Thursday, December 3, 2015

Trail heads through Washington rainforest

The Hoh Rainforest receives up to 14 feet of rain per year.
Topo map, Hall of Mosses Trail.

Hall of Mosses
Trail gives taste
of one of Earth's
greenest places

Hikers can walk among the greenest places on Earth on the Hall of Mosses Trail at Olympic National Park in Washington state.

The trail runs 0.9-miles round trip through the park’s famous Hoh Rain Forest. A popular trail, it can be crowded, even in summer when humidity levels can make the air feel thick.

To reach the trailhead, from the coastal community of Ruby Beach, Washington, take U.S. Hwy. 101 north. Turn right/east onto Hoh Valley Road/Upper Hoh Road. Park at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center where the road ends.

From the lot’s northeast corner near the visitor center, go northeast on the Mini-Trail. The Hall of Mosses Trail is the first path heading left/north. Both the Mini-Trail and the stem cross two spring-fed creeks that are crystal clear.

From there, the magic begins. Moss, lichen and ferns blanket a dense canopy of giant bigleaf maples and Sitka spruces, leaving you in perpetual twilight with a green hue.

The reason for the tropical-like growth is that the Hoh Rain Forest annually receives around 14 feet of precipitation. Bring a raincoat – even if no rain is falling that day, water drips off leaves and branches.

Quite a number of fallen trees line the forest floor. Thanks to the high rainfall, the soil is nutrient rich and moist, so tree roots generally are shallow, meaning the wind easily can knock them down in storms. The dead and decaying trees become “nurselogs” by supporting new life.

Elk and banana slugs
The moss are types of epiphytes, or plants that grow upon other plants. They do not harm the trees they live upon.

Where the 0.1-mile stem trail reaches the loop, go left/northwest or clockwise. Near the top of the loop is a 400-foot round trip spur leading to a grove of maples covered in spikemoss.

A number of animals call the Hoh Rain Forest home. Among the largest are Roosevelt elk, which sometimes graze near the parking lot. On the smaller side are banana slugs, whose bright yellow shape stands out on the forest floor.

Upon completing the loop, retrace your steps on the stem and Mini-Trail and consider making a stop at the visitor center for a look at the excellent displays.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.