American Indian tribes once sparsely inhabited the land now known as the Olympic Peninsula ; evidence of their presence here dates back thousands of years. Coastal tribes lived off of the once-abundant salmon or hunted the Pacific gray whale, a tradition still practiced by treaty right by the Makah Tribe today. Starting in the 16th century, the region attracted the attention first of the Spanish, then the English, and finally, Americans. Due to the unforgiving landscape and the frequently hostile Makah, white settlement didn't take hold until 1851, although the Spanish briefly held a fort here and trappers and explorers plied their trades in the area much earlier.
Coastal settlements sprang up here and there, but few dared enter the thick forests and steep slopes of the central Olympics. This situation changed in 1889 when the Seattle Press newspaper funded a small party of adventurers and tasked them with exploring the hinterland. The trip went about as well as can be expected from an excursion organized by the media. Plagued by poor planning, a brutal winter, and a string of mishaps, the group took six months to travel across the mountains before arriving on the Quinalt Indian Reservation—starving, minus two mules and several dogs, and in desperate need of medical attention.
Seven years after the Press expedition, Congress created the Olympic Forest Reserve, which included much of the Olympic Peninsula . In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt set aside much of the area for conservation by naming it Mount Olympus National Monument, and in 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the monument a national park, increasing the level of protection afforded this wonder even more. The 62-mile coastal strip was added to the park in 1953.
The peninsula itself has a long history of boom-and-bust cycles. Cities on the northern coast jockeyed over the right to collect customs charges from incoming shipping, while other towns rose up overnight in anticipation of the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately for locals, in 1873 the railroad decided to end its route in Tacoma  instead, dashing the region’s hopes and sending it into decline. Still, the hardworking and genuine folks who live here have always found a way to survive.
Farther south at the mouth of the Columbia River, Washington’s coast holds an important historical position as the landing point of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the end of their transcontinental journey in 1805; they had finally “reached the great Pacific Ocean which we been so long anxious to See.” Because game proved scarce and the Washington side of the Columbia lacked protection from winter storms, they crossed the river to build a winter camp called Fort Clatsop near present-day Astoria, Oregon.