Hiking the Hoh Rainforest

Hiking the Hoh Rainforest 2

By Kristin Hanes

From the moment I started down the Hoh River trail carrying my backpack, I started to sweat. The place with thick with moist, hot air, like a tropical rainforest transplanted to Washington State. Drapes of moss hung from the huge branches of old-growth Douglas fir, Western Hemlock and cedar trees. Bright green ferns carpeted the soft, soggy ground. I breathed in, stuck somewhere between a steam room and a sauna, and tried to enjoy the stifling beauty of the Hoh Rainforest. My boyfriend and I were making our way 10 miles to our campsite on our three-day summer backpacking trip.

 

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The Hoh Rainforest is gorgeous, located in the northwestern most corner of Washington State in Olympic National park. It gets a yearly total of 12 to 14 feet of rain, which is heaven for moss and ferns. The first part of the trail runs along the Hoh River, tinged a milky slate blue from glacial sediment.

 

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When we first started our trek, we weren’t sure whether we’d do the entire 40 mile round trip hike up to Blue Glacier, which would mean 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss in one day.

Usually, people spend their second night of camping at a campground near the glacier, but there were none available for us. So we’d have to set up in one spot and od the glacier as a day hike.

Our first day of hiking was an easy and mostly flat through the prehistoric-looking rainforest, and we found a secluded spot to pitch our tent on the gravel bar near the Hoh River. It looked like something out of Alaska, with mist that clung in the evergreen trees and an icy, fast-moving river. We hunkered down for the night with dinner and a fire, and decided that yes, we wanted to see the glacier. Neither of us had ever seen a glacier up-close-and-personal, and with the current state of climate change, we wanted to hike to a glacier before it was too late.

 

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We got up early to prepare for the 17-mile hike and stuffed our daypacks full of food. The trail wound up, and up, and up, through the greenest forest I’ve ever seen. Gigantic nurse logs lined the trail, sprouting with ferns and baby trees. We refilled our water bottles with icy stream water fed from a glacier. We gained elevation like nobody’s business under a cloudy, murky sky.

Finally, by early afternoon, the clouds began to burn off. I started to catch small glimpses of the Olympic mountains through the trees; snow-capped, jagged grey peaks. The Hoh River rushed by in a deep canyon far below us, and I was reminded of just how high we’d climbed.

The trail started to get narrow and sketchy. I stepped slowly and carefully, very much aware of the gritty sand beneath my feet and the staggering drop-off to my right. At one point, we had to shimmy down a ladder into a canyon, then climb switchbacks up the other side. Meanwhile, the clouds had burned off completely, leaving an achingly beautiful blue sky in their place.

 

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My legs were tired, and we still had 1,000 more feet of elevation gain to go. My feet burned inside my my rigid hiking boots. But I was determined to see that glacier. We paused to fill water and have a snack in a flower-filled meadow, and drank in the alpine beauty as we sipped in cool, refreshing water.

The last 500 feet were up a rocky cliff, some of it we we had to trudge through snow. When we reached the top, I was blown away by the beauty and immensity of blue glacier.

It stretched before us, pouring down the mountain in a gigantic river frozen in time, the ice fall tinged an icy blue. Above, the jagged summit of Mount Olympus rose, as if daring us to climb. We saw some mountaineers don helmets and start their trek across the glacier, most likely to camp for the night before a summit attempt.

 

 

It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Thousands of years of glacier were at eye-level, and I stared at the expanse for a long time. Below us, a white mountain goat rooted around in the brush. I was so glad we’d hiked to see the glacier, but was dreading the hike back down.

 

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It was 2pm and it was 8.5 miles and 5,000 feet down, down, down, back to our campsite by the river. We didn’t stay at the glacier long so we could get back before dark.

The hike was brutal. My muscles screamed with the effort, my feet felt like they were walking on pebbles. The balls of my feet and heels ached with the exertion and I practically ran the last 200 yards back to our site, just to take off my shoes, to find some sort of relief.

I collapsed on the sand after I pulled off my boots, letting the coolness soothe the fire in my feet.

