Olympic National Park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The park’s 922,651 acres house 13 rivers, 60 active glaciers, 70 miles of wild coastline, and more than 600 miles of trails. More than 25% of the park is covered in old-growth forests, more than 95% is designated as Wilderness, and there are 16 species of plants and animals found in Olympic National Park that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Put simply, Olympic National Park is arguably the most biodiverse place in America. In fact, organizations outside of the US have recognized its importance, too: in addition to being a National Park, the region is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an international Biosphere Reserve.
Olympic National Park has always been a special place to me. I visited the park for the first time when I was in college with an old girlfriend of mine; we spent a week meandering through the park’s rain forests, swimming in lakes, and hiking to the myriad of waterfalls that call the region home. Though Olympic is special for more reasons than one, the one, unique feature of Olympic that’s always stood out to me is the park’s Pacific coastline: the way that the old-growth forests seem to spill out onto the shore, with the coast’s rocky cliffs looking down to haystacks and sandy beaches. While I’ve certainly been to warmer beaches elsewhere in the world, I’ve found no beaches more beautiful than those in Olympic.
As my summer has progressed, I’ve come to realize that the nature of my trips have largely been dictated by who I’m with, how my body is feeling, and how likely it is that I return to a particular region. For example, as much as I love backpacking in remote wilderness areas, if my body is fried, it’s just not a fun way to go exploring (it can become more dangerous, too). In regions that I feel are more diverse, I may be more inclined to drive through the park, go on day hikes, and opt for car camping – it allows for covering more ground, and narrowing down regions where I’d like to return to in the future.
The company that’s with me dictates things in a few ways. I’ve got to consider how experienced the person I’m with is and how comfortable they are with getting into different situations that arise in the wilderness; how good that person is with first aid; what kind of physical condition that person is in; if that person can handle themselves out there, or if I need to be actively looking out for them. There aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers to any of those questions. I honestly have a blast taking people with no backpacking or wilderness experience out on trips; but those trips are fundamentally different from trips with other people who have as much (or more) experience than I do. The risks you can take are different. The whole point of the trip is different.
My most recent trip to Olympic National Park was with one of my best friends from college, Shannon. It was her first trip to Olympic (I’ve been several times, now), so I wanted to give her a good feel for what was out there and swing by a few places I hadn’t made it to, yet.
We started down in the southwest corner of Washington, and we rounded the park clockwise from there. We spent our first night sleeping on one of the peninsula’s beaches, with our sleeping bags in the sand, looking up into the Milky Way and falling asleep to the Perseid Meteor shower streaking across the sky above us. We visited Ruby Beach and Shi Shi Beach, where we watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and stayed up all night making friends over a bonfire. We visited hurricane ridge, and we hiked to Mount Storm King, and we dove into Lake Crescent, just outside of Port Angeles. It was exactly what I needed that weekend.