5 Reasons to Explore Olympic National Park in the Fall

Ralph Arveson
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Olympic National Park is the fifth most visited National Park in America, but for eight months out of the year, the park is virtually empty. Once summer ends and the rain returns to the region, the parking lots, visitor centers, and trails that were packed to the gills with tourists in the summer are only seen by the hearty souls who brave the weather. The rainy season in Olympic National Park runs from October to June, and while the majority of visitors avoid the rainforest, mountains, and coastal regions of the park during these months, this is actually the best time to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Once the rain starts to fall, the park goes through changes that need to be seen and experienced by all.

Some places in Olympic National Park average 12 FEET of rain each year, an unfathomable amount of rain for the majority of the world. Yet, once the rain starts to fall, the beaches, mountains, rivers, forests, and waterfalls of the region come alive as the life-force of the region finally returns. Fall in Olympic National Park is the reason we have this national park, and there is no more beautiful time to experience the region.

To best experience Fall in Olympic National Park, remember to bring hi-tech waterproof gear. Realistically, the months of September and early October are pretty nice, but autumn storms rolling in have been known to dump six inches of rain a day, so be prepared. Here are the 5 best aspects of fall in this wet and wild corner of America:

1. Waterfalls

Douglas Scott

During the summer, the waterfalls of Olympic National Park are pretty but lack the energy that they possess the rest of the year. While many people have seen Sol Duc Falls, few have seen it as a raging torrent of water, further deepening the eroded channels. Once the rains start to fall, the ONP waterfalls become much more impressive, with seasonal falls springing up around every corner and well-established ones growing exponentially as more and more rain falls in the rain-forested valleys and steep mountains. Check out Olympic National Park’s Best Waterfalls.

2. Elk

Douglas Scott

Elk are the reason that the Olympic National Park was formed. Due to mass hunting of these unique animals, Teddy Roosevelt set aside the land to protect the elk habitat. Now, the elk are thriving, and seeing the males in the rut, with their huge antlers covered in moss to impress the ladies, is a sight to see. The best places to see elk are the Quinault and Hoh River Valleys, but smaller herds can be found up nearly every river in the park. Early morning and evenings are the best time to view and hear them, but with cooler weather each day, they become more active later in the season. More animals of Olympic.

3. Storms

Douglas Scott

If you have never experienced a storm on the Washington Coast, seeing one near the sea-stacks of Olympic National Park needs to be added to your bucket list. Once October starts, storms become more frequent along the beaches, with huge swells, near hurricane force winds and torrential downpours blasting the rugged shores of the Pacific Northwest. The best places to see huge waves crashing against sea stacks are either the beaches near Kalaloch, LaPush or Shi Shi Beach, but nothing is quite as amazing as seeing a storm roll in from Cape Flattery, which is the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States. From the bluffs on the Cape Flattery trail, watch the waves approach from miles away, pounding on the exposed rocks on which you are standing. There is no greater experience than standing here during a storm and no experience more true to the spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Best Olympic Beaches.

4. Mushrooms

Douglas Scott

Whether you love eating mushrooms or enjoy seeing mass amounts of fungus spread across the rainforest floor, the trails during the fall months in Olympic National Park are a mushroom lover’s dream. There are numerous edible species and far more inedible types of fungi around the park. With chanterelles in every forest, those looking for a unique delicacy are in for a treat. The best places to find mushrooms are near the Quinault, Hoh, and Staircase regions of Olympic National Park, with the Staircase Region being most accessible for day trips from Seattle. Before you head out, check with the National Park and National Forest service for updated rules and regulations about foraging.

5. Salmon

Douglas Scott

While salmon are common in nearly every river in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park gives a unique and breathtaking salmon experience not found anywhere else. Each river in the park has a unique salmon run, but the two best locations to witness the event are the Hoh and Sol Duc Rivers. In late October and early November, the Coho salmon return to their spawning grounds, swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean. Along the Sol Duc River, these determined fish are forced to jump up a rocky waterfall called the Salmon Cascades. An extremely short trail and overlook have been built to help visitors witness this event, providing an up-close and personal look at the difficulties the salmon have to fulfill their lifelong purpose of spawning. On the Hoh River, things are a bit more calm. Lazily swimming and spawning in the small creeks around the Hoh Visitor Center, salmon can be seen by visitors as they walk along the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest. Seeing these durable creatures is inspiring and beautiful, just like the fall months in Olympic National Park.

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