Visit A Rainforest
Rainforests exist all over the world, but over 70% of the rainforests in the continental United States exist here in our area of western Washington state. To be specific they exist on the nearby Olympic Peninsula just 20-miles west of Bellevue. This area (Olympic National Park) is one of the best places in the world to experience a temperate rainforest ecosystem. The park’s four rainforests are part of a huge Pacific Northwest rainforest that once stretched from Oregon’s southern coast to southeastern Alaska. Because of development, very few temperate rainforests outside of Olympic National Park exist along this stretch today.
The temperate forests receive about 12-14 feet of rain per year and in Olympic, temperatures rarely drop below freezing or go above 80F, enabling an incredibly unique ecosystem to grow. Mosses, ferns, Douglas fir, red alders, Western hemlocks, and Sitka spruce thrive in temperate rainforests, as do epiphytes, which are plants growing on other plants. Cat-tail moss and licorice ferns are two types of epiphytes you will find in Olympics.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of our four rainforests in the area but is the only one to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. You can explore the Hoh Rain Forest by foot on a variety of trails for different abilities. On these trails, you’ll discover moss and ferns carpeting the forest floor with towering conifers, bigleaf maple, and vine maple trees creating a dense canopy overhead.
A paved trail is .1 miles into the old-growth forest. For those wanting to stretch their legs a bit more, try the .8-mile loop called the Hall of Mosses or the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail that goes to the Hoh River. For a much longer hike, try the South Snider-Jackson trail that is 11.8 miles and climbs 2,700 feet through the forest before dropping down to the Bogachiel River. Be aware that heavy rain and snowmelt make river crossings extremely dangerous, so check with the visitor center before you head out.
QUINAULT RAIN FOREST
Quinault Rain Forest is home to the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree that is more than 1,000 years old. It’s 191-feet-high with a 96-foot spread. Quinault also has several waterfalls that are very accessible from the road, including Merriman Falls along the South Shore Road.
While views of Lake Quinault and the forest are beautiful, be sure to get out of your car to experience Quinault’s Rain Forest. You may even catch sight of a marmot or of the many birds that live in this beautiful, lush forest. You’ll find the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station along North Shore Road. Take the bridge across from the ranger station and walk the Maple Glade flat loop. It’s only a half-mile, but it brings you through a mossy bigleaf maple grove. Two miles up North Shore Road from Highway 101, you’ll find a trailhead from which you can walk to a large cedar tree. The Quinault Big Cedar trail is .2 miles long with 80 feet gain in elevation. Or stop at the Graves Creek trailhead and take the flat 1-mile Cascading Terraces loop through the forest along East Fork Quinault River at Graves Creek. To see the world’s largest Sitka spruce, take US Highway 101 to the junction with South Shore Road. Turn east on South Shore Road and travel 3.2 miles to the Big Spruce Trailhead. Parking is on the right. The trailhead is across the road.
QUEETS RAIN FOREST
With fewer visitors traveling the more than 11 miles of curvy road to get to Upper Queets, you won’t find crowds on the trails here. A major landslide in 2005 severely damaged the Lower Queets Road, so you can only drive to Matheny Creek. Beyond there, it is closed.
To access the upper valley, you can take a network of forestry roads. Take road 21 from Highway 101. This network of roads is also active logging routes. For a shorter hike, take Sam’s River Loop, a flat 2.8-mile loop. For a more rigorous hike, go for as long as you want on the 16.2-mile Queets River Trail. However, you do need to ford Sam’s River and then the Queet’s River to go up the trail.
BOGACHIEL RAIN FOREST
Hanging mosses, old-growth cedar, and spruce trees, along with ferns and wetlands help make the Bogachiel Rain Forest a lush, green wonderland. Bogachiel Rain Forest can be accessed by a trailhead in Olympic National Forest, but Bogachiel Rainforest Trail #825 wanders into Olympic National Park after 1.6 miles. The Ira Spring-Wetland Loop is a 2.9-mile loop. That takes you through a fern forest and a wetland overlook. To get to the trailhead travel from US 101 to Undi Road, which is milepost 186. Turn east and travel five miles to the trailhead. The last two miles is F.S. Road 2932, a 1.5-lane gravel road.