Your Very Own Hoh Rain Forest

If you’ve ever dreamed of having the entire Hoh Rain Forest to yourself, then go there in January. While it won’t legally be yours, there’ll be so few people there that you can pretend it is.

At least, that’s how it was when I went there last January.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.
A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The area was so quiet, in fact, that I nearly walked into a tern on the way back to the my car.

I was in the parking lot and had just entered a short trail that connects the two primary parking lots. The tern burst into flight no more than five feet away from me.

The bird flew a little ways and then settled back down by the water. Using my ninja-like stealth, I got close enough to take the glorious picture you see above.

The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the prettiest parts of Olympic National Park, which makes it one of the prettiest parts of Washington state. It’s also more difficult to access than any other part of the park simply because it’s on the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest town to it is Forks.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest is beautiful in January because the mountains in the distance are snowy while the lower ground is not, creating a nice aesthetic contrast.

I stood on that riverside you see to the left for a solid twenty minutes and only saw one pair of people other than myself. It was quiet and peaceful there, even though I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.

My favorite Hoh trail is the Hall of Mosses. Less than a mile long, it takes you on a walk through a forest of enormous trees blanketed in moss. The place feels ancient, as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and traveled back to a time  before human beings. This is doubly true in January.

But, the purpose of this post isn’t to go into specific hikes or sights; I’ll add those things in other posts later. For right now, I just wanted to pass on a little insider information.

Go to the Hoh in January (or presumably any time around that), and you’ll find lots of silence to roam in.

Your very own rain forest. Can’t beat that.

Lake Quinault in Winter: Introvert’s Delight

Mosses cover the deep forest, blanketing rocks and fallen trees, clinging to the living spruces and firs like babies embracing their mothers. In some places a pale-green, stringy species dangles from branches like clots of witch hair. The vast, living coat absorbs sound and leaves the whole area in a hush. This is Lake Quinault in winter, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Lake Quinault in winter barely resembles its summer self, when tourists fill the area. In winter, the rain almost never stops. There are windows of sunlight here and there, always brief and always glorious, but for the most part it’s a persistently gray time. The upside of that is a region left in solitude and silence, perfect for those who yearn for those things as a break from modern life.

The hiking can be a slog. At times, it can be downright sloppy. But, the slog and slop keeps everyone else away, and even a short hike will leave you feeling like the whole of the rain forest is yours’ and the animals’ alone.

The Irely Lake trail, a short trek usually full of hikers in summertime, leaves you feeling continents away from the modern world. The trail is frequently flooded and blocked by fallen tree — great for keeping out the halfhearted. I’ve had conversations with trees there, and there wasn’t a single person (other than myself) to call me crazy for doing it.

You don’t even need to get on the trails, really. Very few people drive the “loop,” which is what I (and presumably others; it’s not all that unique or creative of a moniker, after all) call the North Shore and South Shore roads that will take you in a complete circle around the lake and a good portion of the river feeding into it.

Merriman Falls after a hard rain, just off South Shore Road.
Merriman Falls, right off the side of South Shore Road, part of the Lake Quinault Loop.

You can simply drive out along the road, park your car, and walk that. That’s nice way to do it, really, because the river adds a pleasant musical backdrop. There are also many things to see right off the road, including Merriman Falls and the Roosevelt elk.

My favorite place to stay in the area is the Quinault River Inn, but that’s just my personal preference. The Lake Quinault Lodge is a beautiful building with the best views of the lake.

No matter where you go, you’ll find a quiet place, perfect for silencing that mental cacophony that’s been driving you batty.

If you find yourself somewhere along the Irely Lake trail talking to trees, please tell them the Northwest Nomad said “hello.”

Introvert’s Getaway Series: Packwood, Washington and the La Wis Wis Campground

A Perfect Escape into Quietude

If you’re a Washington state introvert looking for a quick weekend escape into relative solitude (as much as you can get without actually going into the back country), then I’ve got a place for you.

Near the southern entrance into Mount Rainier National Park, there’s a little town named Packwood. A few miles beyond that, a National Forest Service campground named Las Wis Wis.

 

Packwood, as you can see above, isn’t Las Vegas. It’s a mellow place, even by Washington mountain-town standards—especially in the fall and winter off season, which is precisely the time I recommend people go.

There’s nothing intrusive about the town. Packwood takes your money for the basics and then leaves you alone, asking and tempting you with nothing more. The town just sits there meditating amidst the mountains, as ready for you to be driving away as driving in.

For folks who are looking for a silent escape from the rat race but not in the mood to head into the back country or leave civilization entirely, it’s a great town to visit.

Amazing Drive

Like the Interstate 90 route through Snoqualmie Pass and the 101 Olympic Peninsula Loop, the White Pass drive is a spectacular scenic excursion. Packwood, which is just off this route, is an ideal base camp for those looking to explore the road’s full length.

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La Wis Wis Campground—A Gem of Silence

About 8 miles north of Packwood, located just off US 12 as you’re heading into that White Pass Scenic Byway, is the U.S. Forest Service’s La Wis Wis campground. It’s located on the shore of the Cowlitz River.

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Some of the sites are located right alongside the water, while others are tucked inland amidst Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar. The pic below is an example of the latter.

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La Wis Wis campground is nice any time of year, but for the quiet introvert getaway I’m recommending here, the ideal time is late in the tourist season when it’s already begun to get a little colder at night. The campground closes on Labor Day, so the window I’m recommending is late August into early September.

Last time I went, on Labor Day weekend 2016, I was the only camper within earshot. There were a few other visitors alongside the river, but I felt like I had the run of the place. At night, it felt as silent and remote as actually being deep in the woods.

Up the Cowlitz Lies the Blue Hole

At the end of a very short La Wis Wis hiking trail is the Blue Hole, a swimming hole with pristine blue water.

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It was too cold for swimming in early September, but I had a great view of a few salmon making their fall run. The water was so clear that every detail of the fish and the river floor was visible. I sat on the rocks for a solid hour watching the fish go about their business.

On the beach, which is rocky but sandy enough to walk comfortably barefoot, someone left the heart shown above. It was rather beautiful, and its artists nowhere to be found. Beauty in solitude—exactly what I’d gone in looking for. If that sounds appealing to you, as well, then I highly recommend La Wis Wis in early fall.

P.S. Even in the peak season, this area isn’t as highly trafficked as many other Washington destinations and is good to ditch the crowds to some extent, but I’ll be writing a more general post about that this summer.