Mount Rainier Wilderness Permits Now Open Online
Wonderland and other permit applications can now be submitted online, the first step to a new system for Mount Rainier National Park.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2017 issue of Washington Trails magazine.
Wilderness rangers at Mount Rainier National Park have endless demands on their time. It’s a large and popular park, and helping visitors and caring for park resources is a big job. As the Wonderland Trail has exploded in popularity, an increasingly time-consuming part of that job has been preparing backcountry permits.
Issuing permits is kind of like a logic puzzle:
Backpacking Group A wants to hike the Wonderland Trail, starting at Mowich Lake, going clockwise, covering no more than 12 miles a day and spending two nights in Indian Bar. Group B wants to start at Sunrise Lake, hike counterclockwise, and finish the trail in no more than eight days. Schedule each trip, while accommodating as many other backpackers as possible.
Tech support for the backcountry
The park is working to create new technology that will relieve the rangers of some of the time and mental gymnastics required to issue permits. Kraig Snure, wilderness district ranger for Rainier, hopes the new technology will take some of that load off of rangers. He wants to get rangers out from behind the fax machines and computers and out helping visitors have a safe and enjoyable time in the park.
A first step in that plan comes online this year. For the first time, if you want to apply for a permit, you won’t need to find a fax machine or mail in your request. Instead, you’ll be able to submit a request online, and within one business day you will get confirmation that your information was received. And rangers won’t have to spend several weeks answering the question “Did you receive my fax?”
Payments will also be made online, saving rangers from manually processing hundreds of credit card transactions.
Rangers will still do the work, however, of actually booking all the permits and making sure as many people as possible get to hike the Wonderland. Kraig hopes a new system will eventually relieve them of that work as well.
The park is working to build a completely new system that will allow users to create their own trips. Kraig’s dream for a permanent system is one that shows people what sites are available, and on what days, giving hikers the ability to make their own trip. Rangers would only have to review and approve the permits. That would give rangers more time to answer questions about the trail and the park, to teach Leave No Trace principles and to make sure visitors are well equipped for their trips.
“I want to best utilize the expertise of my folks,” Kraig said. “I want to free up as many resources as we can and give visitors the best experiences we can.
How to request a permit
- Reservation requests opened on March 15 on the park’s wilderness permit web page. All advance permit requests must be submitted online. (About a third of permits will remain available as first-come, first-served walk-up permits.)
- Only one request per person for full circuits of the Wonderland Trail is allowed. However, you are encouraged to offer as many options as possible for that trip on your permit request.
- If you are requesting permits for more than one trip, submit separate requests. However, if you are submitting alternative options for a single trip, include those all on a single request.
- 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 as to whether or not they received a permit.
- Those who receive permits will get instructions on how to pay online.
Hikers are asked to only submit one trip request per trip, although hikers are encouraged to submit several trip alternatives. If your name is picked, rangers will do all that they can to make sure you get a permit that works for you.
If you would like to hike before July 31, you should know that some camps will be closed, limiting options in the southern area of the trail. Nickel Creek, Maple Creek and Paradise River camps will be either full or partially closed due to trees that have the potential to fall on sites.
A great resource for planning a trip is Tami Asar’s book “Hiking the Wonderland Trail.”