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Backcountry and Wilderness Permits Info

Backcountry (or wilderness) permits, like those issued for backpacking in national parks or quota areas like the Enchantments, along the Wonderland Trail or Mount St. Helens Backcountry to help regulate foot traffic in fragile environments. Some of these permits are free, while others come with small fees. Use our guide to research what you need.

Why permits?

To protect the land & to protect unique experiences for All

Backcountry (or wilderness) permits, like those issued in national parks or quota areas like the Enchantments, serve a different purpose than parking passes or entry fees. Permits are a way of regulating the amount of foot traffic in fragile environments that can only handle so much use before they begin to erode. By limiting the number of visitors to an area, permits not only preserve the environment but also the experience of hikers themselves. This allows you to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature in relative solitude.

Some of these permits are free, while others come with small fees. Some are seasonal, and others are required year-round. The barriers posed by permits are, more often than not, that they can be confusing and difficult to secure.

These lands belong to all of us, and while they may not be a perfect solution, the combination of permits, lotteries, and a limited number of walk-up passes—goes a long way toward providing a fair allocation process and ensuring equal access to the opportunity. But in the end, they serve a valuable purpose.


National Parks

Backcountry & Wilderness Permits. If you plan to backpack in a National Park or monument, you will need to secure a backcountry/wilderness permit. Check individual park sites for information about how to get your permit. Dates to apply for permits vary by park. 

HOw to reserve an olympic National Park Wilderness Camping permit

In Olympic National Park, wilderness permit reservations can be made up to 6 months to the day in advance on a rolling basis. Reservations will become available at www.recreation.gov at 7 a.m. PST. For the 2021 season, there will be no walk up permits available at any Wilderness Information Center (WIC).

You can reserve and camp at many coastal and lower elevation areas in Olympic National Park all year long. But reservations for high elevation areas like the Seven Lakes Basin are limited to a shorter summer season (typically mid-July until mid-October). If you want to camp in these spots outside of the reservation window, you need to check with the Wilderness Information Center.

To build a multi-day itinerary at a popular location: campsites are only available 6 months to the day of when you are booking. To book the rest of your trip as campsites become available on the following days, log in into your Recreation.gov account and access your reservations, then modify your permit to add dates to your reservation.

How to apply for a North Cascades Backcountry permit

As of 2017 up to 60 percent of all backcountry permits for some popular areas in North Cascades National Parks will be available via the new online reservation process. Spontaneous planners will still be able to use the regular walk-up permit process. If you want to get in the running for one of the reserved permits, read up on the North Cascades Backcountry Reservation page and follow these basic steps.

Reservations can be made for the following areas:

  • Ross Lake (including the East Bank Trail)
  • Diablo Lake
  • Copper Ridge Area (including ridge camps and Chilliwack valley camps)
  • Cascade Pass (including Sahale Arm, Pelton Basin, Basin Creek, Johannesberg and Cottonwood)
  • Stehekin Area (Lakeview, Purple Point and Harelquin)
  • Climbing Areas (around Mount Shuksan, Forbidden and Sharkfin Peaks (including Boston Basin), Eldorado, and Mount Triumph)
1

Submit a reservation request

The North Cascades reservation lottery will be open from March 15 - March 31, 2021. Applying early doesn't give you preference for a reservation, just make sure to get your request in during this window.

Bookmark it: An application link should go live on the North Cascades National Park Permit Page.

It's a good idea to research where and when you'd like to go before you start the application process since making changes to an application may not be easy or even possible once you've submitted it. Check out the North Cascades Wilderness Trip Planner to get some insight, and browse past trip reports for a sense of the area and conditions to expect in low, regular and high-snow years. (Some trails and camps may remain snow-covered until July.)

Requests received after the initial reservation lottery window will be processed in the order received, after the priority batch has been processed.

You will be charged a non-refundable application cost-recovery fee. Fees for the 2021 season are still being determined. This fee will cover the cost of maintaining an online application process. Backcountry permits will remain free in the North Cascades.

2

Convert your reservation to a permit

Application processing will begin in early April, and may take up to four weeks to complete. If your reservation is accepted, you will receive an email confirmation with trip details and further instructions.

Your accepted reservation must be converted to a permit before you depart on your trip. Permits can be picked up at the closest ranger station and must be picked up by 11 a.m. on the trip start date, otherwise the reservation will be cancelled and made available to walk-ups.

If you don't win one of the lottery permits:

  • There's still hope! Forty percent of backcountry permits will be held for walk-ups only. Be sure to arrive at the ranger station early to snag a spot.
  • Day hike the North Cascades. Treat this season as a chance to gather intel about the area by day hiking it. Take a few hikes and get a feeling for where you might like to plan a trip in next year.

