Guide to Backcountry Permits for Oregon & Washington

When you are considering a backpacking destination, you’ll need to know whether permits are required for backcountry camping and how to obtain them. This guide includes info and dates for areas in Oregon and Washington that require advance permits.

trip planning ranger station

Types of Permits

Permits are required for backcountry camping in many national forest, wilderness and national park locations. Knowing which type of permit is required is a crucial part of the trip planning process.

Self-issued permits are the most common type, with registration boxes located at trailheads or at wilderness boundaries on the trail. These are typically free and all you need to do is fill out the permit. There will often be two parts: one to leave in the registration box, and one to take with you. Be sure to have it on hand for checking by a ranger on patrol.

Advance permits: Due to heavy usage, some areas and national parks require registering in advance for permits. The most coveted areas may be permitted via a lottery system and can be difficult to obtain. Learn how to apply for an advance permit in this guide.

Walk-up permits: some areas offer a portion of backcountry campsites for walk-in registration, often the day of or the day before a trip.

self-issued permit

filling out a self-issued permit

Number of people per permit: An important point to keep in mind is that permits often provide access for 6-12 people per permit. However, it would be very difficult to fit more than 2-3 tents in most designated campsites. And it’s not uncommon for group camps to have a total capacity for about four tents. In my experience, I recommend getting a permit for no more than three tents per permit. Just because you can get a permit for a certain number of people doesn’t mean there will be room for them in the designated campsite.

Where to display the permit:  Self-issued permits filled out at trailheads (common in national forests and wilderness areas) are for hikers as well as backpackers and should be carried with you at all times. Permits that require online or in person registration are often required to be displayed on the outside of your tent so it can be checked by rangers on patrol in the backcountry.

Areas in Oregon and Washington that require advance permits

For each of these areas, view information on the types of permits required as well as important dates for obtaining them.

Central Cascades (Oregon)

Mount Jefferson Wilderness - Hunts Cove backpacking trip

campsite in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness

Areas covered: all overnight stays in the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Three Sisters Wilderness areas

  • Fees: $6 per permit (1-12 people per group)
  • Note: Permits are based on daily quotas for trailhead entry, not specific camp areas

Dates for 2024

  • June 15 – Oct. 15: season for required overnight permits
  • April 2: permits are released for approximately 40% of available quota space at each trailhead
  • 7 days prior to the start of a trip: approximately 60% of available permits are released in a 7-day rolling window

Learn More

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

sunrise at Silesia Camp

There are three ways to reserve backcountry campsites in the North Cascades:

  • Early-Access Lottery: Apply for the lottery between the time frame listed below. If you are successful, you will be awarded a timeslot to make a reservation. Lottery winners are allowed to make just one reservation from the beginning of the timeslot until the end of the lottery period.
  • General On-Sale: After the lottery, the remainder of reservable sites will be open for reservations during the General On-Sale. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before the trip start date.
  • Walk-up Permits: If you are unable to make a reservation, approximately 40% of sites can be reserved through walk-up permits the day of or day before a trip begins.
  • Fees: All reservations and walk-up permits cost $10 per person plus a non-refundable $6 transaction fee.
  • High demand areas: Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm, Copper Ridge, and Ross Lake.
  • Note: Your reservation is not a permit. Permits must picked up by 11 am on the first day of your trip or they will be cancelled.

Dates for 2024

  • May 17 – Oct. 12: season for required overnight permits
  • March 4 – March 15: Early-Access Lottery applications are accepted anytime between these dates
  • March 22: Early-Access applicants are notified of results and, if successful, their time slots
  • March 25 – April 23: Early-Access reservations can be made during or after the awarded time slots
  • April 29: General On-Sale period for reservations opens at 7 am Pacific Time

Learn More

Olympic National Park

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

campsite on the High Divide loop

All Wilderness backpacking permits must be obtained in advance by self-booking online, calling the Wilderness Information Center, or visiting the Wilderness Information Center in-person.

