• Olympic: Three Parks in One

    Olympic

    National Park Washington

There are park alerts in effect.
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  • 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 »

Subalpine

Star-like white and yellow avalanche lily in green meadow with snow patch beyond

Avalanche lilies rely on energy stored in a bulb to get an early start in the short mountain growing season.

Emerging from under the green forest blanket into the open world of the subalpine can be breathtaking. Suddenly the views open up, avalanche chutes slice through the trees, the dense forest thins, and deer graze in small meadows amid copses of spire-like subalpine firs. You’ve reached the subalpine, the zone “sub,” or below, the alpine. Since alpine is the zone above treeline; subalpine forms the transition zone from dense forest to treeline.

Challenges of Mountain Life
Cold temperatures, snow, wind, fire, and a short growing season all affect life in the subalpine. At aptly named Hurricane Ridge, 80 miles-an-hour winds can snap ice-laden trees, or deposit so much snow on steep slopes that thick slab avalanches release downhill, toppling anything in their path. The Olympics intercept moisture from Pacific storms and in the mountains, that precipitation falls as snow. Thirty to fifty feet of snow can fall each winter; drifts may linger into July or August on shady north slopes. But the same snow that kills also nurtures, watering wildflower meadows as it melts and feeding tiny streams that eventually coalesce into powerful rivers watering the valleys below.

Where to See the Subalpine Zone
Two roads access the higher elevations of the park. Hurricane Ridge provides the easiest access, with short nature trails in the subalpine environment. The steep, narrow, gravel Deer Park Road is unsuitable for RVs or trailers, but cars can ascend to over 5,500 feet and access several trails in subalpine and alpine. Many miles of hiking trails access the high country of the park as well.

 
bear in meadow, looking up at photographer, small subalpine firs behind bear

In late summer black bears gorge on huckleberries in subalpine meadows.

Subalpine Wildlife
Gray jay – Perisoreus canadensis
Blue grouse – Dendragapus obscurus
Olympic marmot – Marmota olympus (unique to the Olympic Mountains)
Black-tailed deer (summer only) – Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
Roosevelt elk (summer only) – Cervus elaphus roosevelti
Black bear – Ursus americanus
Snowshoe hare – Lepus americanus

Click here for a list of subalpine plants.

 
buck with antlers in velvet looks up in grassy meadow with deep valley in background
Black-tailed deer buck, his antlers soft with velvet, grazing in lush mountain meadow near Hurricane Ridge.

Did You Know?

marmot

Although related to other marmots and groundhogs of North America, the Olympic marmot is unique. An endemic species, it is found only in the Olympic Mountains. Visitors to the high country of Olympic National Park may be lucky enough to encounter a marmot sunning itself near its burrow.