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Backcountry Permit Reservation System Coming to North Cascades National Park

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Feb 25, 2017 06:00 PM |
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Due to increased use, a reservation system for backcountry permits will be in place for the 2017 season on several popular hikes in the North Cascades National Park.

Day hiking Cascade Pass does not require a backcountry permit, but hikers hoping to score the much-sought-after camp at Sahale Arm do need a permit. Photo by Sammy Davis.

As demand for backcountry camping opportunities continues to climb, North Cascades National Park is piloting a new reservation system for the 2017 season. Wilderness (or backcountry) camp permit reservations for a number of popular areas will be able to be completed online, and reservation requests open on March 15.

Up to 60 percent of all backcountry permits for the included areas will only be available via the new online reservation process.

The park says one of the goals of the advanced reservation pilot program is to reduce stress and accommodate those who like to plan ahead. Spontaneous planners will still be able to use the regular walk-up permit process. Visitor feedback during the 2017 pilot will be a factor in whether the system expands to include more areas in the future.

Mount Rainier National Park will also be accepting permit requests online this year.

Reservations can be made for the following areas:

  • Ross Lake (including the East Bank Trail)
  • Diablo Lake
  • Copper Ridge Area (including ridge camps and Chilliwack valley camps)
  • Cascade Pass (including Sahale Arm, Pelton Basin, Basin Creek, Johannesberg and Cottonwood)
  • Stehekin Area (Lakeview, Purple Point and Harelquin)
  • Climbing Areas (around Mount Shuksan, Forbidden and Sharkfin Peaks (including Boston Basin), Eldorado, and Mount Triumph)

How to apply for a North Cascades permit

If you want to get in the running for one of the reserved permits, read up on the North Cascades Backcountry Reservation page and follow these basic steps. First you apply between March 15 and March 31 for priority placement. If you get a reservation, then you need to convert your reservation to a permit.

Step 1. Submit a reservation request March 15-31

The 2017 reservation lottery will open on March 15, 2017 and end on March 31, 2017. (Applying early doesn't give you preference for a reservation, just make sure to get your request in during this window.)

Bookmark it: An application link will go live on the North Cascades National Park Permit Page on March 15.

It's a good idea to research where and when you'd like to go before you start the application process since making changes to an application may not be easy or even possible once you've submitted it. Check out the North Cascades Wilderness Trip Planner to get some insight, and browse past trip reports for a sense of the area and conditions to expect in low, regular and high-snow years. (Some trails and camps may remain snow-covered until July.)

Requests received after April 1 will be processed in the order received, after the priority batch has been processed.

You will be charged a $20.00 non-refundable application cost-recovery fee. This fee will cover the cost of maintaining an online application process. Backcountry permits will remain free in the North Cascades.

Step 2. Convert your reservation to a permit

Application processing will begin on April 1, and may take up to four weeks to complete. If your reservation is accepted, you will receive an email confirmation with trip details and further instructions.

Your accepted reservation must be converted to a permit before you depart on your trip. Permits can be picked up at the closest ranger station and must be picked up by 11 a.m. on the trip start date, otherwise the reservation will be cancelled and made available to walk-ups.

If you don't win one of the lottery permits

  • There's still hope! Forty percent of backcountry permits will be held for walk-ups only. Be sure to arrive at the ranger station early to snag a spot.
  • Day hike the North Cascades. Treat this season as a chance to gather intel about the area by day hiking it. Take a few hikes and get a feeling for where you might like to plan a trip in next year.
Camping under the Perseid Meteor Shower on the Copper Ridge Trail. Photo by Audra Mercille.

Why is the permit system in place?

We often hear from people who wonder why they need a permit to overnight on public lands. While the permit systems may not be perfect, there are very good reasons why popular destinations now use a permit system.

  • Reduce impact. Before the permit process was put into place, some public lands were in danger of being loved to death. Beloved places draw crowds, and the truth is that crowds leave an impact. From waste management to preserving the vegetation underfoot, limits keep the ever-growing popularity of a destination from destroying it.
  • Keep it wild. The dramatic scenery is only part of what makes the North Cascades special; this is a designated national wilderness area, and permits help protect the wild plants and animals who call the area home. Permits help match the number of overnight visitors to the designated camps, so you won't face the choice of having to pitch your tent in a less than ideal spot or on top of delicate alpine vegetation.
  • Protect your experience. Part of the magic of the backcountry experience is the solitude of a wilderness experience. With more and more interest from visitors, regulating the number of overnight visitors helps keep your overnight adventure a wild one, while also preventing conflicts over a limited number of campsites.


McMillan Camp on the East Bank Ross Lake Trail
McMillan Camp on Ross Lake, accessible by the East Bank Trail or paddle. Photo by Brian Hansford