The American National Parks are a dream come true for families seeking an opportunity to explore wildlife and wilderness.  This summer we made our first visit to Olympic National Park.  Located on the Olympic peninsula of Washington state, this park offers a uniquely diverse experience.  Moisture from the Pacific hits the western side of the mountains, causing tremendous amounts of precipitation and nourishing temperate rainforests of Douglas fir, cedars, and hemlocks.  In the rain shadow, glacier-capped mountain peaks, wide meadows of wildflowers, and fresh, clear lakes afford stunning views and many opportunities for hiking and watching wildlife.

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We particularly appreciated how accessible Olympic was for our young children.  There were short hikes (2 miles or less) available in all the areas of the park we visited, and these were all easy enough for our preschooler to tackle comfortably.  The main visitors center had a children’s discovery room with games, puzzles, a ranger’s station, several plush version of local animals, and tons of natural objects to touch and explore.  The only part our three-year-old didn’t like was a display of animal skulls that included a puma and a black bear.  He found them absolutely terrifying. 🙂

The visitors center had great take-home resources as well.  Since returning home, we’ve used these wildlife worksheets to review and talk about the animals we saw and the different ecosystems we explored.

In all, Olympic gave our children a wonderful, memorable experience in the Pacific northwest, full of moments that I will treasure for a lifetime.

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Over the next several days, I will detail specifics from our trip — where we went, what we saw, what we learned.  Which National Parks are your favorite for family trips?  What do you look for when choosing a trip destination, and how do you prepare your kids to get the most out of the experience?

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