor visitor’s center due to the THICK vegetation! Everything is covered is thick, hair-like moss, giving the scenery an almost surreal atmosphere.
The Spruce trail provides another aspect of the rain forest along the Hoh. The terrain near the river is composed mostly of glacier silt and is covered with alder and maple, making it difficult ground for conifers to establish permanent homes. You might see Roosevelt elk in the winter grazing along the river terraces, and cougars are known to sometimes prowl the area.
This is probably the most interesting beach on the Washington Pacific Coast. All types of rock formations, hundreds of logs washed ashore, tons of trees, and a mini lake are just a few of the many sights here to see. And don't forget the ocean. This place is a must see! You can get there by driving south on Highway 101 about 25 miles south of Forks.
Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls is one of the most interesting waterfalls I have ever seen. I love waterfalls, and this one is unique. It seems to me that the river is cut on a diagonal, changes directions slightly when it hits the falls, and then continues onward in the same
direction it was taking before the falls.
It's an easy hike -- less than a mile long and one the whole family can manage easily. You'll find that the extraordinary size of the trees and the associated growth inherent to the rain-forest climate blocks out most of the sunlight, so don't sweat the sun block. And regardless of the time of year, it's smart to bring a warm jacket.
As with all hikes in Olympic National Park, the destination is not the only attraction--the scenery along the trail competes for your
attention with its awe-inspiring beauty. You will find small streams with moss-encased boulders, majestic old-growth trees draped in
moss, and fern-covered forest beds. All things considered, this is truly worth the visit.
To find Sol Duc, travel north along highway 101 from Forks about 27 miles until you come to the Olympic National Forest Road. Turn east
onto this and follow it for about 1 mile until you reach Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. Turn right and follow the road for 11 miles. Along
the way, you may want to stop at the Salmon Cascades. Depending on the time of year, you will be able to watch the salmon swimming
upstream. Make the stop-you’ll be glad you did!
The western-most point in the continental United States, Cape Flattery is simply beautiful. It is somewhat "out of the way" and will consume at least half a day of your time getting there and back, but it is well worth it. The Trail provides a view of waves crashing against rocky shores and of Tatoosh Island, a former Makah fishing and whaling camp and more recently a Coast Guard station. At various times of the year, you can catch a glimpse of puffin, sea otters, seals, gray, orca and humpback whales and other marine life. When I visited in August, there were several hundred sea lions basking in the sun on the rocky coast.
To get there, you will drive north on highway 101 from Forks for 13 miles. Here you will turn left onto Burnt Mountain Road and continue for another 40 miles. At that point, follow the signs--you can't miss it.
Stephen Beck is a professional freelance photographer specializing in nature photography, landscape photography, travel photography, and architectural photography. His work may be purchased online. Additionally, he is available for on-location assignments.
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