Backcountry and Wilderness Permits Info
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.
Permitting by Park:
Mount Rainier National Park | North Cascades National Park | Olympic National Park | national forests | Enchantments | state lands
Backcountry & Wilderness Permits. If you plan to backpack in a national park or monument, you will need to secure a backcountry/wilderness permit. We've broken down the process for each national park but first here are some important dates to keep in mind.
- Mount Rainier National Park (and Wonderland Trail) wilderness permits (early-access lottery applications accepted between Feb 21 and Mar 7, 2023)
- North Cascades National Park backcountry permits (early-access lottery applications accepted starting Mar 6 through Mar 17, 2023)
- Olympic National Park Wilderness camping permits (reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance of the reservation date, on a rolling basis year-round)
HOw to reserve a Mount Rainier National Park Wilderness Camping permit
Backcountry permit reservations for Mount Rainier National Park can be made online through recreation.gov or in person. About two-thirds of all available permits are available online while one-third are held for in-person permitting. The early-access lottery, a part of the online process, will ensure the best chance of getting your desired reservation dates. To have the best chance at a complete Wonderland loop reservation, apply for the early-access lottery and complete the online process.
There are 2 phases to the online process:
- Early-Access Lottery: Apply to get an advantage in the reservation process. Being selected in the lottery does not reserve your desired trip; instead, you are assigned a priority date when you can try to book your reservation. Lottery applications are open Feb 21 - Mar 7, 2023. Lottery winners will be notified Mar 14, and will be assigned a booking date between Mar 21 and Apr 19.
- General Reservations: All other visitors who were not picked in the lottery can still reserve permits online at least 2 days before the start of their trip, but they have to wait until Apr 25, 2023 when all the remaining permits become available to the public.
Note: You must activate your permit reservation in person at a visitor center up to 24 hours before your trip starts.
- Visitors can walk into a visitor center to get a backcountry permit the day of or the day before their trip starts. To have the best chance of getting your desired trip or a complete Wonderland loop, use the online process.
How to reserve a North Cascades National Park Backcountry permit
Starting in 2022, the North Cascades National Park started only accepting reservation requests either online through the Recreation.gov system or in-person at the Wilderness Information Center on the day of or the day before the start of a trip. Sixty percent of all available permits will be reservable online while forty percent will be held for walk-up visitors. 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.
There are 2 phases to the online process:
- Early-Access Lottery: Apply to get an advantage in the reservation process. Being selected in the lottery does not reserve your desired trip — instead you are assigned a priority date when you can try to book your reservation. Lottery applications are open Mar 6 - Mar 17, 2023. Lottery winners will be notified Mar 24, and will be assigned a booking date between Mar 27 - Apr 25.
- General Reservations: All other visitors who were not picked in the lottery can still reserve permits online at least 2 days before the start of their trip, but they have to wait until May 1, 2023 when all the remaining permits become available to the public.
Note: You must activate your permit by either going in person to the Wilderness Information Center near Marblemount the day before your trip or the morning of your trip (before 11:00 a.m.). Or, if your trip is in an area without an open visitor center, you must email the ranger district the day before your trip.
- Starting May 19 - Oct 7, visitors can reserve a permit in person at the North Cascades Wilderness Information Center near Marblemount on the day before or day of their trip start date.
- For 2023, the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount will be the only visitor center in North Cascades National Park open to the public for in-person permitting.
HOw to reserve an olympic National Park Wilderness Camping permit
The summer camping reservation season at Olympic National Park is May 15 through Oct 15. Reservations for the season will be available on www.recreation.gov starting on Apr 15 at 7:00 a.m. PST.
For the 2023 season, there will be no walk-up permits available at any Wilderness Information Center (WIC).
Reservations to camp at many coastal and lower-elevation areas in Olympic National Park are available all year long. Reservations for high-elevation areas are limited to a shorter summer season. The camping reservation season for Seven Lakes Basin is Jul 15 - Oct 15. The camping reservation season for Glacier Meadows/Elk Lake, Grand Valley, Royal Basin, Lake Constance, Upper Lena Lake and Flapjack Lakes is Jun 15 - Oct 15. If you want to camp in these spots outside of the reservation window, you need to contact the Wilderness Information Center.
To build a multi-day itinerary at a popular location: Campsites are only available 6 months to the day when you are booking. To book the rest of your trip as campsites become available on the following days, log into your Recreation.gov account and access your reservations, then modify your permit to add dates to your reservation.
U.S. Forest Service Lands
Trailhead parking: To park at a USFS trailhead in Washington with developed facilities (toilet, picnic table, etc.) you must either display a Northwest Forest Pass that is separate from any applicable overnight permit.
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.
How to Apply for an Enchantments Permit
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 Oct 31.
Most (75 percent) of those permits are issued through an annual lottery, which you can apply for starting on Feb 15, 2023. If you win a permit in the lottery, then you need to confirm and pay for it between Mar 17 and Mar 31, 2023. The walk-up permit lottery at the Leavenworth Ranger Station will be suspended again for the 2023 season.
Apply for a permit Feb 15 - Mar 1, 2023
The 2023 Enchantment lottery will open on Feb 15, 2023 and end on Mar 1, 2023. 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.
Check the results, and confirm and pay for your permit Mar 17 - 31, 2023.
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 permit by Mar 31, 2023. 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.
- An alternate team leader must be designated on the lottery application. Alternates can't apply for their own separate permit in the same season.
- The party leader must carry photo ID and permit.
- Only one lottery application per person will be allowed (including serving as an alternate)
- 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.)