Lonely Planet Writer

Oregon may limit visitor numbers at popular outdoor sites to protect environment

Oregon is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream – the Pacific Northwest state is home to snow-capped mountains, thick evergreen forests, and sandy beaches. Now, in order to protect some of the state’s popular outdoor recreation areas, the US Forest Service is mulling changes that would limit visitor numbers to the sites.

Morning light on red elderberry bushes with fog rising on Sparks Lake below South Sister in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon.
Visitor numbers may become limited in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. Image by Steve Terrill/Getty Images

Deschutes and Willamette National Forests have started looking at ways to manage the increasing number of visitors to the forests – and the resulting impact on the natural environment. The national forests manage five wilderness areas that would be impacted by any new rules, including the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wildernesses.

Proposed are potential changes like introducing a permit system for overnight camping and creating a limited number of entry permits at popular spots for day-time users. The prices could range from $6 to $12, according to local media reports.

Lower Proxy Falls, Cascade Range, Oregon
The Lower Proxy Falls in Willamette National Forest. Image by George Lepp/Getty Images

The aims of the proposal are twofold: to maintain the wilderness and reduce the human impact on soil, wildlife and water, and also continue to “provide opportunities for visitors to experience solitude and unconfined recreation in these wildernesses”, according to a statement from the Forest Service. The organization has asked for public feedback in order to come up with a plan, but the initial focus will be reducing the number of visitors at critical areas and creating more awareness among potential visitors.

And while these won’t be the first places in the state to bring in fees for users, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities on offer for travellers in Oregon, like seeing the amazing colours of John Day Fossil Beds, visiting the Alvord Desert, or dipping a toe in Crater Lake.