Camping in the Hoh Rainforest 2015: Overnight stop in Port Angeles, Olympic national Park Hoh Rainforest Visitor’s Center, walking the Hall of Mosses trail and Spruce Nature trail
We love the Olympic National Park. There is so much to see and so many different parts of it. We had visited the Hoh Rainforest portion of the park 11 years ago and loved it, but unfortunately the distance from Seattle makes it only worth it to us to visit on a three day weekend or longer. We were invited to go camping with some friends on their property on the Hoh River in May, so we took an extra day off work and packed up our camping gear.
Getting to the Hoh Rainforest from Seattle is a bit of a trek, usually involving a ferry. You can go a few different ways depending on which ferry is closest to you, or even drive around from the south. We opted for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route in the north, with an overnight at a hotel in Port Angeles on Thursday night to get a head start.
The ferry from Edmonds to Kingston is a short 35-minute ride and is first-come/first served (no reservations). They leave about every hour to hour and a half or so depending on the season and day of the week. The 2015 fare for a vehicle and driver from Edmonds to Kingston is $17.30 + $8.00 per passenger. On the way back passengers travel free.
We managed to catch the 5:25 PM ferry on Thursday, and we drove straight from Kingston to Port Angeles (about an hour and 20 minute drive). We were on a super-tight budget, so we had reserved a room at the Flagstone Motel on the main highway, in walking distance to everything in town. The rate was $59 a night, and it was about what you can expect for that rate.
The bed wasn’t super comfortable, but the room was clean. The towels were actually not small pieces of sandpaper, which was pleasantly surprising. I was glad we brought our hair dryer though, there was none to be found in the room.
After we checked in, we were starving so we headed into town seeking sustenance. An old college roommate of mine grew up in Port Angeles, so I had messaged her for recommendations prior to our trip. For dinner she recommended the Next Door Gastropub, so we went down to check it out. Unfortunately, it was jam packed with a wait at the door. No one seemed available to put us on a list or give us an estimated wait time, and we were too hungry to wait around. We walked down the street and around the corner to Front Street and found the Kokopelli Grill. They were able to seat us right away and their southwest menu looked good.
The entree prices were a bit high, but they came with soup or salad and dinner rolls, as well as a vegetable and your choice of cilantro rice, plain or green-chili mashed potatoes, southwest fries, or sweet potato fries. We both started with the salmon corn chowder. Paddy ordered the surf and turf with grilled shrimp and the green chili mashed potatoes, and I had the yellow and blue corn crusted crab chili relleno with southwest fries.
Overall it was a pretty good deal for the money and the service was good. The restaurant decor was a little strange, it kind of looked like it used to be an Italian restaurant that someone bought and added a few Kokopelli figurines on the walls and Kokopelli dishware. The food was good, however and there was more than we could eat.
Completely stuffed and tired from working earlier that day, we walked back to the hotel and made it an early night. At around 3:00 AM there was an incoherent drunk yelling outside the motel, but he didn’t yell for too long. The Motel is right on the highway through town, so it can be a little noisy and the walls are thin.
Since we had gotten a head start the night before, we were able to sleep in and take our time in the morning. I woke up with a stiff back from the cheap mattress, but a hot shower fixed it. We checked out of the room and went down the street to First Street Haven, the restaurant my old college roommate recommended for breakfast. It was tiny and a bit cramped, but we got a table right away. I’m sure there is a wait on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
We were given a choice of light or dark roast coffee (nice to have the option!) and a regular menu and a specials menu. All breakfast entrees come with either toast or a baked good–coffee cake, cinamon roll, scone, muffin, or bagel. Paddy ordered the Montrachet omelette with toast off of the regular menu, and I ordered the bacon and brie scramble with raspberry coffee cake off of the specials menu. The coffee cake arrived first by itself and it was enormous. We sampled a few delicious bites, but figured we had better save room for our egg dishes. Fortunately, coffee cake travels well and we were able to take the rest to go. They didn’t skimp on the goat cheese on the Montrachet omelette, much to Paddy’s delight (you can never have too much goat cheese). Both the omelette and scramble were excellent–this place is worth the wait on the weekend if there’s a line.
After breakfast we walked across the street to check out Moss, a little boutique store featuring Northwest style clothing and accessories, as well as outdoor gear and gifts. The owner was a friend of my old college roommate, so we went in and said hi. The store was outdoorsy and unique, and had a lot of interesting stuff. A great place to go for gifts.
We got on the road, making one last stop in Forks for gas and beer. We couldn’t help but notice that Forks is still desperately clinging to the Twilight phenomenon, with Twilight tours advertised and “Twilight” inserted into the names of a couple stores and restaurants.
After a short drive south of Forks, we arrived at our friends’ property on the Hoh River off of Oil City Road. We set up our spot right along the river.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with our friends. Late in the afternoon Paddy and I explored Oil City Road a bit and found that the end of the road is an entrance to an Olympic National Park trail through the Hoh Rainforest to the beach. It is also an access to the western-most portion of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which extends all the way from Glacier National Park in Montana. We walked part way down the trail along the river until we could see the ocean, but didn’t want to get too far out as everyone was getting dinner started. Next time we come here, we plan on following the trail at least to the ocean.
Back at camp, our friends were making some BBQ pulled chicken and baking biscuits in some camping Dutch ovens. Hot coals from a coal starter in the campfire were set underneath and on top of the ovens on the ground, baking the biscuits. The biscuits turned out perfect, and now we both think we need to invest in a camping Dutch oven. Paddy had brought a pasta salad he made to share, and some other friends heated up a foil pan of their homemade mac and cheese. I must say we ate extremely well on this trip.
