After spending weeks in the desert landscape of the American southwest, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer has been happily immersing himself in the cooler climate of America's Pacific Northwest.
Along with the cooler temperatures, he found a vast and diverse wilderness at Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington State. Encompassing nearly 404,685 hectares (nearly a million acres), the park protects snow-capped mountains, old-growth rain forests and over 113 kilometers (70 miles) of wild coastline.
Diversity is the hallmark of the park, according to the National Park Service.
Driving on the water
Mikah, who’s more than halfway through his mission to visit all 417 national parks in the U.S., began his adventure by driving over Hood Canal Bridge -- a rather unusual structure.
“It is actually a floating bridge, because submarines go underneath it,” Mikah explained. “And the tide here is so high that they had to make it floating.”
Encountering the local wildlife was another highlight. Soon after entering the park, Mikah saw many deer roaming about, clearly unafraid of humans. And he even got to see a Black bear mom and her cubs, as they set off into the woods.
Mikah stopped by the Visitor Center in a mountainous area of the park called Hurricane Ridge to take in the scenic panorama of the snowcapped mountains around him.
“They call it Hurricane Ridge because they can get hurricane-force winds up there,” Mikah explained.
As he continued his drive along the picturesque roadway, the mountain range became enshrouded in fog, giving him a different perspective of the landscape. “Look at the way the clouds are just moving into this pristine view, making it essentially a non-view!” he marvelled as he headed into the mist.
Watch: A Collection of Natural Gems
Away from the bustling crowds of Hurricane Ridge, Mikah found peace and tranquility at Lake Crescent, considered by many to be the crown jewel of Olympic National Park.
“It’s this really pristine, light blue lake in the middle of these pine tree-covered mountains, so when you imagine a mountain lake, this is the epitome,” he said, adding that his favorite part about the lake was how quiet it was. “There are kayaks, small boats, people in floatation devices, but in general it’s a very calm, pristine place free from a lot of commercialization many American lakes experience.”
An uncommon beach
Just an hour away from the lake were a number of unspoiled beaches. “The section of the park that is along the beach is so big that it's not just one beach that you can go to, there’s like 20 different ones that you can stop at,” he explained.
To get to Second Beach, one of the more popular stretches, Mikah had to park his van and hike through a dense forest and climb over the massive tree trunks, some of them 12 meters (40 feet) long, that had been washed onshore, in order to reach the sand.
And it was cold!
“I had to wear a hat and gloves the whole time, so not the kind of beach you imagine when you think beach,” he said.
But it was worth it, Mikah said, for the view. “You can see some of the amazing rock formations out in the middle of the ocean almost, with trees growing on them.”
“Great low tide, great reflections of the rocks in the shallow, wet sand,” made for some stunning – and unusual – imagery, he observed. “So it was a very different beach experience, but a really rewarding one, which demonstrated “the diversity of all the areas that this park has to offer.”
Hoh Rain Forest
From cold, stark beaches, Mikah ventured into Hoh Rain Forest, one of the very few old-growth, temperate rainforest in North America.
“According to the ranger, what makes this place so special and makes it a rainforest is that the ground never really dries out,” Mikah explained. “It never gets hot enough to lose its moisture and it never stops raining long enough to not replenish it.”
He enjoyed exploring the landscape which ranged from a forest floor covered in ferns, to trees draped in lush, green moss. Another characteristic of an old-growth forest: newer trees growing on top of older ones. “It is pretty incredible to see the way how they have climbed and survived,” he noted.
Mikah was thrilled to be in the rainforest on a gorgeous, sunny day, “instead of on one of the days where they get some of the 12—14 feet of rain!”
And the Hoh Rain Forest holds more than trees, ferns and moss.
Standing in front of a pristine river, Mikah watched the fast-moving water flowing down from the mountain peaks. “Very clear blue water coming through this riverbed of rocks that have been smoothed by the water over the years at higher rates of flow,” he said.
One last view
Mikah enjoyed splashing around in the calmer waters of Lake Crescent, and soaked up a hazy sunset as he ended his day in the vast, and diverse, Olympic National Park.
"One of my final views of the national park, and it's a pretty one.”