Hiking the Four Rainforests of Olympic National Park

Adventure Hiking Tourist Spots Travel By Emily Leikam

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is an oasis for outdoor lovers who seek adventure. You could spend years of your life exploring the vast lands of these coastal states and still find a new “hidden gem” every day. Expect to encounter grand mountains, ancient volcanoes, hidden beaches, old-growth forests, exuberant waterfalls, and many more natural wonders in this stunning side of America. 

One of the more popular PNW locations is the iconic Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. Over 900,000 acres of the park stretch across multiple different ecosystems, including four temperate rainforests. They were once part of a huge Pacific Northwest rainforest that spanned from southern Oregon all the way to southeastern Alaska. Now, because of development, not many rainforests exist along the coast. Within these four rainforests, you’ll discover thousand-year-old trees covered in dense vibrant green moss and trails surrounded by massively beautiful ferns. Twelve to fourteen feet of rain per year allow this park to thrive with incredible glowing greens producing fresh, invigorating air. Here’s a short guide to hiking the four glorious rainforests of Olympic National Park.

1. Hoh Rainforest

Path through moss covered trees in Hoh Rain Forest
A path through moss-covered trees in Hoh Rain Forest. Photo by: Jenifoto.

The Hoh Rainforest is undoubtedly the most well-known. Pictures of bright moss-covered trees and fern-filled grounds are all over the Internet and even within pages of National Geographic Magazine. Primitive Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock stand guard within this rainforest. Many miles of trails weave through the park, so the best way to explore is on foot. 

  • The Hall of Mosses Trail. This is an easy loop that takes you through an old-growth forest. The trailhead starts at the visitors center and is only 1.1 miles long. 
  • The Hoh River Trail. For more of a challenge, you could hike the Hoh River Trail. This trail spans over 18 miles along the Hoh River and leads to some spectacular attractions such as Mineral Creek Falls, Hoh Lake, and Mount Olympus. This trail offers the perfect opportunity for an overnight backpacking adventure in a beautiful forest. 

Location: Hoh Rainforest is located on the west side of Olympic National Park and is a two-hour drive from Port Angeles or a one-hour drive from Forks, WA. The Visitor Center can be accessed by the Upper Hoh Road, off of Highway 101. 

2.  Bogachiel Rainforest

Wild deer with tongue out grazing in Olympic National Park
Be prepared to encounter wild animals. Photo by: Cavan.

The Bogachiel Rainforest is characterized by endless hanging moss, towering maples, and muddy trails. This lush, verdant wonderland located near Forks, WA, provides visitors with plenty of trails for hiking, a variety of options for camping, and ample space on the Bogachiel River to catch some trout. The most popular hikes along the river are the Rainforest River Trail and Ira Spring Wetland Trail, both a part of the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail. 

  • The Rainforest River Trail. This is an easy, 2-mile out and back hike that traverses through wetlands and into a magical valley. After two miles you’ll reach the Olympic National Park boundary only to discover more hiking trails that lead to Seven Lakes Basin, the Sol Duc Hot Springs, and a vibrant waterfall. 
  • The Ira Spring Wetland Trail. This trail forks off from the river trail and takes you on a moderate 3-mile loop through an old-growth forest full of Spruce, Hemlock, and Cedar. This is an ideal location to step away from large crowds and immerse yourself in a peaceful setting that encapsulates the timeless beauty of Olympic National Park.

Location: You can access the Bogachiel Rainforest by starting in Forks and traveling south on US Highway 101 for 5 miles, then turn east on Undi Road and follow for approximately two miles to the Undi Road Bypass. Turn left on Forest Road 2932. 

3. Quinault Rainforest

Aquamarine pool in the Quinault River
Aquamarine pool in the Quinault River. Photo by: Danita Delimont.

Located in the southwestern area of the park, the Quinault Rainforest is your gateway to incredible waterfalls, staggering mountainous views, enchanted trails, alpine lakes, cozy lodges, and the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. 

  • Kestner Homestead Trail. A great place to start is by taking a short hike on this 1.5-mile loop. It begins at the Ranger Station parking lot, leads you past a beautiful creek full of salmon, and on to a variety of structures that were once the Kestner family homestead. You could also combine the Maple Glade Rainforest Trail for an all-around 2-mile hike! 
  • Cascade Falls Loop Trail. The trailhead can be found across the street from the Lake Quinault Lodge and takes you on an easy 2-mile loop with refreshing views of the Cascade waterfalls. 
  • Colonel Bob Trail. For an adventure into the mountains, consider hiking Colonel Bob Trail. This 15.6-mile hike has an elevation gain of 5,433 ft and is considered difficult but, as you can imagine, you’ll have jaw-dropping views of the Olympic Mountains and the rainforest below. 

Location: From Aberdeen, WA travel north on US Highway 101 for 45 miles to the junction of South Shore Road. Turn right (east) and drive 1.4 miles to Quinault Rainforest

4.  Queets Rainforest

three people in the woods wearing Kuhl jackets
Well-dressed hikers wearing W’S The One Shell.

The Queets Rainforest, located in the southwest area of Olympic National Park, is one of the least visited rainforests. This area is remote and rugged, making it rather appealing to those who wish to enjoy some solitude in a gorgeous rainforest. Exploring Queets Rainforest will show you exactly how wild this national park really is. 

  • Sam’s River Loop. Take the Sam’s River Loop for an easy, 2.8-mile loop that delivers everything one could want from a peaceful hike in nature. 
  • Queets River Trail. The Queets River Trail offers an exciting adventure that travels for more than 30 miles through the dense forest. Up the river, near the glaciers of Mount Olympus, Service Falls drops hundreds of feet before carving the infamous Queets Canyon. These falls may be considered one of Washington’s most remote locations, so if you take the journey there, you will be one of few people to explore this far-off region of the country. 

Location: From the city of Queets take US-101 S for 14 miles and then left onto W Boundary Rd for 1.6 miles. Take a slight right onto BIA Rd 9200 and continue straight for 6.4 miles. Follow signs for Queets River Trail

What to Wear on Your Rainforest Hike

As you might guess, the rainforest is going to be wet! So, be prepared with proper outdoor gear when planning your hike. Packing extra layers is key for your adventures, as the weather usually changes without notice. It’s best to stick with materials such as wool or nylon. Try to avoid wearing cotton, it will make you cold when wet and takes longer to dry. Here’s a list of a few items that will make your trip much more comfortable. 

  • Water-resistant hiking boots with great traction. Many of the trails will be full of mud and you may have to cross some streams at some point. It’s a good idea to bring a sturdy pair of boots that will help you traverse these rugged trails and wetlands.
  • Moisture-wicking socks, like merino wool. It’s a good idea to bring at least two pairs of socks. One pair to wear, and one as a backup.
  • A rain jacket that is comfortable and lightweight. The Jetstream™ Jacket is designed with waterproof, breathable material, making it perfect for any adventure that calls for unpredictable weather.
  • Lightweight breathable pants that transform into shorts like the Renegade™ Cargo Convertible
  • A comfortable shirt made with merino wool like the Valiant™ short sleeve shirt or the Dynawool™ Skuba Hoody.
  • A cool hat! Not only for style but for practicality. The Jetstream™ Sun Blade will help protect you from wind, rain, and sun.
  • Another great piece of equipment to have is hiking poles. These work wonders for long hikes by aiding balance and improving posture while protecting precious knee joints.  

Exploring the rainforests of Olympic National Park is like taking a step back into the past. Hiking through even one is a dream come true for many people around the world who wish to explore these magical landscapes. Now that you have a general idea of what these four rainforests have to offer, it’s time to strap on your hiking boots and go exploring! 

Sun is shining through the trees of Hoh Rain Forest. Featured image by: khomlyak.

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Sun is shining through the trees
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!