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Olympic National Park is known for its diverse ecosystems, including temperate rainforests, which are characterized by a mild climate and lots and lots of rain. The Hoh Rain Forest (pronounced “hoe”) is a top destination for anyone looking to explore one of the best-preserved old-growth rainforests in the Pacific Northwest.
What is a Temperate Rainforest?
There are two types of rainforests on Earth – tropical and temperate. Both are characterized by lots of precipitation, moisture-loving plants, and a closed tree canopy, but are different according to their location and overall climate. Tropical rainforests are found closer to the equator, known for hot temperatures and a steamy atmosphere. Temperate rainforests are located further from the equator (either north or south) where temperatures are cooler.
The northern Pacific is home to one of the largest temperate rainforest regions on the planet, encompassing parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, and Alaska. These rainforests are created by cool coastal air meeting the mountains, creating a unique climate with high humidity and mild temperatures that rarely become hot or go below freezing. Moisture in the air, rain, fog, and clouds allow a specialized ecosystem of plants and animals to thrive in these rainforests.
Much of the original old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest have been lost due to industrial logging; for example, less than 10% of the original coastal rainforest area remains in Washington and Oregon. Logging is still a major industry on the Olympic Peninsula, and efforts to conserve these lands remains a struggle. Olympic National Park, first preserved as a national monument in 1909, has managed to preserve swaths of old growth forest and cultivate new forests.
Rainforests in Olympic National Park
The Olympic Peninsula, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, is well suited for rainforests. Olympic National Park has four rainforests:
The Hoh Rain Forest – Located about four hours from Seattle, two hours from Port Angeles, and less than one hour from Forks (more location info here). It is known for the beautiful Hall of Mosses and the Hoh River.
Bogachiel Rain Forest – Located about 1.5 hours from Port Angeles and 30 minutes from Forks (more location info here). The less visited Bogachiel River Trail is part of the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail that runs nearly 1,200 miles to Glacier National Park.
Quinault Rain Forest – Located three hours from Port Angeles and one hour from Forks (more location info here). It is home to the world’s largest Sitka Spruce at over 1,000 years old.
Queets Rain Forest – This remote wilderness is infrequently visited and portions of it are closed due to damaged roads (more location info here). There is a campground and trails along the Queets River.
About the Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest spans about 24 miles / 39 km. The Hoh River valley was formed by ancient glaciers. The Hoh River, a 56 mile / 90 km river from which the rainforest gets its name, still flows from the Hoh Glacier on Mount Olympus. The river flows into a broad valley and travels through the rainforest. The word “Hoh” certainly has Native American origins, possibly a Quileute word for “fast moving water” or “snow water,” or a Quinault word for “boundary.”
Nearly 12 feet / 3.6 meters of rain falls in the Hoh Rain Forest each year, creating a unique ecosystem where plants and animals thrive. The rainforest is considered old growth, with many trees aging several hundred years.
Trees and Plants of the Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest is dominated by plants and other organisms big and small, working together to create the rainforest’s unique ecosystem.
The Hoh Rain Forest preserves massive old growth conifer and deciduous trees. Over the centuries they have reached incredible heights, with the Sitka Spruce and Douglas-fir growing several hundred feet tall.
Fallen trees serve as nurse logs from which the next generation of trees can thrive. Nurse logs retain moisture and grow moss, which provide the perfect environment for seedlings to sprout. After many years, once the nurse log has decomposed, the established roots of the new tree, called “prop roots,” may appear like they are floating. Look for relatively straight a row of trees in the forest for evidence of nurse logs!
The Sitka Spruce grows to its largest size in Olympic National Park and is considered the park’s most abundant tree. The western hemlock, Washington’s state tree, is another abundant conifer that often grows from nurse logs and produces with soft needles that Roosevelt elk like to browse. The coast Douglas-fir is commonly the tallest of the species, reaching heights of 300 feet. The western red cedar is a strong tree with flat and scaly needles. Deciduous trees include the bigleaf maple, vine maple, and black cottonwood.
The Hoh Rain Forest might be best known for its otherworldly display of mosses and lichens, which grow abundantly on the trees and forest floor thanks to the amount of moisture in the air and soil. They drape across branches of living trees and also carpet the ground where trees have fallen.
Animals of the Hoh Rain Forest
The unique habitat of the Hoh Rain Forest supports many animals, including some endangered and threatened species. While it might be unlikely to see creatures while the trails are busy, keep an eye on the dense forest floor and tree canopies.
