Sometimes you just don’t want to struggle up another hill. Sometimes you’re tired of pitting out your shirts and outer layers just for a peek at a peak. Sometimes you just want take a blissful stroll through enchanted rainforest and along a lazy but beautiful river and burn your calories by collecting miles.
The Hoh River Five-Mile Island Download
Highlights: The park’s most famous rainforest, its chummiest river, critters big and small, streams and waterfalls.
Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): 3 ½ hours from Tacoma, 4 minutes 20 minutes from Seattle, 4 ½ hours from Portland.
Nearby Supplies and Gas: Forks (watch for vampires).
Difficulty: There’s one very short stretch when poles may be of assistance for some, but it’s not worth hauling them out for such a tiny fraction of the hike.
Distance: 10.6 miles (out and back).
Entrance Fees: $20 per vehicle, $7 for individuals (walk, bike, etc.), various passes.
Top Elevation: 818 feet.
Elevation Gain: 483 feet.
Trailhead Waypoint: 47.8597, -123.9337
Maps: Green Trails Mt. Olympus No. 134; Custom Correct Seven Lakes Basin-Hoh.
Getting There: If you have a choice (ie, coming from Seattle), heading around Olympia to US 101 North takes you by Lake Quinault, Kalaloch and the beaches; heading south on US 101 will take you through Port Angeles, past Lake Crescent and Forks. Either way, head to Upper Hoh Road, 18 miles long, ending in the parking lot by the visitor center, which is seasonally open. Trailheads are just beyond.
Calling any hike that breaks the 10-mile barrier “easy” is a little asinine, but you’d be tempted to do so with this one. You’ll feel the almost 500 feet in elevation gain because almost all of it comes during one short stretch. By then, you’ll be so distracted and mesmerized by all that you’ve witnessed, it barely will matter.
This hike begins in the Hall of Mosses, for goodness sake. And from there the hits just keep on coming. The initial three-quarters mile is jammed with chattering Douglas Squirrels, jack-hammering woodpeckers and maybe even some of the park’s famed Roosevelt Elk. The first mile ends with the first clear view of the Hoh River, easy, true and blue, and in places shallow enough for carefree wading.
Also nearby is a fleeting view of snowcapped Mount Tom. Three miles in is my favorite stretch. First, you’re looking down into the Hoh, then will pass through a series of charming streams and cascades. Look upstream into the rainforest and you’ll see a couple streams descend from healthy, picturesque waterfalls.
Not long after the so-called “climb,” you’re not far from Five-Mile Island, formed by river channels. It’s highly recommended to time your arrival around lunchtime. It’s easy to pass time by the river, munching and peeping views far into the Hoh River Valley.
This is a year-round hike that offers a lot of nature’s bounty, but the main event, of course, is rolling through grand old growth and fern and twinflower-sprinkled ground carpeted with moss so downy looking, you might be tempted to bed down for a snooze. I made this hike during the fall and was dazzled by the interplay of mossy big timber and the glowing, turned leaves of deciduous trees. Needless to say, no naps were required that day.