Local wildlife finds a haven in national parks where visitors can look at threatened or reclusive creatures in their natural environment. Few parks offer the biological diversity range found in Washington state’s Olympic National Park animals.
This protected portion of the Olympic Peninsula has fascinating and unique animals on the land, at sea, and in the air. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top Olympic National Park animals.
Olympic National Park Is A Wildlife Haven
The land that now makes up Olympic National Park was first set aside for preservation in 1897. President Grover Cleveland responded to concerns over disappearing forests in the region by designating the area as the Olympic Forest Reserve.
A decade later, a new Mount Olympus National Monument was created to protect the struggling Roosevelt Elk. It finally became a national park in 1938, with additional coastal areas added 15 years later.
Olympic National Park occupies much of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, with more than 900,000 acres of diverse landscapes like alpine areas, coasts, and multiple types of forests. Additionally, Olympic National Park has a large and diverse group of animal residents. They include creatures as powerful as the black bear or humpback whale and as delicate as a marbled Murrelet or Olympic marmot.
The widely varied landscapes of the park allow visitors to experience many ecosystems in a relatively small area, often leading to once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences. But as always, keep at least 150 feet from any wildlife and never feed animals, even birds or squirrels.
23 Olympic National Park Animals to Look Out For
So which wild creatures should you keep your eyes peeled for? You may see quite a few, and we’ve broken them down by their type and where you’ll find them.
Olympic’s forests, meadows, and other diverse habitats literally crawl with life. Here are some of the most interesting and common inhabitants.
The omnivorous black bear is one of the most common inhabitants of Olympic National Park. While they’re smaller than their fearsome cousin, the grizzly, black bears can weigh as much as 600 lbs.
They’ll feed on a variety of plants and berries throughout the park, as well as the region’s famous salmon. Give black bears plenty of distance if you spot them — most bears are scared of humans, but they can be extremely dangerous if threatened.
This species is named for our 26th president and conservationist, who helped protect its habitat in Olympic National Park. It is the largest elk in North America, and Olympic is home to the largest unmanaged herd in the region.
Weighing between 600 and 1,100 lbs, you can find these powerful animals throughout the park, from mountain meadows to lowland rain forest. You can spot females and calves in herds of about 20, while males generally live independently.
Blacktail deer have genetic links to the whitetail deer common in the eastern United States. You can easily distinguish them from the park’s elk due to their significantly smaller size. You may see blacktails throughout the park but most commonly near the edges of the forests, especially at dawn and dusk.
Consider yourself lucky if you spot a mountain lion (also known as a cougar or puma). These stealthy and reclusive animals and tend to live in the mountains and forests.
The mountain lion is one of two feline species to call Olympic home, and males can weigh up to 250 lbs. They share a place with black bears at the top of the area’s food chain. Cougar attacks are rare but don’t approach these powerful animals as they can be very territorial.
The other native cat of Olympic National Park, the bobcat, is similarly stealthy to the mountain lion. You can identify them by their short tails and smaller size. While males can weigh 20-30 lbs, adult females grow to the size of a house cat. They tend to favor rocky cliffs or outcroppings, but you can sometimes spot them in open fields or meadows near forests.
You can easily recognize these quill-covered animals. You’ll often see these skilled climbers up trees — that is, if you can spot them at all. Porcupines are primarily nocturnal and have finely tuned senses of hearing and smell, which helps these slow-moving creatures avoid predators. They stay active all year and don’t hibernate like other similar animals.
The fisher may not be the most well-known resident of Olympic National Park, but they have been part of a crucial project to restore native wildlife to the area. They resemble weasels with long thin bodies and a thick coat of brown fur.
Fishers vanished from Washington state around the turn of the 20th century due to over-trapping and habitat loss. They have been reintroduced to the park in recent years. Despite their name, fishers prefer hares, birds, and rodents over fish.
Snowshoe hares take their name from their large and distinctive hind feet, which function much like a snowshoe allowing them to stay active during the winter. They don’t molt their brown coats, unlike other members of their species.
The hares live in the forests and subalpine areas of the Olympic Mountains. Due to their secretive and nocturnal nature, you may have difficulty trying to catch a glimpse of one.
Short and Long-Tailed Weasel
Much like snowshoe hares, the short-tailed weasels living in the park don’t turn white each winter. You’ll also find the long-tailed weasels. Both are carnivores and capable hunters who prey on small rodents or hares. You’ll most commonly find them in lowland forests and subalpine zones.
Mountain beavers may resemble a big hamster, but these creatures are actually some of the world’s most primitive rodent species. About a foot long with small ears, eyes, and tail, mountain beavers only exist in the Pacific Northwest from northern California to British Columbia, Canada.
While not actually a type of beaver, their gnawing on trees earned them their name. You’ll find them in the rain forests and other areas with heavy vegetation.
Olympic Marmots are another species found nowhere else in the world — one reason they bear the area’s name. They grow to about the size of a house cat. You’ll commonly see these unique, social rodents in the park’s mountain meadows.
Family groups live together in small communities, and pups will play together near their burrows. Olympic Marmots survive entirely on plants and roots, and a lot of them. They need the extra energy during their winterlong underground hibernation.
Pro Tip: Want to spend more time connecting to nature with unique animals? Check out these 4 Best National Forests with Campgrounds.
