Natural Features & Ecosystems

Olympic boasts diversity around every turn. Every layer of Olympic has an ecosystem that hosts unique features, plants, animals, geology, and history. Each ecosystem is its own complex web. Even based on unique environmental factors that help to change the landscape, we see the variety of Olympic come to life around every corner.

Follow the links of each below to delve into the wonders of the wilderness, learning about where to see these ecosystems, what brings them to the Peninsula, and what thrives within.

sharp, craggy, snow-covered peak
Chimney Peak in winter

The Olympic Mountains are host to montane forests giving way to subalpine meadows, rocky alpine slopes and glacier-capped summits. Some of the area's endemic plants and animals are found in these high elevation ecosystems. While other mountain ranges are eroding, the Olympics continue to grow every year.

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creek flowing through forest, many moss covered rocks
Unnamed creek flows through an ancient forest.

Rivers & Lakes
Spreading out from the park’s dense and rocky interior is a myriad of interlinking rivers, lakes, and streams. These bodies of water provide sustenance to plants and animals alike. As seasons change and years pass by, the wet web of Olympic National Park is in constant transformation. From the salmon spawning to the otters fishing them, there’s much more beneath the surface of these various Western waterways.

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Temperate rain forest
Sitka spruce in temperate rain forest.

Olympic National Park was established in 1938 in part to preserve some of Washington's quickly disappearing primeval forests. Now the park protects one of the largest remaining blocks of old growth forest and temperate rain forest in the lower 48 states. Many of the 62 species of mammals roam through the forests foraging and hunting. Each forest is uniquely its own and even in a single park, diversity abounds.

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ocean breakers with rocky offshore island in background
Waves break on Rialto Beach.

From sandy beaches to rocky offshore islands, Olympic's shoreline harbors a wealth of marine and intertidal communities. The coastline changes with every tide, making it a new experience every hour of the day. Use your senses to enjoy views of spectacular sunsets over the deep blue sea; take in soundscapes of crashing waves and barking sea lions; smell the salty sea air that stings the cheeks and refreshes the mind.

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Mt. Anderson
Mount Anderson

The Olympic Peninsula awes visitors for its drastic contrast from sea level to alpine meadows all in the same park. Animals meander, following the greenery as meadows turn to snow fields. Plants cling low to the rocky soil or tower over the valley floor. Each year, people will stand on Hurricane Ridge, soaking in views in all directions of powerful looming mountain peaks, trek across the landscape, and marvel at the scenery all made by the forces of the Earth. Each ecosystem, each natural feature, and each living creature are here due to geologic process of the past, present, and future. Everything that creates the beauty of the park, from animal homes to vacation views, relies on geology.


Last updated: September 27, 2020

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