National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and National Parks in Oregon & Washington
One of the most important sources of info about hiking and backpacking destinations are the rangers who manage the public lands we recreate in.
I’m always happy to run into a ranger when I’m out in the backcountry. Park rangers are the people we turn to when we need a pass or permit, info about current conditions, or assistance in a backcountry emergency. Don’t be shy about calling them to answer questions you have. They may be more up-to-date on current conditions and able to provide info not found online. Ultimately, if you are well informed before you head out on a trip, you are less likely to need their assistance once out in the backcountry.
Do your research when planning a hike or backpacking trip by checking land manager websites (see below for a comprehensive listing with links) for any of the following info:
- current conditions for roads and trails
- regulations for passes, permits, campsites, food storage, group size, and campfires
- alerts and warnings for wildfires, closures, and restrictions
National forests represent the largest areas for hiking and backpacking in Oregon and Washington. There are twelve national forests in Oregon, and five in Washington. Ranger stations typically cover specific segments of the forest and are listed on each forest’s web page.
National forests in Oregon:
- Deschutes National Forest
- Fremont-Winema National Forest
- Klamath National Forest
- Malheur National Forest
- Mount Hood National Forest
- Ochoco National Forest
- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
- Siuslaw National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
- Umpqua National Forest
- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
- Willamette National Forest
National forests in Washington:
- Colville National Forest
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
- Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
- Olympic National Forest
National Forests Interactive Map
This interactive map is a useful tool for research on trails, roads and campgrounds within national forests. Click on the icons for trailheads, campgrounds or sno-parks, or you can click on the numbers representing roads and trails.
Useful information for hiking includes whether or not the trail is open, trail names (with links to info about each), typical trail grade, and the type of road and conditions for driving to the trailhead.
Wilderness areas are usually located within national forests and are protected with regulations that differ from location to location. These regulations cover everything from permits and group size, to whether or not campfires are allowed, as well as restrictions on campsite locations. This information is also listed on the self-issued permit you fill out at a trailhead. Note that only non-motorized access is allowed within wilderness areas. Anything with wheels (including bicycles) are not allowed, and drones are forbidden from operating within a wilderness area.
Popular wilderness areas in Oregon and Washington include the following:
- Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Central Washington Cascades)
- Eagle Cap Wilderness (Eastern Oregon Wallowa Mountains)
- Glacier Peak Wilderness (Northern Washington Cascades)
- Goat Rocks Wilderness (Southern Washington Cascades)
- Indian Heaven Wilderness (Southern Washington Cascades)
- Mount Adams Wilderness (Southern Washington Cascades)
- Mount Baker Wilderness (Northern Washington Cascades)
- Mount Hood Wilderness (Northern Oregon Cascades)
- Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Central Oregon Cascades)
- Three Sisters Wilderness (Central Oregon Cascades)
Explore wilderness areas using this interactive map:
National parks are another popular choice for hiking and backpacking. While we tend to think of national parks as crowded places full of tourists, (especially Mount Rainier and Crater Lake), it’s still possible to spend time away from the crowds. Contact the park rangers and ask them for tips on where to go for more solitude. You’ll need a permit for most backcountry campsites, and many locations require the use of bear canisters for food storage. Bear boxes and bear wires are also commonly used in national parks. Check to see which method is required. Bear canisters are often available for rental at ranger stations. Also note that dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks.
The websites for each location include wilderness planning tools, maps that show trails and designated campsites, as well as info on current conditions.