• Olympic: Three Parks in One

    Olympic

    National Park Washington

There are park alerts in effect.
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  • Madison Falls Trail Closed for Repairs Beginning July 7

    The one-tenth mile Madison Falls Trail and trailhead parking lot located in Elwha Valley will close to public entry beginning on Monday, July 7 while crews make improvements and repairs.

  • Spruce Railroad Trail Improvements to Begin August 5

    Spruce Railroad Trail will be closed from the Lyre River TH to approximately 0.25 miles east of Devil’s Punchbowl. Work is expected to be completed by the end of October. The remainder of the trail will be accessible from the Camp David Jr. Road TH. More »

  • Safety Advisory: Mountain Goats

    NPS has received reports of aggressive mountain goats near trails at Hurricane Ridge, Royal Basin, Seven Lakes Basin, Lake of the Angeles, & Grand Pass. Visitors are required to maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from all wildlife. More »

  • Safety Advisory: Rabies

    Rabies has been detected in a single bat in the Lake Crescent area of the park. Rabies exposure is extremely rare, but fatal if untreated. Anyone observing unusual or aggressive behavior among park wildlife should inform a park ranger as soon as possible. More »

Alpine

Bright pinkish red flowers in gravel with rocky peak with snow patches in back

Red willow-herb brightens the rocky, glaciated terrain in upper Royal Basin.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings...” John Muir

The lure of mountains persists, for good reason. Valleys and coast are far below, trees no longer block views, and jagged, snow-capped peaks rise to the sky. You’re in the alpine, a zone stretching from treeline to the highest peaks, where bright clumps of low-growing wildflowers decorate a backdrop of rock and snow.

Life on the Edge
Conditions in the alpine would be hard for humans to endure, yet the wildflowers and the wildlife that call this zone home are well-adapted. Wiry grasses, sedges and flowers are often arrayed in vertical stripes, due to freezing and thawing of thin mountain soils. Above, tiny ferns and flowers cling to rocky ledges, and on the highest peaks the only life form may be a bright orange blotch of crustose lichen. Wildflowers strategies include:

  • Hugging the ground to avoid the drying winds
  • Having small waxy or hairy leaves to conserve moisture
  • Having bulbs or tap roots to store energy over winter and fuel growth each spring
  • Being able to grow at cold temperatures and even while snow-covered
  • Forming their buds the year before

Where to See the Alpine Zone
Both the Obstruction Point Road at Hurricane Ridge and the Deer Park Road provide access to the alpine zone. (Both roads are gravel, steep and narrow; neither is suitable for RVs or trailers.)

Many of Olympic's wilderness trails also offer access to ridges and summits throughout the Olympics. Wherever you explore this lofty zone, look for the following wildlife and wildflowers.

 
Low-growing star-shaped blue flowers grow in rock crack

Piper's bellflower, a wildflower unique to the Olympic Mountains, often grows in cracks in rocks.

Alpine Wildlife
Golden eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
Gray-crowned rosy finch – Leucosticte tephrocotis
Horned lark – Eremophila alpestris
Olympic chipmunk – Tamias amoenus caurinus (unique to the Olympic Mountains)
Olympic marmot – Marmota olympus (unique to the Olympic Mountains)
Raven (seen at all elevations!) – Corvus corax

Alpine Wildflowers
Flett’s violet – Viola flettii (unique to the Olympic Mountains)
Piper’s bellflower – Campanula piperi (unique to the Olympic Mountains)
Scalloped onion – Allium crenulatum
Smooth douglasia – Douglasia laevigata
Spreading phlox – Phlox diffusa

Did You Know?

white flower

Does this flower look familiar? The bunchberry, a common groundcover of Olympic's lowland forest, is closely related to the dogwood trees found throughout North America.