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Apply for a Mount Rainier Wilderness Permit by April 1

Posted by Loren D at Mar 26, 2014 05:40 PM |

Wilderness backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park or hiking the Wonderland Trail always requires planning ahead. But with the deadline fast approaching and application numbers way above normal, here are some tips to help you apply for your wilderness permit in the next few days.

Talk to any group of hikers (including the staff of WTA), and you'll find all kinds of approaches to planning backpacking trips: the "10-months-in-advance" planners and the "let's-see-if-we-can-score-a-walk-up-permit" planners. We can testify that both approaches can lead to some pretty incredible outdoor adventures. But some Washington backpacking destinations are so popular that it probably makes sense to plan ahead.

Wilderness backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park or hiking the Wonderland Trail requires planning ahead. There are still a few more days to throw your hat in the ring (though a word of warning about your odds: as of midday today, the park had already received 1,200 applications for wilderness permits, which they say is far above average).

Before you jump into the permit process, don't forget: you can always experience Mount Rainier on dozens of incredible and different trails without a permit all summer long.

How to apply to make a reservation for a Mount Rainier wilderness permit

If you want to camp in Mount Rainier's backcountry or hike the Wonderland Trail this summer, you will need a permit. About 70 percent of the available wilderness permits can be reserved, while the remaining 30 percent are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

This page on the park website has everything you need to walk through the process of making a reservation, but here are a few key highlights:

  • Download this guide. Ranger Ranger Kaye compiled some great tips to make the process easier, and they are worth downloading and reading.
  • Fax or mail your reservation application. It may feel old school, but make sure to get your application to them by midnight March 31, since the ranger staff will begin processing requests the morning of April 1.
  • Be flexible. The wider the range of start dates you can provide, the better your chances of getting the reservation. "This is the single best thing you can do to increase your odds of success," writes Ranger Kaye.
  • Avoid August. August is historically the busiest month of the year at Mount Rainier, in part because the weather is more reliable then. If you'd rather take your chances with weather than compete with sheer numbers, try for late July or early September instead.
  • Forget Fridays. More people start their trips on a Friday, so mix it up, and try for a Tuesday start instead.

Wonderland Trail permit tips

Tami Asars, author of Hiking the Wonderland Trail and a Washington Trails magazine correspondent has these tips to add when trying for a Wonderland itinerary:

  • Multiple itineraries. For best results, create three different itinerary choices; vary the starting date, or start from different trailheads.
  • Submit a clear, neat application. When submitting your reservation request, indicate your choices clearly on the form.

More planning tips and resources

  • Use a map. Download the park's Wilderness Trip Planner Map to scout your options.
  • Look outside the Wonderland. The Wonderland Trail gets a lot of attention, so consider just a shorter one- or two-night trip away from the Wonderland circuit.
  • Make a plan B if your plan A is a walk-up permit. If you are on an awesome hiking adventure, it will be hard to stay disappointed for long.
  • Look outside the National Park. Don't get down if this isn't your year for Rainier. There is some incredible hiking and camping on the Mount Baker Snoqualmie and Gifford Pinchot National Forest Service lands around Mount Rainier National Park, not to mention some of the equally-stunning alpine backpacking to be hard farther afield. Start exploring your options.
  • Craig Hill over at the Everett Herald has also written some additional tips for Wonderland Permits.
  • Planning to climb Rainier? You'll need to submit paperwork for a Climbing Pass when you submit your Wilderness Reservation.

Hiker approaching Emerald Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park
Day hiking in Mount Rainier is an equally excellent way to experience the park. A hiker approaches Emerald Ridge with the jagged peaks of Glacier Island in the background. Photo by Brad Howard.