The Last Silent Forest

Five hours from Portland, the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is one of 12 places where silence is still possible.

By Caleb Diehl July 28, 2014

A downed nurse tree in the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest.

It’s refreshing to know that despite the steady advance of industry, you can still retire to the woods for some peace and quiet. Well, that’s true if you can race 317 million other Americans to one of 12 noise-free spots left in the United States. And don’t stay for too long. As a map of flight paths crisscrossing the continent shows, nowhere stays quiet forever.

After traveling the world recording soundscapes, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton confirmed that those 12 locations stay free from human noise for more than 15 minutes. He skipped over refuges like Forest Park and Tryon Creek for areas with at least a 1,200-acre buffer from human disturbance. Hempton’s list narrowed as he made return trips, finding noise pollution encroaching on previously undisturbed spots.

So far, Hempton is keeping his discovery quiet. He’s only disclosed three locations.

Fortunately, one of them, the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, sits less than five hours from Portland. Here, one of the few sounds you will hear is rain. Each year, 12 to 14 feet of precipitation feed the Bigleaf Maple, Vine Maple, and oversized conifers. Brave the deluge and access a year-round campground, the 50-mile long Hoh River, and scores of epiphytes (plants growing atop other plants).

Teeming with salmon and elk, the 5,000-year old ecosystem is one of the most spectacular examples of temperate rainforest in the world. And for all those years, it’s been hushed up. 

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