  • High demand areas: High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin, Grand Valley, Royal Basin, Cape Alava, Upper Lena Lake, Glacier Meadows/Elk Lake, Flapjack Lakes, and Lake Constance.
  • Fees: $6 reservation fee plus $8 per person per night for adults 16 and older (youth 15 and under are free); Annual Olympic National Park Wilderness Pass – free for pass holder only.
  • Bear canisters are required in some camp areas and are available for loan on a first-come, first-served basis.

Dates for 2024

  • July 15 – Oct. 15: season for Seven Lakes Basin/High Divide, Glacier Meadows/Elk Lake, Flapjack Lakes, and Lake Constance
  • July 1 – Oct. 15: season dates for Grand Valley, Royal Basin, and Upper Lena Lake
  • May 15 – Oct. 15: season for other areas
  • April 15: permits are released for advance registration

Learn More

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier – Upper Palisades Lake backpacking trip

campsite at Upper Palisades Lake

There are three ways to reserve backcountry campsites in Mount Rainier National Park:

  • Early-Access Lottery: Apply for the lottery between the time frame listed below. If you are successful, you will be awarded a timeslot to make a reservation. Lottery winners are allowed to make just one reservation from the beginning of the timeslot until the end of the lottery period.
  • General On-Sale: After the lottery, the remainder of reservable sites will be open for reservations during the General On-Sale.
  • Walk-up Permits: If you are unable to make a reservation, a limited number of sites can be reserved through walk-up permits the day of or day before a trip begins.
  • Fees: $26 per permit
  • Group size: Individual campsites are available for groups of 1-5 people, with space for up to 3 tents in most sites. Group sites must be reserved for groups of 6 or more people.

Dates for 2024

  • May 26 – Oct. 5: season for required overnight permits
  • Feb. 12 – March 4: Early-Access Lottery applications are accepted anytime between these dates
  • March 14: Early-Access applicants are notified of results and, if successful, their time slots
  • March 21 – April 19: Early-access lottery reservation period
  • April 28: General On-Sale reservations open

Learn More

Mount St. Helens – Mount Margaret Backcountry

Mount St. Helens Ridge Camp backpacking trip

Area above Ridge Camp

Permits are released in one month increments on the first day of the preceding month at 7am Pacific Time. Note that permits for this area are highly sought after and sell out within minutes of release.

  • Group size: Camping is limited to 8 designated sites, with one permit issued per site per night (except Ridge Camp, which allows for 2 permits per night). Group size is limited to 4 persons per group, or up to 8 persons total at Ridge Camp.
  • Fees: $6 reservation fee per permit plus $7 per person per night

Dates for 2024

  • May 1 – Nov. 30: season for required overnight permits
  • April 1: Permits for May 1-31 released
  • May 1: Permits for June 1-30 released
  • June 1: Permits for July 1-31 released
  • July 1: Permits for Aug. 1-31 released
  • August 1: Permits for Sept. 1-30 released
  • Sept. 1: Permits for Oct. 1-31 released
  • Oct. 1: Permits for Nov. 1-30 released

Learn More

The Enchantments – Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Enchantments - Colchuck Lake backpacking trip

permit displayed on tent at Colchuck Lake

The Enchantments are likely the most sought-after in the Pacific Northwest. Due to this, it can be difficult to obtain overnight permits. Since permits are not required for day use, this area is often extremely crowded.

  • There are three ways to obtain permits for the Enchantments:
    • Apply during the annual advanced permit lottery.
    • General On-Sale reservations
    • Walk-up permits: the system for walk-ups will be changing for 2024
  • Fees: $6 reservation fee plus $5 per person per night
  • Zones: Permits allow the permit holder and their group to camp overnight in one of the five zones: Core Enchantment; Snow Lake; Colchuck Lake; Stuart Lake; Eightmile/Caroline.

Dates for 2024

  • May 15 – Oct. 15: season for required overnight permits
  • Feb. 15-29: Lottery applications are accepted
  • March 7: Applications randomly drawn
  • March 14-31: Confirmation period for lottery applicants
  • April 1: Unclaimed permits will be returned to the reservation system

Learn More

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