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Mount Rainier Moves to Online Permit Reservations

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Jan 23, 2017 03:10 PM |

Mount Rainier National Park has announced a new reservation system for 2017. Reservations will be completed online, and open on March 15.

Mount Rainier National Park has announced a new permit process for 2017. Users will now be able to request wilderness camping and climbing permits online. In 2016, a storm knocked out the park’s aging system and permits were issued on a walk-up basis.

By using reservations to allocate the limited number of backcountry camps, the park protects the quality of hiker experiences as well as fragile ecosystems from overuse. The permits are for sites along the extremely popular Wonderland Trail, as well as other backcountry camps in the park. Day hiking does not require a permit.

Summerland backcountry camp
View from a Summerland backcountry camp by Nicette Quintero.

Make your reservations requests online March 15-31

Reservation requests will open at 9 a.m. on March 15 on the park’s Wilderness Permit web page. All advance permit requests must be submitted online. (A third of permits will remain available as first-come, first-served walk-up permits.)

  • Requests received between March 15 and March 31 will be processed in random order beginning on April 1.
  • All requests received on or after April 1 will be processed in the order received, after March requests are processed.
  • Applicants will receive an email confirming the reservation request within one business day.
  • Once park staff review requests, applicants will be updated via email whether they received a permit.
  • Those who receive permits will get instructions to pay online.

Here's the deal for Wonderland Trail hikers

Only one request for a full-circuit of the Wonderland will be accepted per email address, although hikers can submit several trip alternatives. If more than one full-circuit Wonderland request comes from the same email address, staff will only review the first request received.

As you plan your itinerary, it's important to remember that winter snows and storm damage can impact which campsites will be available. That is especially true for early season itineraries. Be sure to check the latest from the park before submitting your request starting March 15.

A great resource for planning your trip is Tami Asar's book "Hiking the Wonderland Trail."

The online system a work in progress

The temporary system for this year won’t include all of the features the park ultimately hopes to include, but it will save rangers from the work of sorting through mailed and faxed requests. It also meets new Department of the Interior security requirements. The system is actually a hybrid system. Backpackers will submit their permit requests online, but rangers will use the old system to process the requests. The old system, which crashed in 2016, was eventually saved and put on a new server by a graduate student from the University of Washington's Information School.

Ultimately, park officials plan to replace the system with a permanent, more robust one. Some of the work for this new system was started by a group of undergrad students from the iSchool.

The students created a prototype for the park’s system in mid-2016. Since then, the park has been working on the system. Park officials are working to secure a contract to create a working system, but don't yet know precisely when that will happen.

In addition to complying with security requirements, park officials hope the new, permanent system will offer a better experience for users and for park rangers who have to manage reservation requests. Ultimately, it will show users real-time availability of sites while requesting reservations.

Feedback welcome, says the park

Park officials appreciated visitors’ patience last year when permit reservations were unavailable, said Lindsey Kurnath, administration and business management chief for the park.

“The park just wants to say thank you to everyone for that,” she said. “We are doing what we can to improve the system. We ask for patience again.”

The park would also like to hear what works well and what doesn’t this year, Kurnath said.

“Constructive criticism would be really helpful,” she said.

Further details and updates will be posted the park’s website.

Key dates for other permits

  • Mount St. Helens: Permits open for sale at 9 a.m. Feb. 1. Get more info.
  • The Enchantments: The permit lottery will open Feb. 15. All permits submitted Feb. 15 through March 2 will be processed randomly. Get more info.