The Quinault Rain Forest is one of four rich temperate rain forest canopies that lie within the west side of Washington’s Olympic Mountains. It begins in the Mount Anderson drainage to the east and the Low Divide drainage to the northwest. This majestic forest follows the paths of the North and East Forks of the Quinault River. These forks meander down the valley and merge into one Quinault River, which enters beautiful Lake Quinault. The Quinault Rain Forest completely surrounds Lake Quinault, bringing its unique biological community to the shoreline.
Moisture in the form of rain, drizzle and fog, and a valley open to southwesterly winds ensures the continuation of the life of a temperate rainforest. Feet measure rainfall in the Quinault Rain Forest. There is an average of 10 to 15 feet, (120” - 140” up to 180”) of rainfall each year. Moisture is evident everywhere. Clouds, fog and forest growth help keep temperatures moderate summer and winter. This moisture and moderate temperature ensure plant growth and provides habitat for a wide variety of critters year round. And it’s the rainfall that makes this area unique.
Big Douglas firs, western red cedar and pacific silver fir dominate themain forest upper canopy. Adding to this rich dark green are the moisture dependent Sitka spruce and the western hemlock. The forest canopy is open, allowing streams of sunlight to reach the forest floor. These huge conifers along with the big leaf maple and alder along the river bars comprise first impressions for those visiting the Quinault Rain Forest.
The Quinault Rain Forest understory is comprised of fern, devil’s club, and hanging curtains of moss, which add a rich bright, green hue. Indian-Plum, salmonberry, thimbleberry, blueberry and wild blackberry bush flowers provide nectar for the rufous hummingbird and bees. A variety of wild flowers and bright berries add their special colors to this enchanted garden setting. Bear grass, skunk-cabbage, twisted-stalk, trillium, bleeding heart, Indian paintbrush, and bunchberry are a few that can be found. The forest floor’s covering is dotted with the delightful earthy colors of mushrooms and lichens that abound in this damp ecosystem.
Adding gray to the colors of the rain forest is the everchanging river bars along side streams, the east and north forks and the main flow of the Quinault River. The Quinault meanders from side to side. The river’s dynamic force changes the forested benches or slopes to a gravel bar and causes biological systems to be uprooted and moved. The actual riverbed only covers a small portion of the valley land. The benches and river bars that the flood waters carve out and form are the core of land developement for the forest and wet lands. The river provides quiet water for fish habitat, microorganisms, invertebrates and waterfowl. Wood debris creates resting areas for fish and fowl. The Quinault River is the driving force of the entire rain forest community.
The Quinault Rain Forest is home to several Roosevelt Elk herds. The elk are essential to the rain forest community. By their foraging and stomping around, open areas are formed and shrub and bush growth is kept under control. Elk stay year round in the Quinault Rain Forest, finding sufficient food and shelter. Herd numbers are stable. The herds live together in family units and travel to forage in familiar areas. They also travel from one river drainage to another. The cows stay together to raise their calves. The cow’s call to the calves is distinct. It is a delight to hear the calf call back to its mom. The cows help each other with the babysitting. The mature bulls will roam independently of their herd minimizing inbreeding. The bull elk bugle during the September rut rings out sharp and clear. The bugle is either a call for challenge or a notice for the lesser bulls to back off. The elk herds play an integral part in the health and well being of the rain forest community.
Black bear, cougar, black-tailed deer, coyote, and many smaller mammals such as bobcat, beaver, river otter, raccoon, reside within the understory of the rain forest canopy. Their tracks are numerous, giving evidence of strong populations. The black bear eat almost anything according to season, starting with plant food in the spring working up to berry time in the fall. Camping and hiking education, which includes prevention techniques of hanging food and properly storing food, has resulted in few incidents with the black bear. Coyote range through the rain forest and are adept at survival. Raccoons concentrate around the lowlands and streams. They eat berries, small mammals, frogs, bugs, and fish. They climb trees for refuge. Cougar’s prey includes grasshoppers, mice, coyotes, elk, but mainly rely on deer. Cougars are solitary and maintain rather large home areas. In the Quinault Rain Forest a natural balance of species is maintained and cycles in accordance with habitat change and weather conditions. National Park Land Use Rules, National Forest Service provisions, federal and state hunting regulations, Quinault Indian Nation practices and private landholders land use help provide lasting habitat for the forest community.
Bald eagle, golden eagle, osprey, hawk, blue heron, raven and crow are seen all along the river valley and at Lake Quinault. The eagles are abundant in the winter when there is a good salmon run. The eagles breed during the winter months. The young will be ready to fly north for the summer Coho runs. Golden eagle also come for the salmon, but will hunt rabbit, and other small mammals. The great blue heron has excellent night vision. They hunt along the pools and quiet river waters. Migratory Canada geese, trumpeter swan, and a raft of smaller birds utilize the Quinault Rain Forest throughout the year.
The Quinault Rain Forest canopy and unstory is the home of billions of tiny organisms. These organisms if left on their own would destroy the forest community. But there is an army of insects and spiders ready to eat them. This interaction causes the forest community to loose only a small part of its productivity. Because of the moisture found even in the air of the rain forest, spider webs become outlined with a bright white of dew exhibiting a special beauty among the bushes and trees and even hanging in the air.
The moist forest floor provides perfect habitat for a host of peculiar species. Banana slugs averaging six inches in length thrive in the Quinault Rain Forest. They are found exclusively in moist, shady habitat. They are actually snails that do not need the benefit of the shelter of a hard shell during dry hot conditions. The slug will get under cover of leaves or the dirt during extreme heat or cold. Slugs are famous for their slimy tracks and sticky slime when touched. The slugs eat a wide variety of fungi and plants. Newts, salamanders, and frogs inhabit the pools and rotting wood debris found on the forest floor.
The free running streams and river, and Lake Quinault provide habitat for the life cycle of salmon to be played out. Salmon and steelhead come year round to spawn: Chinook and Coho, winter and summer steelhead, chum and sockeye. The sockeye spend up to 10 months in Lake Quinault before heading up the river to spawn and die. Their death fuels the nutrient base of the rivers for the benefit of the upcoming egg hatch. The entire rain forest community is dependent upon the fish runs. This amazing interaction connects the high mountain country to the rain forest upper canopy, to the understory and then to the ocean.
The Quinault Rain Forest is truly an “enchanted valley” that offers the visitor an awesome glance into the life of a temperate rain forest. The area has been limited in commercial development due for the variety of landowners. In 1897 a federal forest reserve was established on Olympic Peninsula lands. In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt created the Mount Olympus National Monument utilizing the middle portion of the former forest reserve. The rest of the land became the National Forest. In 1938 the monument was expanded and the name was changed to the Olympic National Park. The Quinault Indian Nation owns Lake Quinault. The rain forest continues to be a rugged, beautiful undeveloped area of pristine habitat housing a unique forest community. Rain or shine the Quinault Rain Forest is enchanting, and when the sun shines it is transformed into paradise.