In the Olympic National Forest, enjoy the silence (among other things)
written by James Sinks
HOLD COMPLETELY STILL.
And you will hear absolutely nothing. And that is precisely the point.
Like following a map to hidden treasure, we’d ventured 3 miles on the Hoh River Trail into the fern-filled temperate rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park. In the shade of towering giants, we crawled under fallen trees, sidestepped through an arch formed by a Sitka Spruce, balanced on makeshift bridges over bogs, and waved hello to a family of pheasant, not knowing who was more surprised.
And then, on an overgrown carpet of moss on a massive log, there was the place.
The One Square Inch of Silence.
The spot—marked by a red-painted stone, about one inch across—helps to draw a remarkable contrast to the world elsewhere, and how relentlessly noisy it can be. Here, in this place, the volume is most often zero. So quiet, it’s almost deafening.
It’s magic, my hiking partner whispered, understatedly.
An acoustical ecologist named Gordon Hempton designated the One Inch of Silence on Earth Day in 2005, based on microphone measurements showing it to be the quietest place in the continental United States, thanks to sound-muffling vegetation and the distance from roads and—at the time—no air traffic. “Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything,” he said. The world hasn’t gotten any quieter since.
Four hours by car and a world away from Portland, the lush Olympic Peninsula beckons with a bounty of recreation and often mystical, mist-shrouded options, from historic lodges to fish-laden rivers to hot springs to trails everyplace and to rocky, driftwood-decorated beaches.
For movie magic buffs, there’s the added appeal of following in the footsteps of vampires and werewolves around the former logging town of Forks, the setting for Stephanie Meyer’s otherworldly Twilight series. You can rub elbows with fellow fans at a Twilight-themed museum, step across the “treaty line” that separated the dueling camps, or even head to an annual fan festival in town, staged on the weekend closest to the protagonist Bella’s Sept. 13 birthday.
But if you’re hoping to avoid hubbub, unglue from computer screens, and find peace amid nature’s majesty, there are few places more suited than Washington’s stunning northwest corner, said Ellen Falconer, who leads meditation tours into the rainforest from her business, Olympic Peninsula Mindfulness.
“It’s a beautiful place, a quiet place, a remote place, where you can connect with being alive without your mind going 100 miles per hour,” she said.
Increasingly popular are her daylong, talk-free “forest bathing” treks. Also known as Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, the practice of being silent among the trees has been shown to bolster preventative health, while also decluttering your brain, she said.
It only takes a few minutes to get lost in the vibrant beauty of the Olympic, she said. “It’s a Kodakcolor world, if you remember what Kodakcolor is.”
Speaking of photos, Instagram-worthy vistas wait around almost every bend, from the Hole-in-the-Wall stone archway on Rialto Beach, to glacier-carved Lake Crescent, to the kitschy John’s Beachcombing Museum in Forks. One of the peninsula’s most photographed places—and for good reason—is Sol Duc Falls, in which the river splits into several separate waterfalls before cascading into a ravine.
There are two hikes to access the falls through massive old growth. The more direct route is a 1.5-mile roundtrip from the parking lot and trailhead. Or you can start downstream (maybe with your honey) on the Lovers Lane Trail, which is a 6-mile roundtrip. It’s lovely.
Relaxation awaits at nearby Sol Duc Hot Springs, where a National Park lodge is the entryway and your tension will exit in sulfurous-smelling tiled pools of varying temperatures, the warmest at 104 degrees. Suits are required, and it’s $18 per adult per ninety-minute swim session.
If nightfall is approaching and the weather is clear, the magic of the Olympic Peninsula’s skyscape is on full, awe-inducing display at often-breezy Hurricane Ridge, on the north side of Mount Olympus. There’s even an astronomer program with telescopes during summer months that allows you star- and planet-gaze, for free.
Hold completely still. Listen.
Under a tapestry of stars and like so much of the stunning Olympic Peninsula, it’s an apt place to stop, to sigh, and to enjoy the beauty, and the silence.
OLYMPIC PENINSULA + FORKS, WASHINGTON
BBG Blakeslee Bar & Grill
Lake Quinault Lodge/Roosevelt Room
The In Place
Three Rivers Resort
Forks Olympic Suites Inn
Lake Crescent Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Hole in the Wall
Hoh River Trail
Hurricane Ridge Astronomy Program
John’s Beachcombing Museum
Lake Quinault Paddleboard rentals
Olympic Peninsula Mindfulness
One Square inch of Silence
Sol Duc Hot Springs