Seattle, Washington, is surrounded by a necklace of three national parks, each wonderful in its own right: Mt. Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades.
Of these, aptly named Olympic is located in the most northwestern corner of the contiguous United States on the remote Olympic Peninsula.
Olympic National Park is high up on my list of favorites. It has earned this spot because of its abundant variety of subjects. Besides the dramatic Olympic Mountains from which this big park takes its name, there are sparkling lakes, lovely waterfalls, at least three gloriously green rainforests and, perhaps best of all, Olympic’s numerous and deservedly famous beaches.
These are not ordinary sand beaches. Far from it. Names like Ruby, Rialto and Shi-Shi stir the imagination, and the First and Second beaches, while simply tagged, are just as dramatic. This wild coastline is as exciting a meeting of land and sea as we can find anywhere.
Towering sea stacks sculpted by the elements and the tides stand just offshore, and together with their reflections in the wet sand make wonderful compositions.
Be sure to check the local tide tables. Colorful sea stars, anemones and other little creatures not seen at high tide often make an appearance when the tide goes out. Shooting these small subjects during less favorable light conditions can enable you to be more productive. Carrying a white-white translucent reflector to shade the small areas and closeup equipment—such as a macro lens, extension tubes or high-quality Proxar attachment—will enable you to come away with some great images.
The verdant rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula should not be missed. Accessed by spur roads off Route #101 along the park’s western edge, the Quinnalt, Queets and the very popular Hoh rainforests offer the chance for intimate compositions as well as some big landscapes. As with any forest, these areas are best photographed in shady light when the sky is overcast to allow the brilliant colors to appear more saturated and avoid high contrast and distracting hot spots in your photographs. When you visit the Hoh, make sure to allow at least two hours for a leisurely stroll on the Hall of Mosses Trail.
The best vantage points for the Olympic Range itself are reached via Hurricane Ridge Road from the coastal town of Port Angeles. Drive up this scenic road in the afternoon and aim to be at its end for sunset. If you have the time, stop at the visitor center for a good view of Mount Olympus and its neighbors. Continue up the road to the very end of the pavement. Park and walk a couple of hundred yards roughly north-northeast down the easy trail to find your sunset composition with the rugged Olympic Mountains in the background. If you are there in late summer, blooming wildflowers should offer a colorful foreground.
As you drive back and forth along the ubiquitous Route #101 perimeter road, don’t miss the often stunning vistas of Lake Crescent. Also, take the short walks to Marymere Falls and the unique triple Sol Duc Falls.
Other than the few charming and rustic lodges within the park, the towns of Forks and Port Angeles offer the most conveniently located lodgings.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer and cofounder of Master Image Workshops. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks with medium-format cameras. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.MasterImageWorkshops.com.