Olympic National Forest
Clubmoss draped in long tendrils from the branches of big leaf maples, diffuse light shimmering through a high canopy of evergreens, and an emerald carpet of mosses, ferns, lichens and tiny plants, all characterize the Olympic rain forest. Mild temperatures, summer fog, and over 145 inches (12 feet) of annual rainfall combine to create an ideal environment for the dense forests and lush undergrowth. Some of the largest Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, Western red cedar and Western hemlock are known to exist in the Olympic rain forest. Some are over 300 feet tall and over 60 feet around.
The rain forest is a never ending drama of birth, growth, death and renewal. As giant trees topple and decay, they become seed beds providing ideal nutrients and support for the next generation of trees. These "nurse logs" eventually rot away, producing a colonnade of trees standing on stilts.
Mosses grow throughout the rain forest. The mosses and lichens that drape the big leaf maple, vine maple and other trees do not kill or otherwise harm the trees, other than the occasional broken limb due to weight. In fact, the tree sends special roots from the branches to capture the moisture and nutrients collected in the moss.
The rain forest is home to more than trees and plants. Deer and elk graze on the tender shoots of lush plants. Smaller mammals such as river otter, Douglas squirrel, jumping mouse and shrews thrive in this unique rain forest environment. The dense vegetation also provides hiding cover, nesting material and food for many birds, such as the Bald Eagle and Osprey.
The Quinault Valley is one of three major drainages on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula that offers excellent opportunities to see the unique rain forest environment. The following are recommended as the best opportunities to see and experience the rain forest:
Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail: This short 1/2-mile trail can be walked in approximately 45 minutes. Interpretive signs provide information on many rain forest features. A narrow gorge cut by a cascading stream, dense vegetation, towering trees, a bog and a nurse log are some of the interesting features seen from this trail. The nature trail can be accessed from the trailhead parking lot, located 1.4 miles from Highway 101 on the South Shore Road or 0.5 miles south of the Forest Service Ranger Station.
Quinault Loop Trail: An extended walk, deeper into the rain forest and along the shore of Lake Quinault, can be experienced by hiking the 4-mile Quinault Loop Trail. Allow 2 to 3 hours to hike this National Recreation Trail. Lake Quinault, crystal clear streams, cascading waterfalls, a cedar swamp, trees standing on stilts, and rain forest vegetation are visible along the route. The Loop Trail can be accessed from the Quinault Ranger Station, Lake Quinault Lodge, both Willaby and Falls Creek campgrounds and the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail parking lot.
Quinault Valley Loop Auto Tour: This loop road extends 25 miles around Lake Quinault. The road follows the north and south shores of Lake Quinault in both the National Forest and National Park. This 1 1/2-hour drive provides views of Lake Quinault, the Quinault River, Colonel Bob Wilderness, rain forest vegetation and the possibility to see Roosevelt Elk. The road is not suitable for trailers, as some portions are a single lane dirt road with pullouts.
Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail: This 1/2-mile trail is in the Olympic National Park and is adjacent to the Visitor Center on the North Shore Road. The trail provides views of rain forest vegetation, meadows and an abandoned beaver pond. Allow half an hour for this stroll through the rain forest.
Other Recreational Opportunities: The Queets and Hoh River Valleys are two other west side drainages with opportunities to walk or drive through the Olympic Rain Forest. Both of these areas are within Olympic National Park and the Hoh has an entrance fee.
The Quinault Valley also provides opportunities for camping, picnicking, boating, swimming, fishing and wilderness hiking. A special license is required to fish in Lake Quinault.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication