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Mount Rainier Tries Out New Backcountry Camping Permits Process in 2021

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Feb 18, 2021 11:59 AM |

Here's what you need to know start planning your summer adventures in Mount Rainier National Park and on the Wonderland Trail. The early access lottery starts March 2.

Big changes are coming to the permitting process for backpacking and climbing at Mount Rainier National Park. Permits for the Wonderland Trail, summiting the mountain, or staying in overnight sites will now be available online at

Why the Change?

While Mount Rainier National Park has offered advance reservations for wilderness camping and climbing for over twenty years, the 2021 shift to fully online reservations will allow visitors greater control over their itinerary and earlier notification of a confirmed trip.

Wonderland Trail adventurer crossing the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge - Austin MillerWonderland Trail adventurer crossing the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge. Photo by Austin Miller

The online system, which this year features an early access registration period with staggered registration windows, gives visitors a chance to secure the itinerary they want without having to submit their itinerary to park staff and wait for the park's review and approval. It also brings the reservation process for all permits to stay in the park onto one platform.

What's New

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your trip to Mount Rainier National Park in 2021:

  • Permit reservations are now made online at
  • A two-month lottery process for early reservations will be implemented before general permitting goes into effect. (Tip from the park: If you want to hike the Wonderland, consider applying to this lottery).
  • Reserving a trip costs $26 ($6 processing fee for; $20 for the online permit. The $20 is refundable if you can't make your reservation, but you need to cancel it through
  • Once open in late April, permits will be available — as long as there is supply — for the entire hiking season.
  • In order to offer the immediate reservation, some limitations have been implemented on If you can't secure the trip you want, call Mount Rainier staff to discuss after April 27.
  • Walk-up permits will be available again in 2021. A third of all permits will be held for walk-up visitors.
  • You can review site availability over the course of the summer, including walk-up availability. This lets you see what's available from home, and book from home, too, saving you a drive to the ranger station.

Why the Early Access lottery?

If you've ever attempted to win a permit in a lottery you've probably been frustrated if you weren't selected. However, the park hopes that this change will help strike the balance between the park's responsibilities of giving visitors the chance to enjoy their public lands and protecting the fragile resources within the bounds of the park. While more than 2,700 people per year request permits to hike the Wonderland, the wilderness can only accommodate 600 - 700 visitors over the course of the season.

The lottery also gives the park a step toward a more equitable distribution of permits. Wilderness District Ranger Daniel Van Der Elst of Mount Rainier National Park explained:

"We worried that a competitive free-for-all would result in a lot of frustrated customers and disadvantage people who couldn't log on the moment reservations opened, especially for Wonderland Trail itineraries where you have to find 5-12 campsites all in a row on consecutive dates. We want to maximize opportunities to create complete itineraries and keep access as fair as possible. This type of lottery is new to, so during this pilot we want to hear feedback about how we can improve it in the future."

Wonderland Trail sunset Indian Bar - photograph by Patrick HeraghtyThe park hopes the early access lottery will make planning the multi-camp destinations needed for Wonderland Trail permits easier. Photo: Sunset at Indian Bar along the Wonderland. Photo by Patrick Heraghty

Key Dates

March 2 - March 14
Apply for the randomized, early access lottery that will provide a chance to get your foot in the door earlier than general permitting. If selected, you'll then be able to book your trip in the early access period of March 22 through April 21.

March 22 - April 21
Early access period for lottery winners. Early Access Period users will be assigned a registration date and time to reserve their itinerary, but they can login beginning March 22 to view availability and plan their trip.

April 27 - September 28
General permitting. No appointment or ranger approval is needed during this period. If you book it, you've got a reservation!

May 28 - October 11
During the May 28 through October 11 window, park visitors can obtain walk-up permits by visiting a Wilderness Information Center at Mount Rainier National Park. One third of all permits will be reserved for walk-up reservations, which can be obtained up to 24 hours in advance of your visit.

For more information about other passes and permits in Washington State and where to obtain them check out our handy resource so you can plan ahead for all your spring trips.


drtlc on Mount Rainier Tries Out New Backcountry Camping Permits Process in 2021

I think there should be some priority for those of us who have been backpackers most of our lives and are now reaching our later years. I am 72 and have not been successful getting back into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness [last visited in 1975]...keep losing the lottery and taking a chance by showing up at the trailhead/ranger station is too problematic.

Posted by:

drtlc on Feb 18, 2021 09:23 PM