The Olympic Peninsula is home to the Roosevelt Elk, a species that led to the creation of Olympic National Park. Other large mammals include bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, and fishers. Birds like the northern spotted owl and a variety of songbirds like wrens and jays can fill the forest with song. Perhaps the forest’s most iconic creature is the banana slug, a large mollusk that is brown and gold like a ripe banana and helps decompose plant material in the forest.
What to See at the Hoh Rain Forest
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center
The visitor center, located next to the main parking lot, has a great exhibit about the Hoh Rain Forest’s ecology. Two sides of the exhibit gallery are almost all windows, looking out to the forest.
There is a great gift shop with lots of books and keepsakes to choose from. There is also an NPS passport stamping station. At the front desk, you can pick up trail maps and talk to a park ranger about recreational opportunities at the park.
Outside the visitor center is a water fountain and a short path to the trailhead into the forest.
Hall of Mosses
Trail info: 0.8 miles / 1.2 km loop
The Hall of Mosses is short, popular trail that goes through some of the most beautiful parts of the rainforest. Named for towering trees draped in graceful mosses and lichens, the Hall of Mosses is ethereal and wondrous. The most well-known section of the trail has a group of bigleaf maple trees enveloped in moss.
Spruce Nature Trail
Trail info: 1.2 miles/ 1.9 km loop
Connected to the Hall of Mosses Trail is the Spruce Nature Trail, together providing about 2 miles of day hiking. The Spruce Nature Trail includes many informative signs that explain the ecology of the forest. One section also passes by the Hoh River and provides an incredible view of the river, mountains, and a nearby meadow.
Hoh River Trail
Trail info: 18.5 miles / 30 km total
This trail provides the opportunity for a long day hike or backpacking trip. About 13 miles of the trail are flat, passing through the rainforest with several scenic views of the Hoh River.
What You Need to Know about Visiting the Hoh Rain Forest
- Entry fee: Olympic National Park requires an entry fee. You can also purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to receive admission to all national parks and federal lands.
- Park policies and permits: Please familiarize yourself with park policies and acquire any permits for camping and backpacking.
- NPS App: Download the NPS App and read more about Olympic National Park amenities, activities, and park alerts such as road or trail closures. You can download the park page to access this information through the app offline.
- The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center: The visitor center is located at 18113 Upper Hoh Rd., Forks, WA 98331. It is open daily in summer, Friday – Sunday in the off-season, and closed January and February. Hours vary according to season so check the National Park Service website while planning your visit.
- Passport Program: Collect passport stamps at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (we even got one of a banana slug!) Families can also participate in the Junior Ranger Program to collect special stamps and pins.
- Driving: The Hoh Rain Forest is located about 31 miles south of Forks off Highway 101. The closest gas station is 31 miles away, so be sure your vehicle is prepared to handle the long-distance travel around the peninsula.
- Maps: Take a look at maps to get a sense of the park areas and how to get around. Be sure to have a physical map in addition to digital maps like AllTrails while traveling. Phone service is limited depending where you are in the park!
- Park conditions: Leading up to your visit, as well as on the day of your visit, check the current conditions at the park. This includes being aware of weather and other park alerts and conditions.
- Weather: The Hoh Rain Forest has a mild climate and is often rainy or misty. Even in the summer, the weather can get cool and rainy.
What is the National Park Passport Program?
The National Park passport program allows you to get dated stamps anytime you visit a National Park! This collector’s item is a great way to remember and commemorate your trip. We love getting our National Park Passport Book stamped anytime we visit a park!
What to Pack and Wear to the Hoh Rain Forest
- Refillable water bottle – Always pack water when hiking, even when the hike is short and easy.
- Food and snacks – There isn’t any food available at the Hoh Rain Forest, so be sure to bring some with you.
- Portable charger – There is little phone service around the park, so bring a portable charger to be sure your phone is fully charged.
- Photography gear – The Hoh Rain Forest is a photographer’s paradise, so bring whatever camera suits you best.
What to Wear
- Rain jacket – A jacket (even a packable one) will come in handy in a rainforest!
- Waterproof boots – Even if it’s not raining, the ground is often damp in the rainforest, and you might cross puddles and wetlands.
- An extra layer for warmth – A fleece or puffy jacket will help since temperatures are often cool in the rainforest.
- Day pack – For short day hikes, a lightweight backpack to keep water, snacks, and essentials should be all you need!
Recommended Reading for Visiting the Hoh Rain Forest
Check out our recommendations from Bookshop.org, which supports local bookstores! Learn more about temperate rainforests and the Pacific Northwest.