Thirteen rivers radiate down from the slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the range along Washington's Pacific Coast on the Olympic Peninsula. Fed by a heavy snow pack high in glacier-glad peaks and more than 150 inches of rain fall, these rivers gather force as they flow toward the ocean. These rivers are the lifeblood for the pacific salmon -- coho, pink, chum, Chinook, and sockeye.
The Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Quillayette are the four rivers that flow west from these mountains to the Pacific. The Hoh River begins at the Hoh Glacier high on Mount Olympus then flows nearly 60 miles to the ocean. You hear the river before seeing it, the great rush of water flowing through a broad, flat valley before it reaches the ocean.
The glaciers grind rock into fine "glacier flour," which turns the water a milky slate blue color.
Olympic National Park protects the oldest and largest remaining old growth temperate rain forest. Massive Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar rise high above the forest floor, reaching heights of 250 feet and 12 feet wide at the base.
The largest remaining herd of Roosevelt elk live high in the alpine meadows in summer and beneath the lowland forests in fall and winter feeding on ferns, lichens, and clubmosses. In the cool forests along the Hoh River the elk feed on sword ferns and red alder bark. Five elk rested in these "elk pastures" just off the trail, their heavy browsing on the ferns visible.
The Olympic Peninsula is a natural marvel of mountain peaks, subalpine meadows, glaciers and rivers, coastal beaches and tide pools, and inland rainforest. Outside the boundaries of the Park and other protected areas, the complex natural communities are gone -- displaced by extensive logging, over fishing, dams, and other human uses. The National Parks preserve remnants of nature -- breathing, living, flowing, evolving.