Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest

River Corridors of the Olympic Peninsula
Trip Practicalities
 Attractions: Hiking, backpacking, nature study, wildlife viewing, boating, paddling, river and lake fishing, photography, interpretive programs, campfire talks

Hours/Season: Overnight; year-round fees: Entry charge per vehicle to Hoh area, free entry to Quinault (in Olympic National Forest); charge for camping

Visitor centers: Quinault Ranger Station on south side of Lake Quinault, open daily; Hoh Rain forest Visitor Center, open daily

Picnicking: Hoh Rain forest, Lake Quinault

Camping: Five forest camps are located along Quinault Lake and two more are on the Quinault River; national park campground near Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center and two forest camps along the Hoh entry road; backcountry sites are along both the Quinault and Hoh Rivers, with permits required.

Access: Lake Quinault is just east of US 101, 38 miles north of Hoquiam; Hoh River is 14 miles south of Forks on US 101 and then 19 miles east on the park road.

Safety concerns: Know wilderness regulations if you plan to enter a wilderness area. Stop, stay calm, and do not run if you spot a cougar. Plan carefully for long hikes into the inner Olympics, drink only potable water or boil it, consider the possibility of a good rain, and leave only footprints.

Trip tip: Lake Quinault is part of the Quinault Indian Nation and a special permit is required from them for lake fishing.

For more information: Olympic National Park Superintendent, 600 East Park Avenue, Port Angeles, WA 98362, (360) 452-4501

Quinault Ranger District, Olympic National Forest, 353 South Shore Road, Quinault, WA 98575, (360) 288-2525


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.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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