While there are three temperate rainforests inside the boundaries of Olympic National Park (Hoh, Quinault, and Queets), the most popular and well-known is the Hoh Rainforest. In addition to its notoriety, the Hoh Rainforest is also the only one of the three to be named a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Before it received this type of recognition, however, the Hoh itself was one of the main reasons for establishing Olympic National Park, as the park itself was created to preserve “the finest example of primeval forest…”. Located on the slopes of the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the Hoh is also a spot that receives a great deal of precipitation, averaging over fourteen feet of rain per year. All of this rain has encouraged the growth of tall stands of sitka spruces and western hemlocks, and many other plants throughout the forest. While there are many trails that explore the Hoh Rainforest, the easiest and most accessible introduction to the region is the Hall of Mosses trail.
Directions/Fees: Access to the Hoh Rainforest by car is through Upper Hoh Road, which intersects with Highway 101. From Highway 101, it is an eighteen mile drive to the east through the Hoh River valley to the to the parking lot for the trailhead and the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center. The nearest town in the region is Forks, and from Forks, the areas is a thirty-one mile drive to the southeast along first Highway 101, and then Upper Hoh Road. From Forks, it is roughly a one hour drive to the trailhead. Visitors to the area should be aware that this is one of the most popular, if not the most popular regions of the park, and as Upper Hoh Road is a two-lane road, traffic jams can occur along it during the summer months. Similarly, due to its popularity, the parking areas around the trailhead and visitor center can become full during these times. As the Hoh Rainforest and the Hall of Mosses is located in the National Park, there is a day-use fee of $25.00 for visitors who have not already paid the fee; or those who do not have a park pass of some sort.
From the parking area, one can first visit the Ranger Station/Visitor Center, or head out on the Hall of Mosses trail, as it is readily apparent and well marked. This .8 mile roundtrip interpretive loop trail first crosses a pond and stream, where visitors will have their first opportunity to see some of the free-hanging and lush growth of various mosses. While it is hard for a layperson to distinguish between different types of mosses, Olympic National Park is home to one of the largest and most diverse collections of moss on the planet. Also, while there are a number of interesting things about moss, the simplest fact that can be related is that moss is an epiphyte, or a plant that grows on another plant without harming it. In the case of moss, it also gets its moisture from its surrounding environment, usually the air, fog, or rain. Importantly, the Hall of Mosses also features a number of other plants that are also epiphytes, which provide a number of interesting features for aspiring or veteran botanists to spot.
While the Hall of Mosses is not a challenging trail by any stretch of the imagination, as it is a mostly flat loop, the surrounding phantasmagorical scenery along it does stretch one’s mind and inspire imagination. Whether one hikes the trail on a “sunny” or “wet” day, one will be treated to a variety of otherworldly scenes in the forest that seem best suited to dreams, movies, books, or a long-lost past involving dinosaurs. When walking along its lush expanses, visitors can fully grasp why the park was founded, and why it is important to preserve the region for future generations.
Tips: As referenced above, both the Hoh and the Hall of Mosses are two of the most popular portions of the park. While there are occasional traffic jams on the road, there are also occasions when the trail is also congested. The important thing to keep in mind on these occasions is that National Parks are for first, everyone, and second, that by having a large amount of visitors, helping to fulfill their mission of preservation by teaching people about the environmental diversity in the park, and the planet as a whole. If, however, you are looking for a less congested trail for some serenity, the nearby Spruce Nature Trail has less people, and the Hoh River Trail even less people too. Further, if you are looking for similar (although not identical) terrain, the Shady Lane Trail in the Staircase region of the park is also stunning, and has a much lower visitation rate than the Hoh area.