But there was more work to be done. We had to gather wood and water, start a fire, cook dinner, empty our packs. We decided to fill one of our bear cans with water so we could take a hot shower. It was a painstaking process, heating two cups of water at a time to a boil on our Jetboil stove  and then adding to the cold river.

When the water was warm enough, Tom poured it over my head and I scrubbed the sweat and dirt from my body and hair. Cold air hit my wet skin and I ran to dry by the crackling fire. I’ve never felt more alive than in that moment, feeling the cleanness of my hair, hearing the rushing of the river nearby, smelling sand and pine and wood smoke. I feel that backpacking takes us back to our senses, the feelings in our bodies. We connect to the earth and ourselves with a primalness that can’t be found in the comfort of an apartment, on a soft couch, in front of a TV.

Both of us felt wild and in tune in those moments after we taxed our bodies to the limit, then bathed by the warmth of a campfire. Nothing has ever felt better.

Sleep and rest also felt good. Once our bellies were warm and full, we crawled into bed. My blow-up camping pad and sleeping bag felt like a 5-star luxury hotel, a much-welcomed rest from the grueling day. I fell asleep thinking of alpine peaks, glaciers, the vastness of the sky.

The next day, we hiked back out another eleven miles. My feet were still sore from the day before, and by the end of the hike, I could barely move. Each step felt brutal, and I was thankful to once again be at the Hoh Visitor’s Center, at the car, pulling off my boots for flip-flops. It was 2pm.

 

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We’d hiked to Blue Glacier and back in about 60 hours. Insane.

Sometimes I ask myself why we push so hard. One summer it was the John Muir Trail, the next this hike to Blue Glacier. And then this summer, we may hit the John Muir Trail again.

I think that in our mostly sedentary lives, it feels good to get out and test our bodies, to see just how far they can go. It feels good to be in the true depths of nature. It feels good to be rewarded with a stunning view, with a soothing, hot campsite shower. And I’m still rewarded today with vivid memories, with the knowledge that, “Yes, I can.”

 

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About the Author:

Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. Besides sailing, she loves anything adventurous and outdoorsy, including hiking, backpacking and traveling. Besides staying active, Kristin also loves cooking, salsa dancing and drinking a good beer. You can follow her adventures on her blog, www.thewaywardhome.com

 

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66 thoughts on “Hiking the Hoh Rainforest

  • February 21, 2018 at 5:43 pm
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    One word – WOW! Can’t believe you guys did it in 60 hours especially with the amount of elevation, such an achievement. It was all worth it though your pictures are insane, hope to visit here someday!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:07 pm
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      Thank you! It was amazingly hard but worth it! I think next time I’d try to take it a little easier, though, haha.

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  • February 21, 2018 at 2:49 pm
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    Sounds like an incredible hike and well worth the views! I love exploring forest areas but I think I need to work on my stamina before I attempt this hike! Thank you for inspiring!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:08 pm
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      You can also just hike along the Hoh River, which is totally flat and REALLY beautiful. No need to go up to the glacier. There are plenty of hikes for all levels in Olympic National Park.

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  • February 21, 2018 at 8:03 am
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    Wowowow! I am not sure if I can do this! I need more practice I guess. The view and the trails are so beautiful, definitely worth the hike! You are amazing!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:09 pm
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      Thank you!! You can hike just at lower elevations, there are some nice flat loop trails in the Hoh rainforest.

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  • February 20, 2018 at 7:12 pm
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    I’ve never been on hiking for so long but after reading your post, I so want to go on the hiking soon. Your pictures speak for itself how amazing your entire experience was!

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  • February 20, 2018 at 6:28 am
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    OMG! I love it! We just can’t go hiking or camping for now because of the baby. So looking forward to getting out there again and this looks like such a wondrous place…

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm
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      Totally! You could also car camp at the entrance of the Hoh rainforest..maybe when the baby is older and do shorter day hikes.

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  • February 19, 2018 at 10:09 pm
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    I’d love to take a hike there. It seems so fun! Nature makes me feel so free, exercising outside doesn’t feel as strenuous. Thanks for sharing, I love the pictures.

