Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park


The Olympic Peninsula was an Eden for its early inhabitants. Today, American Indians are still a strong presence on the Olympic Peninsula. In fact, Olympic National Park is close to the reservations of several tribes. Check with the tribes or park staff to find out about scheduled cultural events and other visitor opportunities.

The Elwha Klallam, Hoh, Jamestown S'Klallam, Makah, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Quileute, Quinault, and Skokomish tribes have traditional associations to this land of abundant natural resources, and from it, they built a rich culture here.

The Northwest Coast peoples lived in communal homes called longhouses and practiced the potlatch, a social custom that involved elaborate feasting and the exchange of gifts to celebrate significant events. They fished and gathered most of their food for the year during spring and summer. During the mild winters, women wove baskets and clothing from soft red cedar bark while men carved dugout canoes and ceremonial items from this and other trees.

In the 19th century, American In-dian populations declined drastically, largely due to diseases introduced by Europeans.

European and American Explorers 

In 1775, two Spanish ships made their way along the coast near Point Grenville and the Quinault River, claiming the land for Spain. The Spanish built the first European settlement (actually a stockade) at Neah Bay in 1792. However, their influence was short-lived because the settlement was abandoned after only five months.

In 1788, an English sea captain, John Meares, was so impressed by Mount Olympus that he named it after the mythical home of the Greek gods. The name was made official four years later when Captain George Vancouver entered the name on his maps and referred to the whole range as the Olympic Mountains.

Through the latter part of the 1800s, pioneers moved into the peninsula to farm, fish and cut timber. Like American Indians, American settlers chose town sites along the coasts and rivers. Port Townsend became the first permanent American settlement on the peninsula in 1851. Today, Port Angeles, originally designated a federal land reserve in 1862, is the peninsula's largest town with a population of 19,500.

National Park Status

In 1885 and again in 1890, the U.S. Army led two trips through the region to scientifically survey and document the interior. It wasn't until 1938 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill designating 898,000 acres as Olympic National Park. Most of the coastal wilderness was added to the park in 1953.

An International Biosphere Reserve, as well as a World Heritage Site, Olympic National Park is officially 95 percent wilderness. This 1988 protective federal designation forbids road building, mining, timber cutting, hunting, use of motorized vehicles and other types of use and development within the wilderness boundary.