Hoh River Trail a great place for wildlife viewing

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Hikers can find great treks along Olympic National Park rivers, such as the Hoh River Trail southwest of Forks.

The long drive is well worth the time to see the moss-covered trees, wildlife and free-flowing river.

The extensive damage suffered by the park during the fall and winter is readily apparent as you drive over the one-lane bridge across the road washout.

You’ll also notice it as you hike through the freshly chainsawed gaps in the trees that have fallen across the trail.

Check in at the visitor center for a map, sundown times and the latest weather, trail and wildlife conditions plus a backcountry permit if you plan to camp.

The trail begins on a path that winds behind the visitor center.

The first thing you encounter is a sign warning of a wasp’s nest and advising you to move quickly until you reach the next sign.

Then the trail wends into the huge Sitka spruce and grass meadows through the river valley’s bottomlands.

The thick rainforest and bottomlands create two curious sights: moss covering the tree branches high overhead and river sand collected near the bases of the trees.

This is a popular route that also offers camping areas, so passing other hikers and campers along the way is not unusual.

Crowd thins

But the crowd thins as you get farther out and some of the hiking gets more difficult.

With one minor exception, the trail has virtually no elevation gain, but the exposed rocks and tree roots can trip hikers.

One of the handy features of this trail is the mileage on the campsite markers.

Sometimes the term “river trail” appears to be a misnomer, but after about a couple miles you reach the water.

That alone makes the trip worthwhile.

You can see up and down the river as well as the Hoh Peak and Mount Tom to the south.

The river will remain visible through the trees as you continue until just before the 5.5 mile camp.

This part requires hopping, skipping and jumping across short sections of water on rocks, branches or logs.

It’s a good idea to carry a walking stick through here.

Soon you will disappear back into the forest again, following the river for awhile before being swallowed again by the trees.

Just before the 7.8-mile camp, you will reach a large log bridge across the river.

Scooting across might be a safer bet here than walking — it’s a long way down to a fast, deep river.

At the 7.8-mile camp itself you reach what is described in trail reports as “a river crossing that requires some wading.”

But that is a rather optimistic assessment, making this a good turn-around point.

If you can cross the river, the trail continues to the Olympus Guard Station about another 1 ½ mile beyond the river crossing.

Glacier Meadows

At the 13-mile mark, the trail begins climbing to 5,000-foot Glacier Meadows which is at about 17. 5 miles.

This area provides views of Mt. Olympus and Blue Glacier as well as campsites.

One of the highlights of this trail is the opportunity to see wildlife, including Roosevelt elk.

But be careful.

As the sign at the trailhead warns, they are wild animals and both the females and males can be aggressive in certain circumstances.

Other notable creatures along the route include banana slugs and wild pheasant.

If you go

THE HOH RIVER trailhead is located 20 miles southwest of Forks on the Hoh River Road.

Drive west on U.S. Highway 101 past Forks and turn onto the road that leads to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.


Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or [email protected]

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