Although they cover a mere 6% of the earth’s surface, rainforests are home to more than half of the world’s plant and animal species, not to mention the unique, fairy-tale-like quality of actually wandering through one. Towering trees whose trunks are overgrown in moss and fern-strewn forest floors couple with cool, humid air to make you feel like your very soul is under a magic spell… and fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to travel too far to find one.
Although tropical rainforests like Puerto Rico’s El Yunque may get a lot of press, the truth is, there are rainforests here in the continental USA, too — and not just one. Read on to learn all about these unique ecosystems, and where you might have to venture to find one. It’s not necessarily as far as you may imagine!
Are There Tropical Rainforests in the USA?
Before we dive into the list of which rainforests to see, let’s start with a definition. What is a rainforest, anyway? What’s the difference between a tropical rainforest and a temperate one?
A rainforest is a tree-dense stretch of land that sees more than 80 inches of rainfall each year on average. And as mentioned above, although they cover a shockingly small portion of the Earth’s surface overall, they’re nevertheless responsible for an outsized portion of its biodiversity.
Home to both small animals, like frogs and salamanders, as well as larger fauna like deer and bear, rainforests come in a number of different varieties, including both hot, tropical rainforests (like the Yunque, mentioned above) and cool, temperate rainforests (like those along the northwestern coast of America).
Although it’s not technically in one of the states, as it turns out, there is a tropical rainforest in America. Not sure which one? Well, it’s the one we’ve already mentioned: El Yunque! El Yunque is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S., which means Puerto Ricans are considered American citizens in most respects.
But barring an island vacation, where are the rainforests you can get to by the U.S. road system?
Glad you asked. Here’s where to head.
Rainforests in the USA
Sure, there’s tropical rainforest to explore in Central America… but you don’t have to venture south of the border to experience this unique type of landscape and climate!
Here are some US rainforests to add to your travel map.
1. Tongass National Forest, Alaska
By far the largest rainforest in the USA, Tongrass covers a shocking 16.9 million acres — giving it the simultaneous superlative of being the largest national forest of any type. It’s comprised largely of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar, tucked into the famed “Inside Passage” of Alaska that also includes Glacier Bay National Park.
Accounting for a significant portion of the old-growth temperate rainforest left on earth, almost 6 million acres of this forest is a protected wilderness, since it’s home to a wide variety of plant and animal life including grizzly bears, river otters, moose, harbor seals, and wolves. Its waterways spawn multiplicities of salmon types, including pink, sockeye, coho, and king.
Although Alaska is a hike from pretty much anywhere in the continental U.S., Tongass is a fairly easy forest to access: it’s in the southeastern part of the state, and even the capital city of Juneau falls within its bounds.
North American Rainforests
Here are a few more North American rainforests to add to your to-travel list.
2. Appalachian Temperate Rainforest
Think you have to venture west of the Mississippi — or all the way to Alaska — to experience a temperate rainforest? Think again. The southeastern United States is home to one of these unique ecosystems, covering about 135,000 square miles of Virginia, western North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, northern Georgia, and Eastern Tennessee. The types of trees you’ll encounter vary based on what elevation you’re at: you’ll find fir at high elevation, spruce at middle elevations, and mixed forests the closer you get to sea level.
Seeing more than 60 inches of rain per year and temperatures hovering between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, this landscape is home to more than 30 species of salamander and two species of turtles, along with the mammals you’d expect to find like deer and black bear. Accessible wildernesses that are encompassed by this ecosystem include the Nantahala National Forest, the Cherokee National Forest, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the Appalachian Trail.
Temperate Rainforests in the USA
The northwestern U.S. is home to one of the largest collections of temperate rainforests remaining in the world, though they’re separated into a variety of smaller, distinct wildernesses.
3. Hoh Rainforest, Washington
From exploring the streets of Seattle to hopping onto a skiff for some whale-watching fun, there are all sorts of compelling reasons to visit western Washington — and if the Hoh Rainforest isn’t on your list of must-sees while you’re in the area, suffice to say it should be.
One of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S., the Hoh Rainforest is tucked away in the west-central part of Olympic National Park, a stunning 1,400-square-mile wilderness that includes both towering alpine peaks and pebble-strewn Pacific beaches. The Hoh itself is only one small part of the park, but a popular one… and Twilight fans will appreciate that the last town for fuel and supplies before you enter the wilderness is none other than the famous Forks. The Sitka spruce and western hemlock can grow up to a whopping 300 feet in height, and the forest is also home to other types of trees including Douglas fir, western redcedar, bigleaf maple, red alder, vine maple, and black cottonwood.
During your visit, you might encounter Pacific tree frogs, northern spotted owls, raccoons, and even bobcats, cougars, and black bears, so be sure to properly store your food if you’re camping. You’ll also likely get, well, rained on, so be sure you’ve got your best raincoat and an umbrella!
4. Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
Although much of the rainforest ecosystem in Oregon and Washington has unfortunately been destroyed by deforestation and other human-caused destruction, the Mount Hood Wilderness in Oregon is still home to some temperate rainforest, as well as a variety of other types of geological features including glaciers, rocky ridges, and, of course, the volcano for which the wilderness is named. The forest covers over 67,000 acres, and is a popular destination for all sorts of outdoor adventurers, who are eager to tackle the peak itself as well as other, more moderate hiking opportunities offered along its slopes.
The rainforest part of the Mount Hood Wilderness is mostly found at the lower elevations that surround the mountain, and offer great opportunities for camping and enjoying forest strolls. And, of course, this wilderness is very close to the metropolitan destination of Portland, which is a city that deftly combines urban activities with access to outdoor adventures.
As you can see, there are a variety of temperate rainforests to visit in the United States, even if you don’t want to get on an airplane to do it. And given the rainforests’ tendency toward unpredictable weather, it’s the perfect opportunity to upgrade your normal tent camping habit to an RV trip.
For one thing, you don’t have to worry about waking up to a soggy tent bottom when you have a solid roof over your head… and we have to say, in the cool, eveningtide temperatures, having climate control is nice, too. And when you rent through RVshare, you’ll get the best prices on the coziest vehicles, giving you the opportunity to experience the RV life the way it’s really meant to be — that is, not in a dull, factory-fresh Class A or Class C like you’d find at one of the major nationwide rental agencies.
When you rent through RVshare, you’re putting money directly back into the hands of the camping community, and also unlocking your part in the community as a whole. Many of our renters and rentees report having found lasting friendships through their rentals… and hey, it makes sense. You share at least one important thing in common, after all: a love of travel.
Enjoy your trip — and stay dry!
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