Western Washington State gets a lot of flack for "bad" weather, but the rain forests of Olympic National Park make it all worthwhile. The 12 to 14 feet of annual rainfall in the Olympic Mountains yields an intensely lush landscape of moss-dropped cedars, towering spruces, and fog-shrouded Douglas firs, some 300 feet tall. The relative rarity of a rain forest in the United States has obvious appeal, though that's just one card in this park's ecological full house.
In addition to the mystical Hoh and Quinault temperate rain forests, this heart-shaped peninsula is also nestled amid glacier-capped mountains, wildflower meadows, 13 teal rivers, and 70 miles of rugged coastline. Its diversity of ecosystems is so impressive it has earned status as an international Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In theory, you could ice climb, beachcomb, mountain trek, fly-fish, and soak in volcanic hot springs all in the same day. No matter your interests, the million acres of national park and about 611 miles of trails will lead to excitement.
Follow the Hoh River Trail to Five Mile Island
After a walk through the famous Hall of Mosses, shake the crowds and follow the glacial-blue Hoh River to Five Mile Island. Centuries-old cedars weave the canopy, ferns carpet the forest floor, and Roosevelt elk appear in the herds the deeper you get. A 10-mile hike will fly by with such flat terrain and beauty largely unchange for thousands of years.
Hike Hurricane Ridge
One of the most accessible peaks is also among the most spectacular, especially as an overview of the expansive Olympic National Park. A 17-mile drive brings you to panoramic vistas of the peninsula, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountains. The ridge has trails for every fitness level.
Walk Through the Valley of the Giants
Home to some of the largest hemlocks, Douglas firs, western red cedars, and a 1,000-year-old Sitka spruce, the Quinault Valley is a humbling place. Start with the educational Quinault Rain Forest Nature Loop, a half-mile trail through this textbook example of a temperate rain forest. Continue hiking on the various connecting trails or keep it mellow with a 31-mile drive around the exceptionally scenic lake.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Wander the Tidepools at Beach 4
A rugged beach with massive driftwood, tree-topped sea stacks, folding rocks, Kaloloch's Beach 4 is stunning and especially impressive when you explore at low tide. Tiptoe around the pools to spy massive green anemones, starfish in sunset hues, and otters splashing about.
Zion National Park
One of the most photographed views in Zion National Park, and perhaps all of the parks, is the view of the Watchman from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Although it has been shot endless times, and you are sure to be shoulder to shoulder with other photographers during sunset, it is still something everyone must do when visiting the park. My favorite spot is right at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman in the background.