Hoh Rain Forest: The Old Soul of Washington

I entered the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center with a grin and maybe a bit of dirt on my face. We had arrived at the Olympic Rain Forest out on the peninsula just the prior morning, with a car full of camping gear and high expectations that had already been exceeded. We had been hiking, seen waterfalls, and camped under a clear, moonlit night. Today was the day to explore one of the area’s lush rain forests, and I was brimming with excitement. I was ready to see some trees and maybe feel at one with nature.

I was not prepared to fall in love.

The thing about the Olympic Rain Forest is that it is huge. 1,442 miles huge. From driving scenic Hurricane Ridge to hiking in (or, if you’re me, getting entirely lost in) the old growth forests of Sol Duc Valley, or just camping out at one of the many campsites, one could easily spend months lost in the world of the Washington peninsula. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on subjectively the most breathtaking aspect- the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh is described as an exemplary temperate rain forest, and one of the biggest ones in the United States. The forest is bustling with life and growth; both flora and fauna thrive in this area. During our tour, we were lucky enough to spot an elk grazing not twenty feet from where we stood.

The forest receives 140 to 170 inches of rain per year, nourishing its soil and allowing the trees to grow to the jaw-dropping extent that they do. Imagine cloning yourself, then making a ten-year-old version of yourself, then having the three of you stand on each other’s heads (assume neck breakage is not a concern here). That’s about how much annual rainfall the Forest gets.

For our walk-through, however, brilliant, hot sun rays illuminated the mid-August forest. The light collided with the leaves and moss of the myriad of plants springing from the forest floor, creating shades of green I had never seen in Crayola boxes or in pixels. They were colors that print could never quite do justice. The scent of ancient pine wafts through the indescribably clean air. Gamuts of bird songs floated peacefully from the treetops. We walked a few miles, bathing in the warmth of the late summer’s morning light, as life thrived all around us.

While traversing the pathway, expect to be craning your neck for quite some time to get a glimpse of the breathtaking trees. Many of them Sitka spruces, the trees are poetry in still life: branches twisting, moss decorating their thick trunks, and reaching up to the sky for what seems like miles. They are of both coniferous (growing in a triangular shape…think Christmas tree) and deciduous (think Oak trees, or how you doodled trees as a kid). These two collaborate to create canopies soaring high above visitors’ heads. Some of their trunks bear spindly branches jutting out, with moss draping over them like the melting wax of an overturned candle. Others shoot straight up, as if on a mission, creating one elongated trunk begging to be scaled by tree climbers more ambitious than myself.

If it sounds like I’m romanticizing the Hoh Rain Forest, I’m not; the forest, with all of its life and growth older than most of our bloodlines, romanticizes itself. Or maybe I am a bit, but only because I was so smitten with my surroundings. I found myself repeatedly wondering if I sold my house, grabbed my sleeping bag and slept in the trees, “well…what’s the WORST that could happen?”

House-abandoning aside, I cannot recommend a trip to the Hoh highly enough. Travel there, don some sunscreen, breathe in, and prepare to feel the ancient and still peace of nature.