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Backpacking 101 - It all starts with choosing where to go

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Jul 01, 2007 05:00 PM |

Have you always wanted to go backpacking overnight, but have no idea how to start?

Well, all this week, I'll be posting ideas from "Backpacking 101," an article you'd find in its entirety in the July 2007 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Features such as this are supported by your membership. If you're not a member of WTA, please take a moment to become a member online. Thanks!


Happy BackpackerInformation is a critical part of an enjoyable and safe backpacking trip. It's a bummer to get to a trailhead all ready for your first trip, only to discover the trail is closed or still under snow. Read guidebooks. Browse WTA's Trail Guide of hike descriptions. Search WTA's trip reports to read what other hikers are encountering on a trail. Call ahead to the ranger station to find out if the trail you've chosen is open, and what permits and passes are required.

Many trails were damaged by storms and fires in the past year. Consult or call ahead to ranger stations to find out if a trail is currently accessible.

Many wilderness areas have regulations ranging from party size to limits on campfires and whether you can take your dog on a trail. Government websites are a good source for these regulations.

To park at most U.S. Forest Service trailheads you'll need a Northwest Forest Pass, which costs $30 for a full year and can be purchased at local ranger stations, most REI stores, or on WTA's website. National parks also charge admission, and offer an $80 annual pass good also for National Forest trailhead parking.

In addition, you may need to reserve backcountry camps (some areas of National Parks require this) and some places such as Olympic National Park charge a nightly fee for overnight backcountry camping. One of the best sources of information on trail conditions and permits are wilderness information centers. Centers at Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades National Parks have well-trained staff and can help you sort out regulations and permits and even provide hike suggestions. The Seattle REI store's Outdoor Recreation Information Center is another good resource: (206) 470-4060.

Photo by Gary Yngve.