Olympic National Park Ecosystems: Temperate Rainforest

The word “rainforest” conjures images of brightly-colored macaws, 15-foot anacondas, and jaguars creeping along tree branches; however, rainforests are designated simply by the amount of precipitation they receive each year.  Their flora, fauna, and climates vary in every other way.  If you’re interested in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Penninsula, set aside your visions of Apocolypto and start with Fangorn Forest instead.  I’m reasonably certain that some of the hemlocks we saw were Ents.

Olympic National Park’s rainforests are home to some of the largest trees in the world.  We especially enjoyed hiking in the Hoh Rainforest, which consists mainly of Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, red cedars, and maples, all dripping with a variety of mosses and lichen.  This area features two loop hikes, totaling two miles of walking easy enough for a three-year-old.

The massive height and circumference was awe-inspiring, particularly for our preschooler, who eagerly explored inside trunks and under roots at every opportunity.

In addition to the trees, we encountered many types of wildflowers and ferns and an interesting native fruit: the salmonberry.  We also got to watch tiny Coho salmon swimming in the creek and saw a mother elk with her calf.  (Note: We kept our distance from the elk, as should you if you ever meet one in the wild!)

Other interesting elements of the Hoh Rainforest included nurse logs — a fallen tree that becomes fertilizer for new growth and results in a straight line of young trees with arched roots — and bridge trees, which are fallen trees that continue living and put down roots on both ends!

This area was such a shocking contrast to the wide meadows and rocky, snow-capped mountain peaks we had visited just a few miles away!  The mountains have a powerful impact on where precipitation falls, and the variety of ecosystems created by that impact is nowhere more apart than in the Hoh Valley.

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