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A Microcosm of Planet Earth

Olympic National Park is home to three distinctly different ecosystems: glacier-capped mountains, rain forests and a wild coastline.


A cross-section of the world’s most varied ecosystems lies nestled in the northwest corner of the continental United States.

Olympic National Park in Washington state extends from the wild coastline of the Pacific Ocean east into old-growth temperate rain forests and river valleys, then through high mountains, glaciers and forested areas. The park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle.

“The Olympic National Park encompasses amazing rain forests, natural hot mineral spring pools, hiking trails to some of the most spectacular waterfalls, and tranquil lakes,” says Bret Pfost, regional general manager at Aramark, which manages the park. “Wildlife viewing ranges from watching salmon leaping out of the water to bald eagles soaring high, and bears, elk, endangered northern spotted owl and more.”

Must-see destinations include the Hoh Rain Forest, famous for its lush greenery at all times of the year; Kalaloch beach, where one can watch for bald eagles; the Quinault Rain Forest, which boasts of some of the largest trees in the world; and the Sol Duc Falls. The Quileute coastal community of La Push, made famous by the “Twilight” novel and film series, is ringed by the Hole-in-the-Wall sea-carved arch and beaches boasting of driftwood benches.

Olympic National Park also has a variety of accommodation options. “The environment is very peaceful and travelers can enjoy four historic properties—Lake Quinault Lodge, Log Cabin Resort, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Lake Crescent Lodge—if they chose to ‘lodge hop’ throughout the park,” says Pfost.

Lake Quinault Lodge was built in 1926, and is located inside the rain forest. The rooms don’t have telephones or Wi-Fi, and most don’t even have a television, allowing park visitors to disconnect from the frenzy of everyday life. The lodge arranges for lake tours at daybreak, afternoon and sunset, offering visitors an opportunity to relax, enjoy sightseeing and learn about the surrounding area.

Lake Crescent Lodge was built in 1915 as a lakefront base camp, while Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Log Cabin Resort feature more rustic summer and autumn accommodations. Sol Duc also boasts of hot mineral spring pools and poolside massages.

In winter, visitors can ski Hurricane Ridge, which sees an average snowfall of more than 400 inches.

A year-round four-hour tour offered by Lake Quinault Lodge allows visitors to experience the park’s three rain forests, as well as learn about the history of the Quinault Indian Nation and the native vegetation and wildlife. A guided kayak trip arranged by Lake Crescent Lodge helps guests delve into the secrets and legends of Lake Crescent. A range of restaurants is also available, along with individual activity options like paddle boating, kayaking, biking, hiking and fishing. Reservations for accommodation are encouraged as rooms get booked fast, especially in July and August.

The region was first inhabited by Native American tribes, followed by the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1500’s. Most of the land has remained unchanged since that time. The park endeavors to protect the cultural resources of those who first called it home. Eight tribes—the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute and Makah—have an ancient bond with the peninsula. Today, they reside on reservations along its shores. The tribes have participated in regional annual Tribal Canoe Journeys since 1989’s “Paddle to Seattle,” as a way of reclaiming their cultural heritage.

In 1897, President Grover Cleveland designated the peninsula’s forested areas as the Olympic Forest Reserve. Then, President Theodore Roosevelt set it aside in 1909 as a national monument. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an act to establish it as Olympic National Park. It was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976. Subsequently, the site received World Heritage status from UNESCO in 1982 for its extraordinary beauty and diversity of plants and animals.

“It is the best example of intact and protected temperate rain forest in the Pacific Northwest,” says Pfost. “From camping to hiking, biking, boat and rain forest tours, trails and more, there are endless ways to explore this hidden gem.”

 

Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.


 

Land of Snow

One of South Asia’s largest national parks, Hemis National Park is best known for the elusive snow leopards that call it home.

The high-altitude park was established in 1981; its boundaries grew in subsequent years. The only Indian national park set north of the Himalayas, it comprises 4,400 square kilometers in Jammu and Kashmir’s eastern Ladakh district.

There are six villages within the park with a population of about 1,600 people. The nearly 400-year-old Hemis Monastery is also located within the park.

Roughly 200 snow leopards live in Hemis National Park, particularly in the Rumbak Valley. The leopards prey on sheep, shapo, ibex and livestock. In the past, farmers attempted to retaliate for their lost livestock. Hence, efforts were made to protect snow leopards. Under an initiative by the Ladakh-based Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, the park’s villagers are encouraged to offer homestays to those who wish to view the snow leopards up close. This income helps to compensate for the loss of their livestock. The Ministry of Environment and Forest of the Government of India also launched Project Snow Leopard in 2009 to protect the giant cats.

The park’s ecosystems include pine forests, alpine tundra, shrub lands and meadows. Other endangered mammals, including the Eurasian brown bear, the Tibetan wolf and the red fox, also call the park home. Birds of prey in the park include the golden eagle and a few varieties of vulture. A study found 15 varieties of rare and endangered medicinal plants growing in the park as well.

—C.Y.