Passes, permits and the protected experience
Passes and permits are a reality of hiking in Washington, and though they serve two different purposes, in the end they both attempt to ensure a quality experience when hiking and recreating in the outdoors.
Below, we list all of the various recreation passes for national parks, forests and state lands -- from the Northwest Forest Pass to the Washington's Discover Pass. Information for specific trailheads can be found on individual hike entries in our Hiking Guide.
Funding for public lands has dwindled in recent decades, and passes, like the Discover Pass and Northwest Forest Pass, are one way land managers try to make up some of the difference. But you may wonder: Where does the money go?
At first glance, it may not seem like fees are necessary to enjoy Washington’s parks and forests—much of the work done on trails and campgrounds is invisible. But your pass funds employ backcountry rangers and trail crews. They empty the garbage at trailheads and campsites, build new bridges and clear trails. They replace vandalized signs and improve signs worn illegible by time. In short, they help get you where you’d like to go.
Passes, while a critical part of funding, aren’t perfect. They can pose barriers. That’s why many trailheads don’t require them and why most land management agencies offer fee-free days.
Backcountry (or wilderness) permits, like those issued in national parks or quota areas like the Enchantments, serve a different purpose. 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—without being overrun with crowds.
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. But in the end, they serve a valuable purpose.
- Entrance fee: $30/car, $15/person walk-in or bike-in, $25/motorcycle. Charged at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. Good for seven days. There are no fees to enter North Cascades National Park. (You can purchase these at park entrances, or online. If you get a pass online, please print your pass and be prepared to show your hard copy pass at park entrance stations.)
- Annual pass: $55. Provides entrance for a year to either Olympic or Mount Rainier National Park. This pass is only good at the park where it was purchased.
- America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass: $80. Also called the America the Beautiful pass. Provides entrance to any national park, Forest Service or other federal site charging fees for one year. Purchase at the park or online - details are here.
- Interagency Senior Pass: $20 for an annual pass, $80 for a lifetime pass. Four annual senior passes can be traded in for a lifetime senior pass at no charge. The lifetime pass that is honored nationwide at any federal site charging entrance fees. Check out the details here.
- Annual Pass - Military: Free. The Military Pass provides free access to federal land for all active military personnel and their dependents. Details.
- Interagency Access Pass: Free. Those with permanent disabilities may be eligible for a lifetime pass that is honored nationwide. Details.
- Wilderness Permits. If you plan to backpack in a National Park or monument, you will likely need to secure a wilderness permit. Check individual park sites for information about how to get your permit.
All USFS trailheads in Washington and Oregon with developed facilities (toilet, picnic table, etc.) charge a user fee - this includes most trailheads in the Cascades and Olympics. A list of sites is here.
- National Forest Recreation Day Pass and ePass: $5/car. Allows you to park at trailheads for one day. You can purchase several day passes ahead of time and write the dates on them as you use them. The pass is available at National Forest offices and visitor centers, via or online. You can also buy the day pass (called an ePass) online and print it at home. Note that WTA and some other vendors listed do not carry day passes.
- Northwest Forest Pass: $30. An annual pass honored at all Forest Service day-use or entrance fee sites in Washington and Oregon. The pass is available at National Forest offices and visitor centers and via private vendors or online.
- America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass: $80. This pass provides entrance to all Forest Service, national park and other federal site charging fees for one year. Purchase at a National Forest office or online - details are here.
- Interagency Senior Pass: $20 for an annual pass, $80 for a lifetime pass. This is a lifetime pass that is honored nationwide at any federal site charging entrance fees. Check out the details here.
- Mount St. Helens National Monument: Mount St. Helens, managed by the USFS, charges on a per-person fee basis. Entry to the Coldwater or Johnson Ridge sites are $8 per person for those 16 and older (free for kids). They will honor Interagency Annual and Senior passes for named pass-holders, and a Northwest Forest Pass will gain entry for one person. .
- Wilderness 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.
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE LANDS
Many of Washington's National Wildlife Refuges -- including Nisqually, Dungeness and Ridgefield NWRs -- require a recreation pass as well. Where applicable, the fee is usually $3 per family ($15 annually), payable at the visitor center or trailhead. They also accept the Interagency Annual, Access and Senior passes, as well as the Federal Duck Stamp pass.
The Discover Pass is required to park at Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources lands and Department of Fish and Wildlife trailheads. More than 7 million acres of Washington state-managed recreation lands are covered –- including campgrounds, parks, wildlife areas, trails, natural areas, wilderness areas and water access points. For details about the pass, see the state's Discover Pass website. You can also borrow Discover Passes through your local library.
- Discover Pass Day Pass: $10/car. Allows visitors to park at state recreation lands for one day.
- Discover Pass Annual Pass: $30. Allows visitors to park on state recreation lands for one year from issue. Hikers can purchase the Discover Pass at state parks, when renewing car tabs, online through Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s automated system and in person at the 600 retail locations that currently sell hunting and fishing licenses. If using a retail outlet or the online service, passes will be subject to a $5 upcharge. Day passes have a $1.50 upcharge. Staffed state parks and unstaffed payment stations sell the Discover Pass at face-value. The Discover Pass transferable between two cars.
- Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Use Permit/Vehicle Access Pass (VAP). Previously available for purchase, the complimentary VAP is provided to those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses. This pass only provides access to WDFW lands.
- Washington State Parks Car Tab renewal donation. We encourage you to continue to donate $5 to State Parks when renewing your annual vehicle license tabs. However, this is not the same as the Discover Pass.
Washington's Sno-Park Permits allow you to park at plowed lots accessible to groomed and backcountry trails. You can find your nearest non-motorized Sno-Park, or you can snowshoe or ski on the .
- Day Permits: $20/day. Day Permits are valid at any Sno-Park location, including Special Groomed Trail locations,* until midnight of the purchase date.
- Seasonal Permits: $40/season. Seasonal Permits are valid at all Sno-Park locations EXCEPT those designated as Special Groomed Trail locations. If you know you'll be going out two or more times, buy the Seasonal Permit.
- Special Groomed Trails Permits: $40/season add-on. This optional add-on to the Seasonal Permit allows you to park at Cabin Creek, Chiwawa, Crystal Springs, Hyak, Lake Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Mount Spokane and Nason Ridge where trails are groomed for cross-country skiers.