Mountains, valleys, forests, rivers and ocean all define the landscape of Olympic National Park. Located on a peninsula, the rocky and sandy beaches of the ocean surround the layers of towering, lush forests, which surround the scree slopes and glacial terrain of the tallest peaks. Through all of these diverse ecosystems, life swells from microscopic organisms to animals over one thousand pounds. While all play a unique role, many visitors come to these landscapes in search of the larger fauna. While exploring, keep a keen eye, as the chances are good of seeing one or more of Olympic's 62 different land-based mammal species.
Roads of Olympic are few, but lead to a variety of landscapes from forest to alpine meadow. This diverse landscape provides habitat for a variety of mammals. In both the lowland forests and the higher mountain grassy slopes, animals such as the American Black Bear, Roosevelt (Olympic) Elk, and Blacktail Deer are grazing and foraging.
As you hike, take time to enjoy the quiet and seclusion of the wilderness around you. Olympic's two feline species, the mountain lion (cougar or puma) and the bobcat, do just that. They are experts at camouflage and seldom seen, but occasionally roam the streams and mountain sides.
Water dominates the landscape in Olympic. People enjoy hiking to alpine lakes, boating on large lakes such as Lake Crescent, fishing the streams and rivers through the forest, and hiking along the coastline. This recreational haven also allows an excellent habitat for water-lovers such as the river otter, mink, beaver and muskrat.
Whether you sight-see from the roads or backpack through the brush, the park boasts activities to fill your time. Bear and elk may roam miles in a day, while other animals spend their entire lives in what feels like miles to them but may only be a few acres. The underbrush of the forests and the meadows of the peaks offer food and cover for some lesser-noticed and smaller mammals. Just because they are not massive, does not mean they are not in the ecosystem and able to be seen. Look for the striped and spotted skunks, racoon, marten, porcupine, snowshoe hare, short-tailed and long-tailed weasel, and mountain beaver all throughout the park.
Mammals may be seen not just with all four legs on the ground, but scurrying from burrows, clambering through the canopy, and even soaring through the air. The smallest of the park's mammals range from the 26 species of voles, moles, and mice underground, as well as squirrels and chipmunks overhead, and even the 11 species of bats flitting through the night!
Telling a Story of Time
What is now Olympic National Park was at one time isolated by geological barriers like the massive glaciers moving through. This changed and influenced the park we know today and what inhabits it. This isolation gave evolution enough time to blockade four endemic species to the Olympic Peninsula, meaning that they are found only here and nowhere else in the world. The snow mole, Mazama pocket gopher, Olympic chipmunk, and Olympic marmot call here and nowhere else home.
This same isolation no longer exists. As the landscape became more accessible, it changed the story of the park inhabitants once more. People came into the area about 14,000 years ago, but they aren't the only new residents. Coyotes, foxes, and barred owls have all migrated into the area over the past 100 years or so.
These species came naturally once the barriers were gone, but not all did. Humans have played a role in what comes and goes today. Mountain goats were introduced into the Olympic Mountains for hunting before the creation of the peninsula's national park. Although they are native to other regions of Washington state, they did not blend into the changing ecosystem. Recently, the park and affiliated organization have worked to remove mountain goats once more in an effort to preserve the natural landscape.
Even before this, however, changes were made. Not only did humans introduce non-native animals, but they had removed others originally native and important to the landscape such as wolves. These mammals were extirpated by humans in the early 1900s. Wolves remained common until the late 1890's, but by the time the landscape became a park in 1938, wolves were no longer present. Today, this wild land is a National Park, of which the goal is to preserve and protect this ecosystem in as pure a state as possible. That is why the park has worked to reintroduce other native species that had been extirpated from the region such as sea otters and fishers. As recent as 2008, the park underwent the process of reintroducing fishers to the area. While these animals are still a rare sight, their return has worked to rebalance the natural ecosystem.
You can help with the mission of the National Park Service even as a visitor by staying safe around wildlife, picking up trash, and staying on trails.
Where and when to enjoy the fauna of Olympic can vary. The diversity of landscapes leads to a variety of life histories. Tiny shrews may spend their entire lives wandering only a few hundred yards from where they were born, while cougars and bears may travel miles in search of a mate or a new home range. A Pacific Northwest specialty, the mountain beaver, spends much of its life in its burrow system, emerging only to gather succulent plants to store underground. Every season brings a new change to the activity. Some species migrate with the year, leaving mountain meadows behind as the snow falls. Others, like snowshoe hares, can remain, even when their mountain habitat is blanketed under 10 feet of snow. The animals who do stay in their territory year-round, like black bears, still change their behavior depending on food availability.
Mornings and evenings are often best for wildlife watching. Sitting quietly and listening will usually reveal more animal activity. Drive slowly and watch for animals crossing park roads; use pullouts for safety. You can help the wildlife of the park survive by keeping your distance, not feeding or enticing any wildlife, and ensuring all food and smelly items are stored safely when camping or backpacking. To learn more helpful hints on the where, when and what of Olympic animals, visit our Wildlife Viewing page.
Learn more, do more!
Being a national park with designated wilderness areas adds protection to help keep these varied habitats relatively undisturbed. As a visitor, you are the 63rd species of mammal in Olympic National Park and can help keep this a clean and healthy home for all.
To learn more, enjoy a full list of all 62 terrestrial mammal species in Olympic or click on the following links for specific terrestrial mammal species: