Rain forests and starfish

If you want to visit a rain forest but don't wish to leave the country, Olympic National Park in Washington may be what you're looking for. The park protects a temperate rain forest and old growth trees that rival those found in the more famous R...

If you want to visit a rain forest but don't wish to leave the country, Olympic National Park in Washington may be what you're looking for.

The park protects a temperate rain forest and old growth trees that rival those found in the more famous Redwood Forest. Along the coast, sea anemones and star fish thrive in tide pools, and in the eastern reaches of the park, murky blue rivers flow down from snowcapped mountains.

Olympic is the type of national park one could easily spend a month exploring and still not see all it has to offer. Whether it's backpacking, mountain climbing or taking short hikes while staying in a hotel, Olympic has something for just about anyone.

The coast

I know what you're thinking: "I live right by Lake Superior. I can step out my backdoor and see beaches any time I want."


That's true, and while the Pacific Ocean near Washington is nearly as cold as Lake Superior, the similarities end there.

The tide pools alone are worth the trip. Rocks covered with barnacles and small shells provide the barriers for these tide pools. In the pockets of water left behind and even on the damp rock, an assortment of creatures gather. Star fish and sea anemones are everywhere. If you explore the tide pools long enough and have a little luck, you may even see an octopus.

Other beaches in Olympic have no tide pools but rock formations instead. Ruby Beach is a popular site for clamming and watching the sunset from the piles of driftwood washed onto the beach. Early in the morning is one of the best times to visit, as you will beat the crowds and also have a chance to watch the mist clearing from the shore.

The mountains

As can be guessed from its name, Olympic National Park is home to Mount Olympus. To reach the glacial meadows at the base requires a 15-mile hike one way -- something best attempted by backpackers. The eastern section of Olympic brings you closer to the mountains with shorter hikes.

What to avoid

Olympic National Park officially refers to it as the Storm King Trail. I've termed it the Climb of Death.

In my time, I've hiked many worthless trails, but never have I endured such a long, boring climb with so little payoff at the end. As the trail stretched up -- for two miles straight -- I imagined the glorious vista I must be heading towards. Why else would someone build a trail literally up the side of a mountain?


Well, the view was paltry, especially after climbing more than 2,000 feet in elevation. Furthermore, reaching the actually summit of Mount Storm King is inadvisable. At the point where the maintained trail ends a sign greets you that basically reads, "Turn back now or face your own death." The rangers back at the bottom described the rock in this area as "rotten" and said a rope guide was used to reach the final peak.

If you want a workout, stay home and run up and down a flight of stairs about 200 times. That is the actual equivalent, not an exaggeration.

Your time would be better spent hiking along the rivers that flow in the mountainous region of Olympic. You will still get great views of the mountains.

Camp at Altaire Campground for the best experience. While it still retains some of the rain forest feel found on the other side of the park, the biggest draw of the campground is the beautiful Elwah River. About half of the sites are right next to the river, and the sound of running water can be quite soothing after a long day of hiking.

The forest

Wisconsin and Minnesota have beautiful forests, but old growth forests are rare in the region. Rain forests are unheard of.

Olympic National Park has both.

The old growth trees are massive. Many of the fallen logs had a width greater than my height (5-foot-8), and a number of the trees still standing were far larger than that. Add the rain forest element and it's enough to take your breath away.


The Hoh Rain Forest is stunning. Club moss and licorice ferns hang from branches overhead and a network of roots and sword ferns cover the ground. If you keep your eyes open, you'll surely see one of the large slugs that leave trails of slime across many of the paths in the park.

Many short trails following the Hoh River through the forest are busy, but trails just off the road marked as "primitive" are very well kept and allow a view of the rain forest in solitude.

Also, for those concerned, there are mosquitoes in Washington but not enough to threaten Minnesota's title as the nation's mosquito capital. The mosquitoes I saw must have been male because they would hover nearby for a moment and then fly away. Even when deep in a forest, I never needed bug spray and didn't suffer a single bite. Ticks are also far less common in Washington and are rare in high elevations. I saw none on my trip. By comparison, a short walk through the woods in Wisconsin yielded about three dozen ticks.

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