My Sons List of Top 5 U.S. Rainforests

 

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

When you think of the rainforest, the Amazon rainforest in South America springs to mind, but did you know that the United States has several rainforests of its own? While tropical forests can be found in warm, wet climates around the globe, temperate rainforests occur in temperate regions, including various parts of North America. 

 

Overgrown with moss and ferns under towering giants, rainforests are an enchanting place to visit.

 

Here are the top 5 rainforests in the US.


 Hāmākua Coast 


 

On the Big Island of Hawai’i is a paradise called the Hamakua Coast, comprising 50 miles of lush tropical rainforests, heavenly waterfalls, and tranquil green valleys. The more than 80 inches of rainfall a year accounts for the dense vegetation and lack of sandy beaches in contrast with other parts of the island. 

 

On your scenic drive, stop at Akaka Falls, found within Akaka State Park. Deep in the woods of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden are Onomea Falls and Boulder Creek Falls, which cascade over boulders to form pleasant tumbling tiers. Known as the “Valley of Kings,” Hi’ilawe Falls is the most famous waterfall in the Waipi’o Valley and the tallest in the state. Be prepared for a serious hike up a steep path to return to the road. 

 

Dominating the area is the volcanic mountain Mauna Kea. Named for the snow that covers the summit, the peak emerges above the rainforest, offering some of the clearest stargazing opportunities in the northern hemisphere.

 


El Yunque National Forest


 

Located in northeastern Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Forest is one of the most biologically diverse places in the US national forest system. With a year-round tropical climate, visitors will find a jungle-like setting, lush with foliage, rugged cliffs, rivers, and waterfalls. The rainforest is home to 13 species of coquí frogs, Puerto Rican parrots, hummingbirds, the Puerto Rican boa, other reptiles, and more insects than can be named.

 

In the 1940s, the Civil Conservation Corps constructed most of the recreation sites and trails still used today. Several roads run through the park, including a 600-meter band of the historic PR Route 186, which is an official Scenic Byway. Road 988 also offers scenic views and access to the forest.

 

The La Mina Recreation Area on Road 191 North is the entrance to observation towers, wildlife viewing, hiking, and swimming. Don’t miss out on a walk through the unique cloud forest, also known as the dwarf forest, where the growth of trees and plants is stunted by harsh weather conditions.


 Hoh Rainforest 

 


Among the several ecosystems within Olympic National Park in Washington is an old-growth temperate rainforest. The Hoh Rainforest earns its name from the Hoh River that flows from Mount Olympus towards the Pacific coast. It receives an average of 140 inches of precipitation per year, resulting in a rich, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous trees.

 

Two hours from the city of Port Angeles and one hour from the town of Forks, Hoh Rainforest is a true wilderness. Camping may be the best way to experience the dense undergrowth, thick canopy, and abundant flora and fauna.

 

Visitors often spot Roosevelt elk, black bears, and river otters, as well as bobcats and mountain lions at night. The forest floor is habitat to banana slugs, snails, rodents, snakes, and salamanders while the treetops harbor a number of birds, including the endangered Northern Spotted Owl.

 


Appalachian Temperate Rainforest 


 

Covering 135,000 square miles across bits of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, the Appalachian temperate rainforest has a cool and mild climate with more than 60 inches of precipitation annually.

 

Red spruce and Fraser fir trees dominate the scenery at higher elevations, while beech, birch, maple, and oak fill out lower elevations. The amount of plant diversity is astounding. Moist vegetation on the ground provides a good environment for amphibians, including 30 species of salamanders, and notably supports more than 2000 species of fungi. 

 

The Appalachian Trail passes through this wilderness area in the southern Appalachian Mountain range, and parts are encompassed within the Nantahala National Forest, the Cherokee National Forest, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, giving visitors a number of entry options.

 


Redwood National and State Parks


 

A network of protected areas along the coast of Northern California, Redwood National and State Parks conserve one of the most diverse biomes in the world. With an oceanic temperate rainforest climate, the forests see up to 122 inches of precipitation each year and are occupied by a cozy fog that hangs in the canopy each summer.

 

Awe-inspiring redwoods, some of the tallest and oldest in the world, characterize these ancient forests. The consistently damp environment is ideal for the yellow-spotted millipede and banana slug, both of which play an important ecological role. Bald eagles, sea lions, giant green sea anemone, and elk are just a sampling of the animals visitors can spot on their trip.

 

A scenic drive will give you a nice overview of the park, but a bicycle ride gets you up close and personal with the immense redwood groves and the magic within.

 

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