Journey to Washington’s Enchanted Hoh Rain Forest

The first time I heard about the Hoh Rainforest in Washington state was during a brief visit to my uncle’s house. My cousin Amber was there, and she was telling me about a trip she and her dad Hirsch took. She told me about some amazing beaches and incredible rainforests in Olympic National Park. My uncle’s eyes lit up, when Amber mentioned the Hall of Mosses, a special location in the Hoh Rainforest. He excitedly jumped into the conversation and passionately shared his perspective on how incredible this place was. :)

Inside the Hall of Mosses; photo by Richard Bilow; All images courtesy of ETG

Hoh Rainforest Washington State

Whenever Hirsch talked about a beautiful natural environment, he got fired up. One of the things he and I shared was an intense love of nature. I could tell that Amber loved this place, but my uncle’s passionate description convinced me I had to get there one day. The Hoh rainforest became “that kick-ass place my uncle Hirsch and cousin Amber told me about.” It lived as a vague fantasyland in the back of my mind until recently. Sadly, my uncle passed before my visit. In fact, my motivation to finally go was directly influenced by his passing. While I did not have a chance to show him my photos or share my experience with him, I sensed his presence when I was there.

If never told my father, Hirsch’s brother, that I considered myself to be a spiritual person but not a religious person. Dad was a scientist. He passed not long ago. He would think it was ridiculous, if I told him some of my thoughts about the creator and angels. I don’t practice organized religion, but I do choose to believe in God. Angels are also something I choose to believe in. These beliefs make me feel protected, watched over and loved.

Hoh Rainforest Washington state
Elk in the rainforest on the road to the Hall of Mosses; Photo by Richard Bilow

Angels as Guides

Luck seemed to follow us throughout our trip to Washington in numerous ways. Not everything flowed perfectly or even as planned, but all-in-all a variety of things went unexpectedly well. As we rushed to the airport at the close of our trip, my wife and I looked up at the gorgeous cloud formations and jokingly said in unison, “Come on Sally and Dolores, help us out!” We imagined our mothers floating in the clouds, having drinks and laughing, as they manipulated the universe to save us from missing our flight. Just after we dropped off our car and walked to the shuttle area, the bus drove up – perfect timing. Thanks moms!

All this angel talk does have a point. Before I booked our trip to Washington, I did some research. I needed to know precisely where I was going because I had a short trip with numerous planned activities. We were going to visit the renowned beaches which sit on the edge of the forests then check out Seattle. But I was most excited about seeing the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest. I was hoping to see some elk roaming in the midst of the lush green mosses, ferns and trees. 

Ranger’s Advice, Hoh Rainforest Washington state

With this in mind, I called the ranger station and asked for some advice. I was advised to enter the rainforest at or before sunrise and to keep my eyes open along the way. The ranger said that encountering elk was possible just about anywhere in that area, including along the 101 before the turnoff into the forest. It just so happened the best time was early was late summer/early fall. So my timing was perfect, but it can get crowded and wet since it’s a rainforest. He reminded me “Don’t go with the expectation of seeing an elk. Just go early or you will get stuck in unbearable traffic.

Beautiful flowers appear all along the forest edge in this part of Washington; Photo by Richard Bilow

Nature Heals

My experience in the Hoh Rainforest turn out to be a very healing and affirming moment in my life. Having just lost my uncle Hirsch, I was drawn into one of his favorite places. I entered the forest just after sunrise. There was no one else on the road. The early morning mist evaporated as the sun began to rise with no eminent sign of rain. To my disbelief, I had to stop driving to avoid an elk that was crossing the road. It was not at all scared, as I got out of my car and started taking pictures. The light was not ideal however. It was a bit too dark still, and the elk walked off into the shadows of the forest. As much as I was compelled to follow, it was not safe to wander off into the forest with my car in the road.

I decided to keep rolling, thinking I should get into the Hall of Mosses before others started arriving. I only made it about a half mile, before I spotted a whole group of elk off in the forest. There were still no cars behind me, so I stopped again. This time, I felt I had no choice but to give it another go. There were about seven elk walking right towards me. Two were in a really good spot with just enough light on them. I saw the shot I wanted, but soon cars started coming. They stopped, took a few moments to enjoy the animals from their cars and then took off. I clicked off a few more shots, then headed to the Hoh Rainforest parking area and the trailhead for the Hall of Mosses.

The misty morning not yet giving way to the sun off in the distant rainforest; Photo by Richard Bilow 

Trails in the Hoh Rainforest Washington State

I did the Hall of Mosses Trail which is a loop trail just under a mile long. Another option is the Spruce Nature Trail accessed from the same area. For a good percent of the visitors here, the Hall of Mosses is just the beginning. People hike for 17 mile on the Hoh River Trail. They also camp for extended periods of time. I was blown away by the Hall of Mosses. Rather than regret that I had such little time there, I soaked up the profound blessing of being where I was. Not everyone has the good fortune to have an experience like this. 

The short easy trail brings you into a vortex of beauty, without requiring a huge investment of time or physicality. I turned my gaze and my camera into the forest, listening to the voices of everyone marveling at the sights around me. I actually enjoyed the sounds of their presence. It was a very different nature experience for me, not one of solitude but rather an experience shared with others. I never entered “my zone,” and I only ended up with a few quality photos. However, I will be going back soon.

Hoh Rainforest Washington state
One of the many cows (female elk) that let me get close enough for a photo during my drive in; Photo by Richard Bilow

Talk to the Washington Locals

On our drive up to Forks, we met a local guy and his family who grew up in Washington State. David loves to take his camera on long hikes deep into the forest. He knows where and when to find the elk, bighorn sheep and other animals. He invited me to go somewhere sacred and rarely seen by tourist. For him, it’s much better than the Hall of Mosses. I had to decline this time, but there is no way I am passing on this opportunity. I’m in touch with David and look forward to the potential of creating more photos, when I can really get into “my zone.” The Hoh is just one fantastic spot in Olympic National Park, Washington State USA. If you love nature, you won’t want to miss it. Visit Washington’s official tourism website for more info –

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