Olympic National Park Breaks Three Million Visitors in 2015

For the third straight month, Washington State’s most-visited National Park has seen a decrease in popularity. Despite the drop in visitation through October of 2015, for the year Olympic National Park did break the three million visitor mark for the third consecutive year and the 17th time in park history. While Olympic is a still too far from breaking their all-time record of 3,846,709 set in 1997, 2015 will go down as a slightly above average year popularity. 

Sadly, Olympic National Park’s ranking as America’s 6th most-popular National park remains in doubt, as most parks around the nation are breaking historical visitation records. In order to break the all-time record, Olympic needs to receive 756,703 visitors in November and December, which isn’t going to happen.

Because I love data, I was excited to see that over the holiday weekend, Olympic National Park officials released visitation totals through October of 2015. After an hour or so of pouring over the information on Monday morning, I came to the conclusion that while the data isn’t great, it isn’t terribly either. It sucks to not see the growth that other National Parks are experiencing, but fatigue, animal activity, the return of the bad weather and road construction/washouts have directly impacted last month’s visitation numbers.

October of 2015 saw a 4.4% decrease in visitation to Olympic National Park, and as I mentioned in the intro, did break the three million visitor mark for the third consecutive year and the 17th time in park history. October of 2015 saw 139,783 visitors, a decrease from the same month in 2014. Through the first 10 months of 2015, Olympic received 3,090,007 recreational visitors. The 2015 numbers are a decrease of just 0.1% compared with 2014 numbers over the same time period.

While scouring pages of data, one statistic that I found to be interesting had to do with the number of people camping around Olympic National Park. Camping in Olympic is amazingly popular and for good reason. With 15 campgrounds spread around the nearly one million acres of Olympic National Park, wilderness and beauty are around every corner. Interestingly, camping at campground in Olympic has become less popular that in 2014, seeing a 9% decrease. Concessioner campgrounds have seen an 86% increase in use this year, while NPS campgrounds have seen a decrease of popularity of 12.2. Sure, some of that has to do with campground closures and limited access, but those events happen every year. What makes this interesting isn’t the lack of campers in the NPS campgrounds, it is where they are going instead.

Through 10 months, backcountry camping in Olympic National Park has seen a 27% increase in popularity from 2014, with 89,795 backpackers carrying their gear into the remote wilderness of Olympic National Park. In 2014, 69,040 backpacked and camped in Olympic, roughly 227 people a day. In 2015, that number jumped to 295 per day and will probably grow in 2016. The endless summer of 2015 definitely helped those numbers grow, but even in the off-season, more people are getting and using backcountry permits. Pretty incredible!

The park’s popularity ebbs and flows throughout the year, as do the regions of Olympic. While some areas saw incredible growth, many of the park’s more popular regions fell off sharply compared with 2014. Full location details can be found below, with relevant statistics displayed.


 

Lake Crescent and clouds in Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent and clouds in Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent

October 2015 Visitors: 43,295

October 2014 Visitors: 61,205

Percent Change: -29.3%

October 2015 Campers: Unreliable Stats for this month.

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 323

The Lake Crescent Region of Olympic was substantially less popular in October of 2015 than it was in 2014, seeing just 43,295 visitors. In 2014, the number was 61,205, and reflected last year’s popularity of the entire northern Olympic Peninsula. Backcountry camper numbers increased, but there appear to have been issues with front country campgrounds, so their numbers were taken out of all equations.  For the year, Lake Crescent has seen 993,410 visitors. That is down 13% compared to 2014, when this area was at 1,145,623.


 

The Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park
The Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Hoh

October 2015 Visitors: 6732

October 2014 Visitors: 6598

Percent Change: 2%

October 2015 Campers: 0

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 292

October of 2015 was an interesting time for the Hoh Rainforest. Despite the campground being closed due to elk activity, the ever-popular rainforest saw an increase in day use and backcountry camping permits. There was a 2% increase in visitation from October 2014, with 134 more people seeing the Hoh in the first 10 months of 2015 than in 2014. The Hoh is pretty consistent year in and out,but 2015 has been a good year. So far, the Hoh Region has seen 273,819 visitors, an increase of 32.8% compared with 2014.


 

Second Beach, Olympic National Park
Second Beach, Olympic National Park

LaPush/Mora

October 2015 Visitors: 19,922

October 2014 Visitors: 11,773

Percent Change: 69.2%

October 2015 Campers: 1,420

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 493

In October of 2015, it appears that the beach areas of Olympic were incredibly popular. The coastal sections along LaPush and Mora increased in popularity by over 69% compared with October of 2014. The stunning destinations of Second and Third Beaches saw 8,210 visitors on their trails in October, while Rialto Beach saw 10,946. For the year, these coastal sections of Olympic National Park are up 14.7% compared with 2014. So far in 2015, 324,416 visitors have flocked to the gorgeous beaches around LaPush. 2014 saw 282,907 through the first 10 months.