U.S. Forest Service Lands

Trailhead parking: USFS trailheads in Washington and Oregon with developed facilities (toilet, picnic table, etc.) charge a parking fee—this includes a majority trailheads in the Cascades and Olympics. A list of sites is here.

Wilderness camping permits: To backpack or overnight camp in some delicate or popular places, like the Enchantments in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest or the Mount Margaret backcountry camps at Mount St. Helens you will need to secure a wilderness permit.

Self-registered Wilderness permits: When you are hiking or backpacking into other Wilderness areas on National Forest land, you may see a kiosk to fill out a self-registered, free wilderness permit. Fill out the permit, and attach it to your pack.

the Enchantments permit lottery

Set on making the Enchantments your backpacking destination? Because of the area's popularity, all overnight visitors must obtain a permit if they want to camp in the Basin between May 15 and October 31.

Most (75 percent) of those permits are issued through an annual lottery, which you can apply for starting on February 15. If you win a permit in the lottery, then you need to confirm and pay for it between March 17 and March 31. The walk-up permit lottery at the Leavenworth Ranger Station will likely be suspended again for the 2021.

1

Apply for a permit Feb. 15-28

The 2021 Enchantment lottery will open on February 15, 2021 and end on March 1, 2021. Applying early doesn't give you preference for a permit, so just make sure to get your application in during this window.

  • Set up an account at www.recreation.gov. This can be done at any time (even right now). You can use the same account to reserve other permits or any of the campsites that use the National Recreation Reservation Service system.
  • Fill out an application at www.recreation.gov on the Enchantments Permit page. You'll be able to select your preferred zone to camp in (see map) (Core Enchantment, Snow Lake, Colchuck, Stuart Lake or Eightmile/Caroline) and the dates of your trip.

It's a good idea to research where and when you'd like to go before you start the application process since making changes to an application may not be easy or even possible once you've submitted it.

You will be charged a $6.00 non-refundable application fee. At this point, you will NOT have purchased a permit, but rather will have entered the lottery.

2

Check the results, and confirm and pay for your permit March 17-31.

The lottery results will be posted on recreation.gov, at which time applicants can log into their recreation.gov account and find out the results of their application. If you apply, set yourself a reminder to check back during this period; don't count on an email.

Did you confirm? If you score a permit, the next step is confirming and paying for your permits by March 31. You'll also be asked to provide additional information about party size (maximum of 8 people), the length of your stay, and pay for the permit. This is when you will be charged the $5.00/person/day fee. Once all your changes are in place, print and sign your permit once all the details to your trip are finalized.

Note: The application process saw some minor tweaks back in the 2017 season, so be sure to brush up on the complete process at recreation.gov before sending in your application.

  • There will no longer be alternate group leaders. The party leader must carry photo ID and permit.
  • Only one lottery application per person will be allowed
  • Every member of the group must carry a copy of the valid permit while on trail
  • Every member of the group must begin on the reserved start date, and camp with the party leader.

    More details and trip planning resources

    • Choosing a zone. More information about the application process, rules and advice about how to choose a zone can be found on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website and Recreation.gov Enchantments page.
    • Early or late permits. If you are looking at May or October, you need to be ready to navigate snow. May and June is still avalanche season in Washington, so plan a trip that matches your skills.
    • Improve your chances. The Forest Service also has this to say about improving your chances for a permit. "Bear in mind that the most popular time to go is August, and the most popular days to start a trip are Fridays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. If you really want to do a Friday-Sunday trip in mid-August, by all means apply for that trip, but remember that you’re odds of getting a permit will be less than if you tried for a Monday-Wednesday trip in July."
    • Group size. If you are coordinating with friends or family, remember that group size is limited to a maximum of 8 people, and that you will need to all camp in the same location.
    • Dogs are not allowed. Note: If you usually hike with a dog, you will also need to arrange to leave them at home as part of your plans. Dogs are not allowed anywhere in the Enchantments Basin.
    • More resources. This second half of this page has good information for planning your trip, including information about the zones, what to expect, fire restrictions and more.
    • Mountain goats. Depending on where you go, you might encounter mountain goats on trail or in camp. Know what to do if you encounter mountain goats.

    Washington State Public Lands

    While there are fewer opportunities to backpack on state lands (and a Discover Pass for entry or parking is usually all that is required), there are a few spots where you might need a special backcountry permit.

    In Wallace Falls State Park, there are two lakes — Wallace Lake and Jay Lake — where backcountry camping is allowed, with overnight permits. Please call the park office to acquire a permit prior to arrival at 360-793-0420. (There is a maximum of 5 persons per campsite.)