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Unique Birds of Olympic National Park
While you may scour the forest floor, don’t forget to look up. Birds also make up a crucial element of Olympic National Park’s animal life. The ones listed below are among the best bets for birdwatchers.
Northern Spotted Owl
These chocolate-brown, nocturnal birds were once common in the Olympic area and throughout the Pacific Northwest. However, habitat loss and competition with the newly-arrived barred owl has led to declining numbers, leading the federal government to list them as “threatened.”
Therefore, the Olympic Peninsula is home to one of the largest and most isolated populations of northern spotted owl left in the world. You may find them nesting between February and June, with most babies hatched and sent off on their own by the fall.
Marbled Murrelets range from Alaska to California, with populations in Olympic National Park and Washington state listed as threatened. These small robin-sized birds split their time between the seas and the forests. Marbled murrelets also change color from winter to spring, shifting to help camouflage themselves in the changing environment.
Spotted throughout the Olympic National Park, the short-tailed albatross, another endangered bird, has a population of around 1,200 birds, most of which live in Japan. You can identify them through their distinctive hooked pink bill and crown of golden feathers on their heads.
Short-tailed albatrosses have declined dramatically in number over the past century, primarily due to overhunting. Still, the species is distributed widely across the northern Pacific Ocean, even though sightings can be rare.
The peregrine falcon has a story that should give hope to lovers of other threatened species. Nearly eradicated during the 20th century by pesticides, the peregrine falcon has made a dramatic recovery. You can see them in many areas of the country, including year-round in Olympic National Park.
These expert hunters fly incredibly fast, with speeds reaching nearly 70 mph while chasing prey. Peregrine falcons also dive-bomb prey from more than a half-mile up, topping 200 mph in their descent.
Pro Tip: If you love spotting for wildlife as much as we do, check out our Traveler’s Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife.
Water Animals at Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park animals don’t stop at the water’s edge. The region is home to an incredible coastal and river ecosystem that draws many tourists looking to see its legendary residents.
Often mistaken for sea otters, river otters are smaller than their cousins and weigh around 30 lbs. They also spend less time in the water though they can hold their breath longer than sea otters, up to 8 minutes at a time.
You may spot them on lakeshores, riverbanks, and the outer coast of the peninsula. These cute but carnivorous creatures feed on fish or even small rodents.
Harbor Seals are among the most abundant of the water-dwelling Olympic National Park animals. You may even spot one playfully following you from the water as you walk along the beach.
They have silver or grey coloring, with distinctive V-shaped nostrils. Harbor seals live in the sea around Olympic year-round but tend to stay relatively close to shore, hunting a wide variety of fish.
Sea otters have the classic otter look of a dark brown body with a white or light brown face. They look relaxed, floating on their backs in the water. Sea otters can weigh up to 100 lbs, about three times as big as their river-dwelling relatives.
They mainly feed on crustaceans, filling their diets with crab, clams, mussels, and urchins. Don’t expect to see sea otters on land — these creatures live entirely in the water, usually in large kelp beds. You may sometimes see them tied together with kelp while resting or eating in the water.
Olympic is home to two different varieties of sea lion — Steller’s sea lion and the California sea lion. Steller’s sea lions are the largest in the world, with some weighing more than 2,000 lbs and measuring 11 ft in length.
On the other hand, California sea lions are smaller and more vocal, with what’s been called a “circus-like” bark. Both feed on a variety of fish and squid found in the waters off of Olympic National Park. While not common to the park, you may spot them in late summer and early fall, as the area sits along their migratory paths.
Gray whales were once near the brink of extinction due to whaling, but their numbers have stabilized in protected spaces like the waters of the Olympic Peninsula. They measure up to 60 ft in length and can weigh 30 tons.
You can see all the whales passing through Olympic National Park in April and May, or October and November. Some may spot these bottom feeders off the coast or by the mouths of the Hoh or Quillayute rivers.
Also known as Killer whales, Orcas are among the most recognizable Olympic National Park animals. These impressive creatures can dive up to 500 ft and live as long as 90 years in the wild. Orcas are excellent hunters who feed on a diet of fish, squid, and even sharks and other whales.
These apex predators play a crucial role in keeping other ocean life in balance. Many orca pods, or family groups, occupy the cooler waters off Olympic’s coast year-round, and others migrate through seasonally.
Humpback whales are the largest of the ocean-dwelling Olympic National Park animals. They grow over 60 ft long. You can easily see their plumes of water when they surface and their humped backs as they gracefully dive.
These gentle giants feed primarily on tiny krill and small fish, straining them from the water with their mouths as they swim, consuming up to 3,000 lbs per day. Humpbacks are a favorite among whale-watchers for their size and playfulness.
Pacific White-Sided Dolphin
You can easily spot these playful dolphins thanks to the white markings that give them their names. Pacific white-sided dolphins, social animals often seen in groups up to 100, frequently swim alongside boats, treating passengers to close-up views of flips and jumps. They can hold their breath for six minutes and live up to 40 years in the wild.
Olympic National Park Is Full of Animals of the Land and Sea
Olympic National Park is a wildlife lover’s dream. From majestic land animals like black bears and Roosevelt Elk, to graceful birds like the northern spotted owl and peregrine falcon, to beloved sea creatures like otters and whales, you’ll find thriving life all around this beautiful area. All you need to do is keep your eyes open.
What animal would you be most excited to see? Drop a comment below!
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