 

A stormy day at Ruby Beach in the Kalaloch Region of Olympic National Park
A stormy day at Ruby Beach in the Kalaloch Region of Olympic National Park

Kalaloch

October 2015 Visitors: 28,889

October 2014 Visitors:24,994

Percent Change: 15.6%

October 2015 Campers: 1,934

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 20

Continuing the trend of popular wilderness coastal destinations, the Kalaloch Region of Olympic National Park had a fantastic October. In the 10th month of 2015, 28,889 visited the beaches at Kalaloch, an increase of 15.6% compared with the same month in 2014. Tis is great news, as Kalaloch was having an off year for visitation. For the year, Kalaloch is now just 0.4% below the mark of 2014. In 10 months, Kalaloch has seen 503,946 visitors, just 2,045 less than in the same time period in 2014. Of the 28,889 that came to Kalaloch, 22,470 explored one or more trails.


 

The Dodger Point Bridge over the Elwha River in Olympic National Park
The Dodger Point Bridge over the Elwha River in Olympic National Park

Elwha

October 2015 Visitors: 1612

October 2014 Visitors: 3952

Percent Change: -59%

October 2015 Campers: 69

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 95

The Elwha Region is tough to get a good handle on when looking at visitation. So far, 2015 has given the Elwha quite a lot to handle. In October of 2015, the region had to deal with new trails, a washed out road to one of the more popular areas, construction on roads and even a dead man in the Olympic Hot Springs. Because of the records released by Olympic officials show a 59% decrease in visitation to the region. October 2015 had 1,612 visitors to the Elwha Region, far less than the 3,952 that came to the area in the same month of 2014. For the year, the mess of the Elwha has given the area a 31.4% decrease in popularity, seeing 128,588 people versus 187,450 in 2014.


 

Flips over mountains at Hurricane Ridge. Image via Mitch Zenobi
Flips over mountains at Hurricane Ridge. Image via Mitch Zenobi

Hurricane Ridge

October 2015 Visitors: 23,933

October 2014 Visitors: 16,549

Percent Change: 44.6%

October 2015 Campers: 212

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 216

Hurricane Ridge is always beautiful and always worth the trip, so it is no wonder why it continues to increase in popularity. October of 2015 saw 23,933 visitors, an increase of 44.6% compared with the 16,549 that came to the stunning Ridges of Hurricane in October of 2014. For the year, Hurricane Ridge has seen an increase in popularity of 6.5% compared to 2014. Through 10 months, Hurricane Ridge has received 405,996 visitors, 24,776 more than the same time period of 2014. Of the 23,933 that drove up to Hurricane Ridge, 20,344 of those visited the Olympic Park visitor center.


 

Looking North from the Ozette Triangle, Olympic National Park
Looking North from the Ozette Triangle, Olympic National Park

Ozette

October 2015 Visitors: 2,021

October 2014 Visitors: 1,612

Percent Change: 25.3%

October 2015 Campers: 156

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 747

Along the Pacific, even the isolated Ozette region of Olympic National Park has benefited from the increased love of the wilderness coast. The remote region, known mainly for the stunning Ozette Triangle hike has seen an increase of 25% in October of 2015 versus October of 2014. The 10th month of the year had Ozette see 2,021 visitors, a great change from the 1,612 that drove out that way in October of 2014. For the year, Ozette has seen an increase of 32.1%, with 77,822 recreation visitors exploring the incredible destination. Through 10 months in 2014, just 58,905 came to Ozette. In October of 2015, 747 people were issued backcountry permits, and for the year that number is a stunning 27,723, up 32% from 2014.


 

Pony Bridge, Quinault River, Olympic National Park
Pony Bridge, Quinault River, Olympic National Park

Quinault

October 2015 Visitors: 13,637

October 2014 Visitors: 13,299

Percent Change: 3.1

October 2015 Campers: 146

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 78

Quinault is often skipped over for the more popular Hoh Rainforest. Yet, 2015 has seen 4% increase of visitation compared with the first 10 months of 2014. So far, 204,792 visitors have explored the lush rainforests of the Quinault, nearly 8,000 more than the 196,875 that came during the same time in 2014. While only 78 backcountry permits were issued for the Quinault Region, 146 people camped at Graves Creek Campground. October of 2015 was a steady month for the Quinault Region, seeing an increase of 3.1% compared to the same month in 2014.


 

Olympic National Park's North Fork of the Skokomish River at Flood Stage
Olympic National Park’s North Fork of the Skokomish River at Flood Stage

Staircase and Hood Canal

October 2015 Visitors: 2,488

October 2014 Visitors: 2,714

Percent Change: -8.3

October 2015 Campers: 231

October 2015 Backcountry Permits: 117

As always, I end with the Staircase and Hood Canal region of Olympic National Park. Closest to Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, one would think this region would be incredibly popular. However,  in October of 2015, Staircase continued to be a mystery toward the majority who visit Olympic. The 10th month of 2015 saw just 2,488 visitors explore Staircase and Dosewallips, a 8.3% decrease compared with the 2,714 that visited the same region in 2014. While October kind of sucked for Staircase, 2015 has been a remarkably good year. Through the first 10 months, Staircase has seen an increase of popularity of 23.6%. Through October of 2015, Staircase has received 88,169 visitors, nearly 17,000 more than the 71,326 that came in the same time period for 2014. Amazingly, 231 campers stayed at campgrounds, while 117 explored with backcountry permits.

 

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