That evening many drinks were consumed and a tribute was done to our friend’s grandfather, the previous owner of the property. This weekend would have been his 100th birthday. Words of appreciation were shouted, a horn was blown, and scotch was poured in the river.
The next morning we made some coffee on our Coleman stove with a tea kettle and french press, ate some granola and hard boiled eggs, and set out to explore. We drove back to the highway and headed a short ways north back towards Forks to the Hoh Rainforest National Park entrance road. On the way from our campsite to the highway on Oil City Road, we passed a family of cows lazing away the morning. It must be good to be a rainforest cow.
About halfway down the National Park entrance road we reached the fee station and paid our fee. The fee for a one-week pass to any area of the Olympic National Park is $15.00 per vehicle, or $30.00 for an annual pass.
At the end of the road is the Hoh Rainforest Campground and Visitor’s Center. We camped there 11 years ago for a night, and the sites were a little open but it was a nice campground. It is first come first served, with 88 sites total. According to the ranger I talked to a couple years back, it is the largest campground in the Olympic National Park and the last to fill up on summer weekends.
There are two extremely easy walking trails (I’d hesitate to even call them hikes) that are great for families with kids or people who are not super in-shape. The shortest is the Hall of Mosses Trail, which is .8 miles, and the Spruce Nature Trail, which is 1.2 miles. If you are up for some serious Hoh Rainforest exploration, there is the Hoh River Trail, which is about 18 miles one way.
We opted for the two easy ones, starting with the Spruce Nature Trail.
The Hoh Rainforest truly is a magical place. The moss hanging from the trees, the ferns and vines, mushrooms and green life growing out of every place in the forest all gives me a sense of peace when I’m there. You almost expect to see faeries and elves dart away when you peer closely at a fallen tree along the path.
Of the two trails, the Hall of Mosses trail is my favorite. It is the shortest, but I feel it is also the most scenic. I love all the hanging furry moss in the rainforest.
There is a portion of the trail that is actually called the Hall of Mosses. It is a large clearing with tall spruce trees and moss hanging from every branch. When we approached it there were several people in the clearing all being very quiet. We walked in and saw a large elk to our right, munching on the vegetation and paying no mind to all the paparazzi snapping pictures of him.
At the end of the trail is a gigantic fallen Sitka Spruce tree that is 190 feet long bordering the trail. It is impressive to see, and even more impressive to know that it isn’t the largest tree in the forest–many Sitka Spruces in the rainforest are over 300 feet tall.
We finished our hike and stopped by the two small stores on the road back to the highway in hopes of picking up some ice. It was the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, and the Hard Rain Cafe told us their ice machine wasn’t in business yet, but would be by afternoon. I’m assuming their business is seasonal Memorial Day through Labor Day. It also looked like they were still stocking the souvenir shelves. The Peak 6 Adventure Store didn’t have any ice either, but they had just about everything for camping and hiking you could need if you forgot something–including rain gear and hiking shoes. We had enough ice to last until morning, so we figured we’d be fine.
**Note–you will need to drive back to Forks for most of your groceries and supplies if you are camping in the Hoh Rainforest.
Back at camp we relaxed a while longer, and then Paddy helped with dinner. Our contribution was baked potatoes, which we cooked on the grill over the campfire. Our friends had made the genius discovery that welder’s gloves are perfect for cooking on the campfire, and are a fraction of the price of camping or oven gloves. We have added welder’s gloves to our camping supplies shopping list.
Our friend Scott had brought a deep-fryer and was deep frying steaks for everyone up on the road. Our friend with the Dutch ovens was baking a chocolate cake (which turned out amazing by the way), and another friend made some fabulous baked beans by adding bourbon, bacon, and other ingredients to a giant can of Bush’s which she heated in a cast iron pot over the campfire.
It was another great evening with amazing food and good company.
On Sunday we packed up our campsite and headed back towards Kingston to catch the ferry. We made a quick stop at A Shot in the Dark Espresso stand in Forks for coffee. The coffee was great and came with chocolate espresso beans.
About 45 minutes outside of Kingston we pulled over and stopped for lunch at the Snug Harbor Cafe on Discovery Bay. It was a seafood basket and chowder type of place. I had the oyster sandwich and Paddy had the fish sandwich with a side of coleslaw. Both sandwiches were great but the tempura battered fries were really bland. Service was good–we’d stop here again. It looked like they had a nice outdoor patio and they advertised live music in on Friday and Saturday evenings.
When you approach Kingston, there is a lane on the right for the ferry, which you need to get into as soon as you see it. You inch through with the other cars until you reach a ferry worker who gives you a ticket, and then you follow the ferry signs through town. This process appears to ensure that people don’t cut into the ferry queue from town. You give your ticket to the ferry toll booth when you get there.
The wait for the ferry wasn’t too bad. We missed the one that left a few minutes after we arrived but made the next one an hour later. It was a nice afternoon for a short ferry ride.
I always leave the Olympic National Park wishing we had more time to explore it. There is so much to see in each part of the park. The next time we make it out to the Hoh Rainforest, we’d like to walk the trail at the end of Oil City Road out to the ocean and possibly up the coast a little ways. I love to be out in the Hoh Rainforest any time of the year, it is so peaceful and a bit magical. Rain gear recommended, but the rain isn’t too bad.