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Discover Olympic National Park's coastal side at Rialto Beach, where giant drift logs and offshore islands known as sea stacks define the landscape. (Photograph by Olivier Parent, Alamy)
TravelInsider's Guide

A Park Ranger's Guide to Olympic

Encompassing 1,441 square miles of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park invites visitors to explore three distinct ecosystems: subalpine forest and wildflower meadow; temperate forest; and the rugged Pacific shore. Because of the park’s relatively unspoiled condition and outstanding scenery, the United Nations has declared Olympic both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site.

Barb Maynes knew she wanted to work for the National Park Service when she was just 13, owing to a chance run-in with a kindly ranger at the Grand Canyon who took time out to explain what made the geological icon such a special place. Since then, she’s worked in nine different national parks, and each one has been a dream come true.

Barb’s current favorite is Olympic, where she’s spent the last 25 years helping people make their own connections with the park’s awe-inspiring landscapes. Here’s a look at the wild wonderland through her unique lens.

Olympic Is My Park

Spring is the best time to visit my park because Olympic absolutely pops! The weather is unpredictable; a single day can include rain, sleet, and brilliant sunshine. But by May, the mountain snow has melted enough that the Hurricane Ridge Road is open and the forests are filled with every shade of green imaginable.

Olympic’s biggest attraction is its amazing diversity of forested mountains and Pacific coast beaches. But a visit isn’t complete without stopping along a river to listen to its babble and ponder the role it plays in connecting the mountains to the sea.

If I could offer one practical tip for optimizing your visit, it would be to expect some rain and be ready to enjoy it with good gear and plenty of layers. Fleece works well because it keeps you warm even if it gets wet. Hats and gloves made of lightweight fleece and hiking boots with wool socks can help visitors fall in love with a rainy day.

My favorite “park secret” is the Madison Falls Trail in the Elwha Valley. It’s paved, only a quarter mile long, and ends at a beautiful waterfall. The trail is also highly accessible, which makes it a great choice for families with strollers or young walkers, or for anyone in a wheelchair.

Watch out for changes in the weather and be sure to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and rain gear when you come to the park.

Head to the Hoh Rain Forest if you want to see wildlife. If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot some Roosevelt elk.

For the best view, head to Hurricane Ridge.

The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest is one of the best trails in the park and the road leading up to Hurricane Ridge is the most scenic drive.

If you’re up for a physical challenge, try hiking the nine-mile Ozette Triangle.

To experience the park’s cultural side, stop at the Lake Crescent Lodge, which celebrates its centennial in 2015 and offers beautiful views of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains from its historic sun porch.

If you only have one day to spend in the park, make sure to get an early start and get a taste of the mountains at Hurricane Ridge and the coast at Rialto Beach. Somewhere in between the two (Lake Crescent and Sol Duc are good options), take a few moments to walk through the ancient forest.

If you’re interested in a guided tour, I recommend checking the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau website.

The most peaceful place in the park has to be just about anywhere. Find a trail and follow it. Soon, the sounds of traffic will fade away and you can find a spot to sit and soak up the tranquility that surrounds you.

The countless generations of native Americans who have inhabited the Olympic peninsula are the “unsung heroes” of the park. The cultural knowledge and profound connection to the land that have been passed down throughout the ages to today’s tribal members deepen everyone’s appreciation for this beautiful place.

Seeing glaciers, temperate rain forests, and the ocean in one day could only happen in my park.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the beaches in the Kalaloch area.

Just outside park boundaries, you can visit lots of amazing places, from lavender farms to wineries to seaside towns. The Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau website is a great source of information.

If my park had a mascot it would be the Olympic marmot, because this cute, furry animal can only be found in the Olympic Mountains. And it whistles!

The biggest threat to this park’s future is climate change.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my park because it has something beautiful for everyone—glacier-capped mountains, towering trees, wave-swept beaches, and much more.

Before you visit (or when you arrive), make sure to check out these great resources:

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