Trip Planning: Online Resources for Hikers and Backpackers
Before heading out, use this list of links to learn more about current trail conditions, passes & permits, local weather, and more.
These two websites are the best resources for information about hiking in Oregon and Washington. They both offer comprehensive guides to trails as well as recent trip reports.
- Oregon Hikers – the Field Guide section offers extensive info on trails based on areas in Oregon
- Washington Trails Association – use the Hike Finder and Trip Reports sections for current info on trails in Washington
Public Land Management Agencies
One of the most important sources of info about hiking and backpacking destinations are the rangers who manage the public lands we recreate in. Throughout the year, many trails experience changes due to storms or other conditions. To find out the current conditions for a specific area, contact a ranger station for information about trail or road closures, wildfires, or other conditions that may impact your trip. Do your research when planning a hike or backpacking trip by checking land manager websites 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
For a complete list of National Forest and National Park ranger stations in Oregon and Washington, view this post.
Passes may be required for day use and/or parking at trailheads, depending on the location. While some areas have pay stations for passes, many do not so it’s good to know before you go. Passes can be purchased online, at retailers, or at ranger stations.
- Northwest Forest Pass – Annual or day pass honored at all Forest Service operated recreation sites in Washington and Oregon where a day use fee is required. Check to see which trailheads and day use areas require the pass.
- Oregon State Park Pass – Of the hundreds of day-use parks in the Oregon state park system, 26 parks charge a day-use parking fee.
- Washington Discover Pass – A daily or annual pass required for access to Washington state parks and recreation lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- National Park Pass (America the Beautiful Pass) – Honored nationwide at National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation sites charging day-use or entrance fees. Note that the America the Beautiful Pass can also be used for the Northwest Forest Pass.
Permits are required for backcountry camping in many national forest, wilderness and national park locations. Each area has different regulations for backcountry camping, so it’s important to understand what they are when you are planning a trip.
Self-issued permits are the most common type, with self-registration boxes located at trailheads or at wilderness boundaries on the trail. Some areas have become so popular and overused that advance permits are required. It’s often possible to obtain these types of permits via walk-in registration the day of or before a trip, but others may require submitting an application. The most coveted areas may be permitted via a lottery system and can be quite difficult to obtain. Knowing which type of permit is required is a crucial part of the trip planning process.
Also determine where the permit should be displayed. 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 registering for permits:
- Central Cascades Wilderness Permits (Oregon) – required for day use and backcountry campsites
- Olympic National Park Wilderness Permits
- Mount St. Helens – Mount Margaret Backcountry Permits
- Mount Rainier National Park Wilderness Permits
- North Cascades National Park Backcountry Permits
Weather & Webcams
For weather forecasts, one of the most reliable sources is the National Weather Service website. For the most accurate forecast for your destination, click on the desired area directly on the map, or by entering latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. This method will take in account the elevation and specific conditions of the location. Forecasts are continually updated, with the most accurate info available a few days in advance, so keep checking to see if conditions have changed before leaving on a trip. It’s also a good idea to check the forecast for the nearest city. Sometimes these forecasts will be more accurate when researching more than a few days in advance.
If you are hiking along the coast, tides should be taken into consideration since some areas are accessible only at low tide. Check online sources, or pick up a printed tide table at locations along the coast, including state parks and ranger stations.
- NOAA Portland area forecast
- Oregon Coast Tide Tables
- Oregon Road Conditions and Webcams
- Washington Highway Webcams
- Washington Mountain Passes & Winter Travel
Wildfires & Air Quality
Wildfires are a common occurrence during the Pacific Northwest’s dry summers, and some years, they can impact vast areas not just with fire, but also with widespread smoke. New fires can start unexpectedly, especially during thunderstorms. Know what the current fire dangers are by checking with ranger stations. In addition, there are many online resources for tracking current wildfires and air quality.
- InciWeb – national wildfire information center
- AirNow interactive map
- Oregon Smoke Information
- Washington Air Quality
Portland area Hiking Groups
Looking for people to go hiking with? These organizations offer group hikes and backpacking trips.