The Pacific Northwest is wet, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that it contains the Hoh Rainforest, but it’s just not something I expected in the USA.
The Hoh Rain Forest is one of four rain forests on the Olympic Peninsula. But it is the only World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s also one of the most incredible places you can visit in the Pacific Northwest – a place where there are many unique places.
I drove there after spending three weeks in the area and I thought I was prepared, but nothing can prepare you for walking into a living dream.
The only rainforest I’d previously known of were the broadleaf forests in warmer climates like Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. Those environments are more jungle, the vegetation is tropical, and the animals are more amphibian. But there is another kind: the coniferous forests, with mosses, ferns, shrubs and massive pine trees. In this type of rainforest, things that should be black or brown are also green.
I took U.S. Route 101 beyond the Puget Sound along the majority of the peninsula’s shoreline. I passed through Port Angeles, Forks, La Push and up into the northwestern more edge of Olympic National Park to find the Hoh Rainforest.
The small places of the Olympic Peninsula are mostly port towns, where fishing and logging are make up the bulk of the economy. In these towns, everything sits under a near-constant misty cloud cover. Rainy conditions combine with the salt mist blowing in off the surrounding waters and makeup an environment of moisture my skin loved. But it’s also humid in a different way.
I grew up in the Midwest, where humidity and heat go hand in hand, making a guaranteed uncomfortable, sweaty condition. Here, in the Olympic Peninsula, the humidity is a different sort. It has a wet spongy effect. Dampness permeates everything and it’s all a little bit moist. The idea of putting clothes outside to dry is laughable. I tried once and it only made it worse.
They call it an oceanic climate. The Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park’s unique ecosystem has remained unchanged for thousands of years and is now the most carefully preserved rain forest in the northern hemisphere. It’s ethereal.
In summer, temperatures are in the mid-70s and winter, and they never go below the 20s. Seattle, a place known for rain, gets around 36 inches of rain a year. But, the Hoh Rain Forest, with its prevalent fog and mist, gets as much as 14 feet yearly. It’s practically underwater, resulting in one of the lushest places you’ll find in the USA.
Everything in the forests feeds everything else. When trees fall, other trees grow from it, so its life supports the next. Here, the forest consumes everything. And quickly too. It wouldn’t take long to be absorbed into the ecosystem. If you sat still on a log too long, you might become part of it.
Hall of Mosses
In Olympic National Park Hoh Rainforest, there is a place called the Hall of Mosses. Some of the trees in this temperate rainforest are over 300 feet high and 20 feet thick. Most of them are covered in moss. It’s cool and moist and so, so quiet.
The moss is very effective at absorbing sounds. On one trail, I was alone and when I stopped moving, it was like my ears stopped working. It was hushed. Because the moss acts as an acoustic element, the park is naturally more quiet than other places. Even the animals seemed muffled since I didn’t hear even a bird for the longest time.
Everything is green—more shades of green than you’ve ever imagined. The ground is spongy and dense and the tree canopy is thick, not allowing much light to touch the forest floor. Moss and lichen hang from tree branches like curtains.
The trees are massive too. There are various spruce, western hemlock, Coastal Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and others throughout the forest. The moss makes identification more difficult. They block most of the light, the sun hitting the forest floor only when one of these giants falls. Then they become food.
There are a few short loop trails you can take at the visitor center and a longer out-and-back that will take most of the day. I took the short routes and found my way to the Hoh River, for which the forest is named.
When I first learned of the forest, I assumed it had Asian roots, but the name “Hoh” likely stems from the Native American Quileute word “Ohalet,” meaning snow water. The water in the river comes down from the glacier on Mount Olympus in the Olympic National Park.
The Hall of Mosses Trail is less than a mile long and the Spruce Nature Trail is just over a mile long. While the distance won’t take a long time to cover, you should plan for twice as much as you think you’ll need since I promise you’ll be stopping much more frequently than on a “normal” trail.
Find the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.
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