On Washington's Olympic Peninsula, tucked in a valley on the western side of the Olympic National Park, is the Hoh Rainforest and Visitor Center. Encompassing 24 miles of low elevation forest along the Hoh River, this coastal temperate rain forest is one of the largest in the U.S.
Though parts of the area outside the Park have been logged over the last century, inside the Park there is plenty remaining of the quiet mystery of moss, fern and lichen and the awe-inspiring native Sitka spruce and Western Hemlock. These giants can reach sizes of over 300 feet high and 25 feet in diameter.
Two Swiss tourists to the Hoh Rainforest. Once they passed this maple festooned with moss, they turned and stared, mouths agape in wonder.
The Hoh is the epitome of a temperate rain forest:
It is tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the west-facing slopes of the Olympic mountain range, resulting in lots and lots of rain, 12 - 14 feet annually, on average. During the summer when rainfall diminishes, the morning mist waters the forest.
The climate rarely freezes and seldom reaches above 80 degrees
The result of location, climate and prodigious rainfall is a collection of enormous evergreen trees, some deciduous trees, and lots of ferns, lichens, mosses, and berry brambles fed by the rich loamy soil made from millennia of fallen trees, branches, and leaves.
Chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, nuthatches and thrushes whistle and tweet their way through the trees providing a symphony for Pacific tree frogs, black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, cougar, Olympic black bear, bobcats, raccoons, banana slugs and their nemesis, the non-native black slug. And, of course, the occasional human, including you, me, and Mick Dodge (see below).
All have made themselves at home amid the moist, draping moss and the understory of big-leaf maples, alder and ferns.
Hoh Visitor Center, Hub of the Hoh
Temporary Hoh Visitor Center, until renovations are complete on the permanent building
The Hoh Visitor Center, located at the end of Upper Hoh Road, off Hwy 101, south of Forks, WA, is the hub of the Hoh, as most of the walking and hiking trails are accessible at or near the Hoh Visitor Center.
Stopping at the Visitor Center can be very helpful. Ask all your questions about the amazing rainforest or obtain local up-to-the-minute information about trails. Check out the rainforest exhibits, get your wilderness permit, and purchase a
gift or souvenir.
The Hoh Visitor Center is:
Open daily in summer
Closed December through early March
through Sunday the rest of the year
Check current hours by calling (360)
Hoh Rainforest Hiking
The Hoh Mini Trail is level and paved. Photo taken in January.
Signpost marking trails in the Hoh. Photo taken in May.
You have your choice of five trails within the Olympic National Park's Hoh Rainforest, ranging from easy to difficult. All will lead through rainforest mosses dripping from maple trees, creeping over fallen trees and carpeting the forest floor. Look for "nurse" trees nurturing the next generation of distinguished sentinels.
The Mini Trail is 0.1 mile, flat and paved, accessible for those who need assistance.
The Hall of Mosses Trail. This 0.8 mile long trail begins with an initial incline then levels off to a comfortable loop through "halls" of mosses.
The Spruce Nature Trail is a 1.2 mile loop providing another opportunity to marvel at rain forest mystery and beauty. This hike will take you to the bank of the Hoh River and then back to the Visitor Center.
These short trails are wonderful for giving the essence of the Hoh Rainforest. Choose one, or stroll all of them. They won't disappoint!
(Below: click any photo to open gallery in full size.)
The next two trails are for the experienced and well-conditioned hiker. They may include fording rivers and/or traversing glaciers.
The South Snider-Jackson Trail originates 6 miles west of the Visitor Center at the Olympic National Park entrance station. Its 11.8 mile, 2,700-feet ascent and descent will
take you to the Bogachiel River.
The Hoh River Trail starts near the Hoh Visitor Center. In 17.3
miles, you'll climb 3,700 feet to Glacier Meadows on the shoulder of Mount
If you like, the Hoh River Trail also offers access to an additional hike to Blue Glacier, 0.9 miles beyond Glacier Meadows and 700 feet higher.
Along the way catch glimpses of the High Divide and Mount Tom. Backpackers will
need to obtain a wilderness permit before proceeding.
Hoh Campground sign showing campground layout
The Hoh Campground is situated within the Hoh Rainforest
surrounded by lush rainforest. It is open year round, is wheelchair accessible
with flush toilets and potable water. Some riverside campsites available.
Many campsites on A Loop and C Loop border the Hoh River, which snakes along beyond the trees in the photo above.
Seattle (via Bainbridge ferry): 138 miles (approx. 3.7 hours) Or: 211 miles (approx. 4.1 hours) via Olympia, Hwy 12, and Hwy 101 along the WA coast (no ferries)
Mick Dodge Spells Hoh "Home"
Mick Dodge, visiting Port Angeles WA
This rainforest story is not complete without mentioning the legendary Mick Dodge, who lives off the land near the Hoh River Valley. The National Geographic channel features his life in its series, "The Legend of Mick Dodge."