Growing up in school, we always learned about tropical rainforests, so I felt utterly unprepared going into my first temperate rainforest in Olympic National Park. Once we got there, I felt a little let down by our education system for leaving this incredible ecosystem out and by our language for using only “rainforest” with qualifiers to describe these distinct places. Even though I had done some research on temperate rainforests before our arrival, I had visions of the rainforests of Costa Rica from our honeymoon on my mind and was not really prepared for the temperate version.
Prior to our visit, my research had included looking to see if the Visitor’s Center at the National Park Ranger Station was open. Everything I looked at said it was open, so I assumed that my many questions would be answered there. However, when we arrived, it was closed and all the boxes outside the building and along the trails touting maps and educational materials were empty.
With very little information in our hands, we made our way along a trail that left from the Ranger Station. This trail wound through the old growth forest, which was beyond impressive with the sheer height and diameter of the trees. Also, it was so green, literally every possible shade.
One of my assumptions about the general rainforest term was that it would be humid and damp. In Costa Rica, this had been our experience, and while I assume it is dependent on the season, this temperate rainforest was dry. We crossed several dry creek beds, the air was dry, and the leaves were starting to fall.
The other surprising thing was the silence. There were a few birds, but mostly the moss covering the trees muffled any noise and much of our walk was in utter quiet. Except for the part where Bird was having a bit of a meltdown, and then I truly hope the moss muffled her wailing for the few other visitors.
After our very beautiful hike through the forest, we continued our drive around Lake Quinault to the south side where we knew we would find the world’s largest Sitka spruce. We started down the ¼-mile path to the tree and wondered to each other if we would know the tree when we saw it.
LOL to us. As we rounded the final bend on the trail, the behemoth tree towered over everything around it and was utterly unmistakable. We made our visit at the tree rather quick, as there were plenty of other visitors, but managed to still come away covered in sap and marveling at its size. The tree reaches almost 200 feet tall and is truly incredible.
Although our trip to the rainforest made us rethink everything we thought we knew about what a rainforest is, it was a beautiful and eye-opening experience. The array of greens we saw was, in itself, a sight to behold. While I still need to do more research to answer the many questions I had before and after this experience, the one thing I do know is that you will undoubtedly recognize the world’s largest trees when you see them.