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  • February 19, 2018 at 4:08 pm
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    Oh wow! This adventure, while exhausting, looks really so much fun at Hoh Rainforest. I really love hiking and your pictures looks amazing.

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  • February 19, 2018 at 6:08 am
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    It looks like very challenging hiking. Your pictures are amazing and stunning.

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  • February 19, 2018 at 5:51 am
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    The Hoh Rainforest is truly a magical creation of nature. The moss covered branches reminds me a lot about the Yakushima forest in Japan. It does have that hauntingly beautiful look to it as well. Kudos to you for surviving this journey and camp – it sounded like a hellish trek (for a non-serious hiker like me) but I am sure one that’s worth it!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm
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      I would love to go to that forest in Japan! I hear they have amazing redwoods there. It was a super difficult trek, ha, I think next time I’d do it slower.

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  • February 19, 2018 at 1:38 am
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    Wow 17 mile hike. You guys are some serious troopers!

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  • February 19, 2018 at 1:12 am
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    My husband’s nephew lives in Washington state. I will have to ask him if he has explored this trail. He also loves hiking and being in nature like this. The views are gorgeous!

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  • February 18, 2018 at 7:48 pm
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    What an insanely gorgeous trek! Just reading your post made me want to curl up and take a nap!! But what a marvelous adventure! The greenery was totally stunning…you guys are rockstars for hiking this in 60 hours!!

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  • February 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm
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    I’ve never heard of this place before but it looks absolutely gorgeous! This is definitely somewhere I would love to add to my list of must see places!

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  • February 18, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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    It’s great that you have the stamina to finish the trail. I am not physically fit and I am amazed by people who have such passion in physical activities like a trek like this.

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  • February 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm
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    What am amazing and and breathtaking sight.. Wish to have such experience. Wow!.. so lovely

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  • February 18, 2018 at 12:21 pm
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    As a hiker myself I can totally understand why people push themselves to the limit and to pain like that. It is almost addictive hiking till your body and soul hurt! Unfortunately ever since we have our baby daughter we can’t hike as long as before. And I totally miss that feeling of constantly fighting against yourself thinking I can’t do this but yes you can, all the way up to the summit. Then all the way down and this time with even more pain (I have a harder time walking down than up) BUT the feelings once you arrive down…is just the best!😂

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:12 pm
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      That’s true….it is quite the mental game and to KNOW your body can do it is truly amazing.

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  • February 18, 2018 at 11:29 am
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    I really felt your pain as I read this. I’d love to be able to do something like this one day; the views of the Hoh rainforest and those glaciers are incredible. I can imagine how you felt climbing into your tent after this, and it feeling like a 5-star luxury hotel! Thank you for sharing your story; it’s definitely inspiring.

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:12 pm
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      Thank you! I hope you get to do a hike like this someday. Definitely a sense of accomplishment afterwards.

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  • February 18, 2018 at 10:38 am
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    The photos look amazing! I wish I have the motivation to hike something like that. My stamina is really low I don’t think I will be able to finish that hike.

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  • February 18, 2018 at 10:30 am
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    I don’t think I would have managed to do a 40 miles hike in so little time, especially with that elevation! The camping spot by the river looks so nice, I can only imagine how quiet and beautiful must it be to wake up to that view. And the glacier, wow, it was definitely worth all the pain and effort to get up to it. The views are so pretty and I love how you’ve captured the clouds passing by, underneath you 🙂

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm
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      Thank you! The campsite was spectacular. I could have stayed there another day, reading and hanging out 🙂 There was nobody else around!

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  • February 18, 2018 at 7:15 am
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    How interesting! Reading this, it really does sound like you are also venturing into a tropical rainforest in the middle of Washington State. It does look oh so beautiful and to be so close to nature would have been a wonderful experience. I can’t believe you made the trek up 5,000 feet to the glacier – I would need lots of training before I could embark on this. But ohhh does it look so beautiful and I would imagine how connected you must have felt to nature on your 3-day trip.

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm
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      Yeah temperate rainforests sure are interesting. I know the trees and moss suck up all that water, which is why its so crazy green. I can’t believe I hiked that far either, haha!

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  • February 18, 2018 at 7:11 am
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    This rain forest look so amazing. I hope I have a chance to hike this wonderful place one day – maybe taking a bit longer though.

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  • February 18, 2018 at 3:01 am
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    Oh, my feet and muscles are aching with sympathy pain! I’m not a huge hiker, but I know how difficult it is to hike out and back that quickly and to gain and then lose that kind of elevation. That rainforest sounds absolutely amazing and lush. Your pictures that capture the low mist hanging at the top of the trees are simply stunning!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:14 pm
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      Thank you so much! And yes, it was a crazy workout. I might need to try different shoes with more cushion.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 11:22 pm
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    What a spectacular rainforest. I don’t get to go on long hikes as much as I would like. This is one hike I would love to do one day.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 7:53 pm
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    You’re pictures are beautiful. It doesn’t even look real, looks like it comes from a book.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 5:39 pm
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    I hiked a rainforest once in Costa Rica but the views were nothing like this. This looks absolutely stunning!

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    • February 23, 2018 at 8:14 pm
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      It was. I loved that it had the combination of rainforest and incredible alpine scenery.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 4:55 pm
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    So beautiful & exciting! Reading this, I felt like I was there with you in the forest on this amazing trip. Great post💞

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  • February 17, 2018 at 4:29 pm
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    You’re brave to camp and do a 17 mike hike. That’s an intense trip. Which true outdoors person wouldn’t love this?

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  • February 17, 2018 at 6:12 am
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    First of all, I love all the shots. You captured some beautiful images from different angles. I’m not outdoors as much as I would like and I want to try to change that.

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:13 pm
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      I’m not either, haha! Every time I go out in nature, I just want to be out in it even more. Hope you get to have some adventures soon!

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  • February 17, 2018 at 5:48 am
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    I would love to go hiking // In jamaica we have blue mountain peak i would love to do some climbing but its super cold there.

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:14 pm
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      Wow I didn’t even know Jamaica had hiking up a mountain. Shows how much I know 🙂

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:14 pm
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      Very challenging. I think I’d recommend taking an extra day to reach the glacier.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 2:22 am
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    This looks like it was an awesome hiking and camping adventure! I love camping but haven’t done it in quite a while! I totally want to get my kids into it as well.

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:15 pm
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      That’s a great idea! I think getting kids out into nature is really important.

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  • February 17, 2018 at 1:18 am
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    Sounds like a challenging climb! I would feel tired as well. But it’s so nice that you guys made it and just enjoyed all the beautiful scenery along the way. There’s no doubt as to how beautiful this place is.

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  • February 16, 2018 at 11:40 pm
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    Those photos are so beautiful. Talk about some amazing memories that you made.

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  • February 16, 2018 at 11:21 pm
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    Oh my goodness what an amazing looking place to get to hike, the rainforest always seems like such a magical and amazing place to me.

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:16 pm
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      Yep! And temperate rainforest is just so interesting….lush and humid. So pretty!

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  • February 16, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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    That is totally cool! We love hiking as a family, and this looks like a great place to do that. I love all the scenery.

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    • February 17, 2018 at 9:15 pm
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      That’s a great idea! I think getting kids out into nature is really important. There are campgrounds and shorter hiking loops through the Hoh Rainforest.

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  • February 16, 2018 at 9:27 pm
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    Wow! That’s quite the hike! And I totally agree that doing things like this really help to connect you to nature and yourself in a way that nothing else could.

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  • February 16, 2018 at 9:13 pm
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    These are stunning photos! This would be such a fantastic hike. There would be so much to see!

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    • February 16, 2018 at 10:24 pm
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      The entire Olympic Peninsula and national park is incredible. I want to go back and explore more hikes up there.

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  • February 16, 2018 at 8:42 pm
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    This looks like so much fun! And your pictures are amazing!!

    Reply

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