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Olympic National Park

History: How the Olympic Mountains Were Formed

©2006 National Park Services The Olympic National Park landscape was formed by glaciers, wind, and water.

Geologists believe that the rock of the Olympic Mountains developed beneath the sea because marine fossils are found near the summits. Around 35 million years ago, the great plate carrying the floor of the Pacific Ocean collided with the North American plate. The upper levels of the seabed plate rose up and crumpled into the Olympic Mountains. Later, glaciers, wind, and water shaped the mountains into what we see today: breathtaking vistas of deep canyons, towering mountain ridges, and meadows dense with wildflowers.

The History of the Olympic Mountains: Inhabitants and Exploration

In 1788, an English sea captain named John Mears sighted the peninsula's tallest mountain, which at 7,965 feet is not an extremely high peak, but it rises so dramatically above the sea that it looks enormous. Mears was so overwhelmed by the sight that he named the peak Mount Olympus in honor of the home of the Greek gods. 


In the 1890s, local residents tried to block a proposal for federal protection of thousands of acres of timber that would restrict the area's huge logging industry. But since 1897 the territory has been under the jurisdiction of either the Department of Interior or the Department of Agriculture. For 29 years it was Mount Olympus National Monument, but the name was changed when the national park was established in 1938.

Today visitors flock to the park to experience its rich lanscape. And at the center of it all stands mighty Mount Olympus.

© Publications International, Ltd.