An American Rain Forest

Olympic National Park, Washington

Our day began with a forty mile drive to the Hoh Rainforest. We parked at the Visitor Center and stopped inside for a brief tour before hitting the trail. Three different trails begin behind the visitor center. Two are short nature trails (Spruce and Hall of Mosses). The third is the Hoh River Trail, which follows the river all the way to the shoulder of Mount Olympus, eighteen miles away.

We wanted a quick taste of the rainforest before moving on to the mountains, so we chose the Hall of Mosses Nature Trail. It is a short and easy trail. If we had the time we would have gladly spent more time exploring the rainforest, but we read that the Hall of Mosses would provide a brief and excellent example of a temperate rainforest. It would not disappoint.

We started out on a flat paved path. It led us across a small bridge that spanned a tiny stream. Then we were thrust into the cavernous rainforest overflowing with green trees. I thought the Cape Alava Trail led us through an incredibly green forest teeming with life, but it was nothing like this. We were in an old growth forest packed with huge ancient trees. It was mostly populated by Sitka spruce, big leaf maples, hemlocks, and firs. Moss and tall shaggy ferns carpeted the forest floor. Large clumps of moss hung from the tree branches above us. The moss weighed heavily on the old limbs forcing them into arcs, and breaking some branches clean off the trees. Some of the hanging moss was brown, but most was different shades of green, like everything else in the forest.

The combination of mild winters, cool summers, its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and the fact that it receives upwards of twelve feet of rain annually make the Hoh Rainforest the way it is. It is one of the most spectacular temperate rainforests in the world. Similar temperate rainforests can be found in British Columbia, Chile, and New Zealand.

We followed the path up a small hill early on, but the remainder of the trail was mostly level. I was amazed by the otherworldly flora throughout the entire hike. This was also a family-friendly interpretive trail with several informative signs along the path. These explained some of the mysteries of the shady rainforest. I learned about epiphytes, which are plants growing upon other plants. That was especially showcased by the magnificent moss-laden trees that towered over us. Moss covered most of the tree trunks in addition to their branches, leaving very few things in sight that were not a shade of green.

The place was an attack on all senses. It was as if there was an infinite spectrum of green illuminating everything around me, each plant and tree would be the slightest shade different from the one next to it. In addition to the sights surrounding us, we heard small streams flowing and birds flying beneath the forest canopy. I swore I could even taste the moisture in the air. And the place smelled so fresh and wild from the plants and flowers. And finally touch; most of the leaves and ferns were damp to the touch, I imagine from dew.

At one point we rounded a turn and saw a huge downed tree sprawled out across the ground. Several small trees and plants were growing up and out of the decaying tree. I had never seen anything quite like that. It turns out that it’s fairly common in rainforests. They are called nurse logs. Apparently the downed trees can assist seeds in growing with water and nutrients while it slowly decays.

The loop hike was just under a mile long and gained less than 100 feet in elevation. We took our time though, being sure to thoroughly examine the enchanted forest that was so different from anything we had seen before. Despite it being such a short hike in the rainforest, we felt like we got a good idea of what it’s like.

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