The highlight of every visit to the western part of Washington State is the scenic Olympic Mountains. Covering a large amount of the Olympic Peninsula, the enormous Olympic National Park has some of the most beautiful Washington state parks.
Compared to the massive peaks of Eastern Washington such as Mt Rainier or Mt Baker, the Olympic Mountains are not that tall. The biggest mountain on the Olympic Peninsula, Mt Olympus, does not even reach 8,000 feet. Despite this, the Olympic Mountains have their own beauty, with climates and ecosystems that are unlike the other parks to the east.
The range of elevation makes for a large diversity of scenery, plants and animals. Air from the Pacific Ocean rises up the mountains and releases a great deal of moisture, creating endless amounts of moisture for the lower elevations like the temperate Hoh rain forest, and covers some parts of the Olympic Mountains with over 200 inches of snow a year. While not considered enough snow to rival the ski resorts to the East like Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie, backcountry skiing is a great way to get around the Olympic Peninsula.
Thousands of years ago, massive glaciers carved the waterways, creating glacial lakes like Lake Crescent and forging the channels of Puget Sound. There are still remnants of ancient glaciers in the Olympic Mountains. While most of the 266 glaciers on the Olympic Peninsula are not as large as the ones found in Alaska, there are some that are miles long, such as the one on Mount Olympus.
To enjoy the most scenic drive of the Olympic Peninsula, you should start at Port Angeles, and drive west on highway 101. You will see one of the most spectacular alpine lakes in the region. Crescent Lake is nestled amongst deep green firs, which rise in dramatic slopes from the waters edge. Nearby, Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Hot springs are great diversions in you're staying in the area.
The highway loops around towards the Washington Coast. Halfway down the coast you will start to see signs for the Hoh Rain Forest. There are a few different choices of trails, so you can spend an entire day exploring one of the most unique Washington State Parks. There are short 1 to 2 mile trails and more rewarding 17-mile hikes, which take you deep into the rain forest to the wildflower filled Glacier Meadows.
From giant slugs to massive glaciers to enormous sea stacks, everything is on an impressive scale in the Olympic Peninsula. Making a drive around the Olympic Mountains will reward you with some of the most unforgettable moments on your Washington State vacation.