Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest
The rain forest along the lower elevations of the Hoh, Quinault, and Queets Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula is world-renowned, and rightly so. We are talking about vast acreages of forest that are pretty much protected for the future, allowing many visitors to feel their power and majesty.
Begin your exploration with a visit to the Lake Quinault Ranger Station or the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. The rustic lodge at Lake Quinault is an impressive timber construction where President Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed in 1937 on a fact-finding trip prior to establishing the national park. The lodge offers an opportunity to savor some fresh grilled salmon and to paddle a canoe across the glacier-carved lake.
It was at Lake Quinault that the 1889 90 Press Expedition led by James Christie ended, after a five-and-a-half-month north-south trek across the park. The trip today, now that we know more about the wilderness area of this park, can be made in five days.
Plants and Wildlife
The predominant trees include Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce all of which grow here to gigantic proportions with sword ferns very showy in the understory of the forest. Sitka spruce is the predominant coastal tree, rather than the redwood as one heads north from California.
Bigleaf maple and alder prefer the wet edges of streams. One acre of this forest can grow some 6,000 pounds of moss, lichens, and epiphytes. Vanilla leaf, western trillium, salal, Oregon grape, and Pacific bleeding heart all provide flowers. Huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and blackberries are tasty edibles that grow wherever they can get some sun.
Those health indicators of old-growth forest, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet, are found here. Winter wrens scurry about on the forest floor. And kinglets, varied thrushes, chickadees, finches, vireos, and other small birds are heard more often than seen. Large mammals include black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, cougar, bobcat, and mountain goats, though the latter are not native. Deer mice are everywhere. The Pacific salamander is a creature that can rattle, scream, or yell. Watch for a green flash that could be a tree frog.
Quinault Rain Forest
Several trails provide access to excellent examples of temperate rain forest. The 0.5-mile Rain Forest Nature Trail, in the designated wilderness, is accessed from a parking area on South Shore Road, a short distance southeast of the entry road to Willaby Campground, or from the lower end of the same campground, which makes the trail closer to a mile. If one takes the longer trail, it passes under the road and initially is above a gorge with a waterfall on Willaby Creek. For a longer excursion to immerse oneself more completely into this habitat, take the Quinault Loop Trail, which can be hiked in several ways for a 4- to 8-mile hike; it begins across South Shore Road from Quinault Lodge and is also entered from the south shore campgrounds (maps are available at the nearby ranger station). Several longer trails are located upriver, including the 13-mile Enchanted Valley Trail that follows the river upstream to a chalet set in a spectacular gorge rimmed with waterfalls. This trail continues to the world's largest western hemlock and on to Anderson Pass. Another trailhead in the Quinault area leads to the world's largest yellow cedar.
Hoh Rain Forest
The Hall of Mosses Trail (0.75 mile round-trip) reveals an atmosphere associated with mosses and ferns hanging from giant trees and lush vegetation caused by more than 140 inches of rain annually, as does the nearby Spruce Nature Trail (1.25-mile-round-trip) which can be wheelchair traveled with assistance. An easy 0.5-mile paved mini-trail loop can be done by wheelchair-confined people. For a more peaceful connection with the ecology of this forest, try a bit or all of the 17-mile Hoh River Trail that climbs to Glacier Meadows and summer wildflowers, and Blue Glacier, the shortest route to Mount Olympus.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication