Best Hikes into Old Growth Forest
By Kristen Russell & Roddy Scheer
June 15, 2012
Grove of the Patriarchs
Difficulty: Easy; 1.5 miles round-trip, 50-foot elevation gain Location: About a two-hour drive from Seattle, on the southeast side of Mount Rainier National Park, via Enumclaw. Nearest town: Packwood, 14 miles. $15 park entrance fee; dogs prohibited; nps.gov
If you like your trees old—really old—this easy one-and-a-half-mile lollipop loop is a must. The grove is home to some of the oldest (more than 1,000 years) and biggest trees in western Washington; strolling amongst their cathedral beauty truly inspires awe. The trail winds through a stand of old red cedars before reaching a new suspension bridge, rebuilt after the violent 2006 storms left the old one a twisted wreck. Sway and bounce single file across the Ohanapecosh River to land on the island that houses the Grove of the Patriarchs, where enormous trees, protected from fire by the surrounding river, have grown to more than 25 feet in circumference (at least one is nearly 50 feet around) and 300 feet tall. Walk in hushed reverence along the boardwalk loop that weaves in between giant nurse logs, hemlocks, cedars and Douglas firs. Sit and stare for a while on one of the lovely, well-located wooden benches. Slap on another layer of bug spray; this is a boggy area, and you’ll share your adventure with vigorous mosquitoes, and, usually, dozens of happy tourists and tree lovers. Probably the easiest hike on Mount Rainier, this trail, while not paved, is wide and well used; a wonderful hike for children and grandparents.
Hall of Mosses Trail
Hoh Rain Forest
Difficulty: Easy; .8 miles round-trip, 100-foot elevation gain Location: In Olympic National Park, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Seattle, via U.S. Highway 101 through Port Angeles. Nearest town: Forks, 30 miles. Dogs prohibited; nps.gov
For Seattleites, rain, moss, ferns—and yes, slugs—are in our DNA, so it’s a homecoming of sorts to wander this forest primeval. One of the few old-growth temperate rain forests in the U.S., the Hoh offers several easy loop trails for exploring the lush vegetation, overhung with a canopy of coniferous and deciduous trees, including Sitka spruce and western hemlock of tremendous size—23 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Start with a stop at the visitor center to pick up tree and plant guides, and to find out when the next guided Forest Service walk departs. Or grab a trail map and strike out on your own, treading the gently rolling path through a wash of wet and green forest. You like rain? This forest gets as much as 14 feet per year. You like banana slugs? Spotted owls? Spot them aplenty here. On your way out of town, consider a visit to Forks, where the Twilight series is based. (See our guide at seattlemag.com under “guides.”)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate; as far as 5 miles, minimal elevation gain Location: Southeast Seattle; seattle.gov/parks
While old-growth trees (more than 250 years old) can be found in a few parks around Seattle, only Seward Park boasts a 120-acre forest full of them. This so-called Magnificent Forest, which takes up the northern two-thirds of Seward Park, makes for a nice in-city hiking destination. Tuck into the woods from any of the 13 unmarked “trailheads” off the park’s perimeter drive (popular with walkers), and leave the bustling and noisy world of barbecuers and inline skaters behind. If you love to hike in the Cascades or Olympics, you’ll feel right at home here, whether for a brisk walk on your lunch break or for a full-on five-mile hike to make your primary-care physician proud. Besides getting your heart pumping, hiking through the old-growth forest, and perhaps imagining how the rest of our urban world once looked, may also stir your soul.