You are here

Wildlife In Olympic National Park

Massive elk named after Teddy Roosevelt, mountain goats, black bears, and fishers are among the wildlife most often associated with Olympic National Park. But if you look to the park's waters, you can also include sea otters, harbor seals, and migratory gray whales.

While all the park's wildlife are intriguing and often a delight to spot, Olympic officials, as with other national park officials, constantly urge visitors to remember these are wild animals, no matter how placid or cute they might appear.

That point was driven home in October 2010 when a hiker was fatally gored by a mountain goat. That incident led the park to issue a set of regulations for managing mountain goats in the park. In that plan park officials urged hikers not to urinate on trails, as the salty deposits in effect become "long linear salt licks."

Mountain goats, which park officials say are not native to the area, stick to the higher elevations of the park. Among the areas you're likely to encounter them are Klahane Ridge.

Another large park resident to be cautious is are the elk. The park's particular species, Roosevelt Elk, are the largest elk breed of elk in North America. Males can weigh 900 pounds or more, while females average about 700 pounds, according to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

While the elk can range throughout the park, a reliable spot to see them is the Hoh Rain Forest. In September you might be fortunate enough to hear the bulls bugling as they work to form their "harems" of females.

Though the elk are certainly majestic and photogenic, keeping your distance is key for your safety and that of the elk. In June 2011 a cow elk was killed by park rangers after it became too brazen in approaching visitors, charging vehicles, and even damaging a tent.

One of the park's wildlife success stories revolves around a small member of the weasel-family. Fishers once were plentiful in the forests that lie within the park's boundaries. But they were lost to over-trapping in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A recovery program launched in 2007 carried a goal of releasing 100 fishers into the forests with hopes they'd re-establish a presence.

In February 2010 the last release of fishers into the park was made. Monitoring of the fishers led biologists to three fisher birthing dens in the spring of 2009 and at least seven kits. Other females might also have had young, but locating and verifying fisher dens is extremely difficult and time-consuming in the Olympic wilderness.

Black bears are quite common throughout the park, though you might not seem them. Backpackers might see raccoons, which also are common and have become a pest in some areas for their desire to raid backpackers' foods.

Backpackers are now required by park officials to have bear canisters for food storage in the Sol Duc/Seven Lakes Basin area, including all camps adjacent to and enclosed by the Deer Lake Trail, High Divide Trail, and Sol Duc River Trail (High Divide Loop), and adjacent camps along the Mink Lake Trail, East High Divide Trail, and Cat Basin area.

Along the coast, problems caused by raccoons have led to a requirement that backcpackers have some form of hard-sided food containers, such as bear canisters. Hanging food bags is not permitted.

As for marine mammals, they're a bit tougher to spot, particularly gray whales. Park officials note that, the whales, "en route to summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea and other northern waters ... often navigate the coastal waters of the Olympic Peninsula. Some even enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca and stay to feed for days or weeks. They can be seen feeding off the coast in late spring and summer, or feeding on bottom sediments at the mouths of the Hoh and Quillayute rivers in the summer."

Harbor seals are more easily spotted if you travel the park's coastlines. They are year-round residents of the Pacific here, and you can often spot them hauled out on rock outcrops or feeding in intertidal zones.

A great family activity in the park is exploring the "tide pools" that arise along the shorelines at low tide. These "rock aquariums" harbor sea life ranging from colorful anemones to brightly hued sea stars (aka starfish) and spiny sea urchins. According to park officials, Kalaloch's Beach 4 and Mora's Hole in the Wall are the most popular tidepool areas in the park. During summer low tides, rangers offer programs at both locations.

You can watch a short video of rangers conducting science in the tide pools at this Park Service page.

Olympic National Park

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide