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.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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Port Angeles, WA 98362


(360) 565-3130

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