Dec. 9, 2011
Olympic National Park Daytrip #3 – The Hoh Rainforest
The Hoh Rainforest receives over 150 inches of rain per year, creating an environment where trees may be more than 1000 years old, ferns line the forest floor, and plant life covers every surface. Protected by the Olympic Mountains to the east, the mild temperatures seldom drop to below freezing in the winter or rises above 80 degrees in the summer. Temperate rainforests only exist in a few locations around the world and the Olympic National Park is home to the largest temperate rainforest in North America and more than 3,000 species of plant life. Did you know? The old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest produce three times the biomass (living or once living material) of tropical rain forests. The Hoh Rainforest is dominated by Sitka spruce which grow up to 3OO feet in height and 23 feet in circumference, however it is the big leaf maple whose arching limbs provide the frame work to support the mosses which give the forest its unique and surreal feeling. Western hemlock, Douglas fir, western red cedar, and black cottonwood are also found throughout the forest. The forest floor is carpeted with ferns. Nearly every bit of space within the forest is taken up with a living plant, and its biomass may be the greatest in the world. In some areas of the forest the vegetation is so thick that snow cannot reach the ground. Easily accessible by car, the Hoh gives visitors a peek into every aspect of forest life. From Pacific Beach, WA, travel North on Highway 109 for just over two miles until you see signs for the Moclips Highway. Turn right on to the Moclips Highway and follow it for approximately 20 miles to Highway 101. Turn left onto Highway 101 and follow it past Lake Quinault Lodge and Kalaloch (which we have also featured as shorter day trips here on the Seabrook Blog). As Highway 101 leaves the coast, you will soon be looking for the turnoff road leading to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (about 15 miles south of Forks). Take this road east into the park. At the end of the road you will see the campground and visitor center where there are several parking lots. In all, the trip takes about 2.5 hours, so starting early in the day will allow you plenty of time to enjoy the park once you arrive. Hiking and nature trails start at the visitor's center (where you can also find restrooms). There is not much in the way of food at the Visitor Center, so it is advisable to pack food for the day before you leave. No pets are allowed in this portion of the park, but there are specially marked horse trails that lead through the forest. Additionally, along many of the trails, benches are plentiful and some trails are wheelchair accessible. There is a mini trail about 1/4 mile long which opens a window on the rain forest and that begins at the visitor's center. Nearby is the Hall of Mosses Trail (about a 3/4 mile long) which takes about 20 to 40 minutes and forms a loop through the Hoh Rain forest. Licorice ferns and club mosses cling to overhanging trees like holiday decorations on New York's Fifth Avenue. While the surroundings are lush, the understory is fairly open as you pass under majestic big leaf Maples, Sitka spruce, and 300 year old Cedar trees. Watch for nurse logs, which are fallen trees that have become seedbeds for shrubs and seedlings. Another short hike nearby the visitor's center is The Spruce Trail (about a 1.3 miles, round trip) which takes you through impressive stands of old-growth Sitka spruce, and along the Hoh River. Interpretive plaques explaining the ecology of the rainforest are found along the way. The trail is paved and is accessible with wheelchairs and takes anywhere from 1 hour to 1.5 hours to fully enjoy. If you are looking for something a little less crowded and a slightly more challenging hike, try the Hoh River Trail (about 17.3 miles in total) which follows the Hoh River. This trail travels all the way to the Blue Glacier and Mt. Olympus and is the principal trailhead for climbing Mt. Olympus, 20 miles farther up the canyon. The Hoh River Trail is perfect for those looking for an overnight hike, but provides miles of beautiful terrain but can be easily enjoyed in short distances as well. Browsing elk keep the shrubs and bushes well trimmed along all the trails of the Hoh River Valley, grazing on the heavy undergrowth. This shy white-rumped elk is extremely prevalent in the area and are one of the primary reasons for the creation of the Olympic National Park. These Roosevelt elk, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, are social animals that exist in herds unlike the smaller wapiti found elsewhere in western North America. These elk represent the only major concentration of elk remaining in the United States with a herd of approximately 5000 animals. As arguably one of the most spectacular places in the world, an estimated 200,000 people visit the Hoh Rainforest from around the globe to experience this incredible temperate rain forest. As you might imagine, it is often a very busy place, however most hikers visit during the summer months and on autumn weekends. If you come in the spring or even in winter you will experience a valley much more tranquil setting as well as a few more elk grazing freely. Even if you end up here on a busy day, the crowds thin out dramatically after only a couple of miles of hiking and no matter what the day, the Hoh Rainforest is definitely a worthwhile trip. Leave a comment below if you've ever visited the Hoh Rainforest and let us know how you would describe this unique and special landscape. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we feature the final two Olympic National Park day-trips in our five trip series!