The great attraction of the National Park is the magnificent expanse of rain forest one of the last surviving areas of rain forest in the temperate zone in the west-facing valleys of the Quinault, Queens and Hoh Rivers. The Hoh Rain Forest, 90 mi. from Port Angeles, caters for visitors with its three nature trails, including the very impressive Hall of Mosses Trail.
The road up the Hoh valley and then over the Blue Glacier is the most favoured route for the ascent of Mount Olympus.
The annual cycle of rain coming in from the Pacific and the heavy snowfalls on Mount Olympus in winter, melt water from which flows down the valleys, have fostered the lush green growth of the forest. While the coastal region lying in the rain shadow of the hills is extremely dry, Mount Olympus has the highest annual precipitations (200 in.) in the United States outside Alaska, which fall mostly during the winter. Rainproof clothing and stout footwear are a must for all visitors.
The four main species of conifer found here Sitka spruce, hemlock, red cedar and Douglas fir and the Oregon maple and vine maple grow here to gigantic heights of up to 330 ft, with diameters of up to 13 ft. The trees and fallen trunks are covered with ferns of unusual size (including liquorice and sword ferns), lichens and moss, on which other trees take root. A fallen trunk that has rotted away will nourish whole colonnades of trees. Particularly striking is Selaginella, a species of moss related to club moss that hangs down from trees (mostly maples) in long garlands and curtains.
Visitors will rarely see any Roosevelt elk (wapiti) in summer, but the signs of their presence are everywhere: they graze on the rapidly growing vegetation and prevent it from flourishing too luxuriantly. Other animals that may be encountered are black bears, cougars and coyotes, whose tracks can sometimes be seen in the soft soil of the forest. The rivers are well stocked with fish.
Various hiking trails start from the U.S. 101. One of the best is the 14 mi. Queets River Trail; more strenuous is the 44 mi. trail that crosses the whole park North Fork to Whiskey Bend.
The coastal strip is a region of sandy beaches, cliffs rising sheer out of the sea, rock arches, accumulations of driftwood and forests reaching right down to the shore. The northern part of the area is accessible only on side roads branching off U.S. 101; the southern third is traversed by the Scenic Drive between Ruby Beach and Queets. The sea is not particularly inviting for bathers, since the cold current flowing here keeps the water temperature low. When walking on the numerous promontories visitors must keep a watchful eye on the tides. Among the many species of birds to be seen here is the white-headed sea eagle. Seals are common; and sometimes grey whales can be seen swimming past in spring and autumn.