Our second outing in the Olympic National Park took us to the Hoh Rainforest. The is on the west side of the Olympic mountains, where the mountains push the wet sea air upwards, causing it to rain much more than anywhere else in the park. Fortunately, we seemed to hit a good time in the year to avoid the rains and it was a beautiful, sunny day.
There aren’t any real scenic views or anything on the way into the park from the Hoh entrance. The scenery is the forest! The trees are HUGE and there’s a primeval feel to everything as you drive under that dense canopy. Most of the ground is covered with water, mud or moss. Ferns are also quite abundant. We didn’t spot any dinosaurs, but I suspect there are a few wandering around in there somewhere. 😉
We stopped at the Sitka spruce, which is one of the first of the ‘giant’ trees that you’d encounter in the park. It’s probably wider than our Jeep is long! It’s big, old, and a bit gnarly looking. I think it’s about 500 years old.
But, the real attraction is the visitor center at the end of the road. Here you’ll find information on the rainforest and a few exhibits on the animals and plants in the area. There’s also a small gift store, picnic area, restrooms and backcountry hiking permits. Plus… trails! There are trails for just about all levels, from 1/4 mile paved “kid friendly” trails, to multiple day hike-through-the-entire-park trials.
We went on the “Hall of Mosses” trail. It wasn’t too long, but went through some of the old groves that we wanted to see (and we like moss). The trail is about a mile and is relatively flat, although there are some fairly gentle inclines. The trees here are simply monstrous in size! My poor attempts at describing them wouldn’t come close to doing them any justice. There are a few pictures that give an idea of the size, but I’m not a good enough photographer or writer to really get the idea across.
Our next stop was the Sol Duc entrance so we could see the trail and falls. We decided to skip on the hot springs, as we’d heard that they’re not really that nice and are kind of commercialized (and we were there on the weekend). I got the impression that it had been built up enough that it would be a stretch to call it “natural” any more.
I don’t know if the Sol Duc area is technically rainforest, as I think it’s far enough north to get a little shelter from the rains on the west slopes, but it’s still huge and primeval. The trees are a bit different than the Hoh section and there doesn’t seem to be quite as much underbrush. The trees at Sol Duc seem to be a brighter green and there were a fair amount of younger trees. If you come to the area and don’t have time to see both Hoh and Sol Duc, it would be a tough to decide which to skip. The trail is nicer at Sol Duc, but we only did the one. There are a lot more trails at Hoh and a lot more species of trees there. Hoh clearly has older trees, but there’s also a lot of dead stumps there. Hoh is awesome, but there’s a feeling of “life” in Sol Duc that can’t be ignored. It’s the kind of place where you wouldn’t be overly surprised to find a triceratops grazing on a patch of ferns just off the trail. 😉
Of course, the other thing that Sol Duc is known for is the falls. As with any decent sized river, there are generally smaller “feeder” streams. You’ll cross a few of these on the way to the falls. I always like these little streams because I can go rock-hopping and actually mess around a bit. Bigger ones like the falls are kind of off-limits to anyone with the slightest bit of sense.
I only managed to get one decent picture of the falls (above), mostly because they spray up a water mist and my camera is afraid to get wet. ;) There main trail crosses almost directly over the falls using a very stout footbridge (it would probably hold a decent sized truck easily). This gives a great view right down the “throat” of the little box canyon than the falls have carved. The amount of moss here (due to the spray) is ridiculous! You could probably belly-flop on some of the rocks and be more comfortable than on some mattresses.
Unfortunately, that pretty much finished our time IN Olympic National Park, but we also did a bit of exploring outside the park. We’ll get into that on the next post!