If you stand in the visitor center at the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, you’ll notice a small whiteboard amidst the crowd. And if you can take your eyes off of the spectacular moss-covered trees outside the windows long enough to read it, you’ll find the board asks an important question: what can park staff do to help manage increased visitation in the Hoh Rainforest?
Tourists’ scrawled responses range from the highly impractical—closing the park to visitors, banning rule-breakers permanently—to the more realistic, such as adding railings to pathways, implementing a timed-entry system, and providing more on-site education for hikers.
But no matter what your views are, one thing is clear: increased tourism requires creative, sustainable solutions to manage the environmental impacts of higher visitation.
What Makes The Hoh Rainforest Special? Hoh Rainforest Visitation Impacts
Olympic National Park is often described as three parks in one, due to the incredible diversity found within its boundaries.
You can go from exploring tide pools at Ruby Beach, to hiking alpine meadows and catching a glimpse of the endemic Olympic Marmot up at Hurricane Ridge. In between the shore and the mountains lies the rainforest, which many argue is the most unique and alluring area of the park.
When most people think of rainforests, they think of tropical, jungle-like landscapes. The Hoh, however, is a temperate rainforest, meaning temperatures are cooler than in a tropical forest.
The Hoh averages over 140 inches of rain a year, making it the wettest forest in the contiguous United States. This mix of wet, cooler weather provides the perfect environment to a host of critters big and small, from the Roosevelt elk that can be seen roaming through the trees, to bright yellow banana slugs.
The area is also famous for its old growth forests, comprised mainly of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees, which can grow to over 200 feet tall and whose branches are draped with flowing strands of moss and lichens.
In addition, the Olympic peninsula has a rich indigenous history. The Hoh tribe has formally resided at the Hoh Indian Reservation since 1855, but existed in the area for centuries prior to the move.
Hoh RainforseVisitation Impacts
Tourism Trends In Olympic National Park And The Hoh Rainforest
Over the last several years, National Parks across the country have seen an increase in visitation, and the Hoh Rainforest is no different. This has led to longer wait times to gain entry to the park, and more concerningly, the deterioration of trails in the rainforest due to crowding and hikers wandering off route.
In August of 2011, the Hoh Rainforest saw over 38,000 tourists. In August of 2021, that number skyrocketed to over 107,000 visitors (It’s important to note that visitation has fluctuated and hasn’t always increased at a consistent rate).
During peak season (May-September), visitors will likely encounter a wait to enter the park, as the parking lot can only hold a limited number of vehicles. Once the lot is full, traffic is metered; cars are only allowed entry as others are leaving.
It is increasingly common to wait over an hour to enter the park if arriving between 9am- 4pm, with wait times stretching more than two hours on busy days or peak hours.
Because of this, Good Trip guides recommend arriving before 8am. Additionally, choosing a week day to visit instead of a weekend may reduce your odds of waiting.
Additionally, as of September 2023, roadwork to repair washed out areas and rebuild the river embankment has reduced short stretches of Upper Hoh Road—the only road leading to the visitor’s center in the rainforest—to one lane traffic, creating further delays.
Always be sure to check the Olympic National Park webpage for the most up-to-date information on road conditions.
Ecological Impacts Of Tourism In Olympic National Park
The surge in visitor traffic has contributed to trail damage along some of the more popular hiking trails, such as the Hall of Mosses and the Hoh River Trail.
Widened, trampled paths previously edged with lush moss are now bare, hard packed dirt. There is also an increase in “social trails,” or side trails, to objects of interest and shortcuts that are not part of the established path.
In the above photo, for example, you can see the original forest path lined with wood beams. When the trail was first built, the path only consisted of the space between the beams.
Over time. small deviations from the path, whether to look at the trees or to avoid a mud puddle, have changed the shape of the trail, widening it as the moss underfoot is trampled.
This phenomenon has lasting impacts on the trail and surrounding ecosystem. It can take years for these surfaces to recover and revegetate.
Sustainable Tourism In The Hoh Rainforest Visitation Impacts
Part of Good Trip Adventures’ mission is to minimize our impact on the environment and help preserve the areas we’re privileged to access. This means our guides are always on the lookout for ways to educate guests.
One area we emphasize is trail etiquette. While it’s tempting to step off trail to snap that Instagram-perfect photo, it’s important to keep in mind that each off-trail footstep has an impact on the delicate moss-covered floor.
Moss can withstand light foot traffic, but the paths in the Hoh see too much wear and tear to bounce back from being trod on. When visiting the rainforest, remember to stay on the established paths and resist the urge to wander off.
But don’t worry! On the Hall of Mosses trail, there are multiple opportunities to take enchanting forest photos without compromising trail etiquette, and both the trees and your guides will thank you.
Solutions To The Hoh Rainforest Visitation Impacts
In the future, visitors can expect to see changes in the way Olympic National Park invites visitors to interact with nature at the Hoh Rainforest.
Potential solutions to these Hoh Rainforest visitation impacts could be using a timed entry system to manage wait times, updating trail systems and signage to keep people on the paths, or more ranger-led programs to educate visitors.
Olympic National Park is dedicated to finding an action-oriented approach that will help preserve this amazing rainforest for future generations—and so are we.
Take An Eco-Friendly Tour With Us!
Our mission is to offer travel that minimizes impact on the earth. We work closely with the parks we visit to ensure that we’re using trails and itineraries that are not impacting overused lands. Our expert naturalist guides are trained in Leave No Trace practices, which they share with every group.
Regardless of where you come from, every experience with Good Trip Adventures will be not only good to you, but good to others, and good to the planet. So, come explore Olympic National Park with us!