Wilderness Permit Frequently Asked Questions

 

Application Seasons

When can I apply for backpacking, Wonderland Trail, and Climbing reservations?

The first chance to apply for a reservation opportunity begins March 2 through March 14 in the Early Access Lottery. Successful applicants will then have an opportunity to make a reservation in the Early Access Period, March 22 – April 21. On April 27, all remaining inventory will open to the public for the general on-sale.

How many permits are issued for the Wonderland Trail each year?

About 600 Wonderland Trail trips can be reserved in advance during the summer hiking season (July-September). Another 300 or so are issued as first-come, first-served permits. Many more trips are available for partial circuits, sections, and other backcountry camps. There are about 4,000 backpacking permits and 2,000 climbing permits issued each year.

The number of trips is limited by weather, snow-melt, and the number of physical campsites.

What is the typical season for through-hiking the Wonderland Trail?

The trail is typically mostly snow-free from mid-July through the end of September. In some years, September can bring snow to the higher elevations, so pay attention to the weather forecast and stay updated on current trail conditions. Hiking earlier or later in the season may require expert navigation skills including map/compass and GPS, camping on snow or in puddles, self-arrest skills with an ice axe, fording of glacial rivers, and contingency planning. It is not recommended. Some visitors optimistically reserve trips for June and early July, but most go on to cancel their trips before they begin.

 

Early Access Period

How do I participate in the early-access period?

Recreation.gov is piloting a new, early-access lottery. Applications to participate in the lottery are accepted from March 2 to March 14. Using a fair and randomized approach, up to 1,800 participants will be awarded specific access windows to log-on and submit a reservation. See the Early Access Lottery Article for more information.

What are my chances of being awarded an early-access window?

Because this is a pilot, we do not know how many people will participate in the lottery. For the past twenty years, the park has accepted reservation applications. For most of that period, reservations received in the first two weeks have been processed in random order, effectively creating a lottery for Wonderland Trail trips. Participation in the early reservation lottery has been increasing over the years. Since introducing an online form in 2017, the park has received more than 5,000 requests for climbing, Wonderland Trail, and backpacking trips in the first two weeks.

Does winning an early-access window guarantee that I will get the trip I want?

No. Although successful applicants will be assigned an access window for a chance at a reservation, they will be competing with others who have been assigned that same access window and those individuals with an earlier assigned window.

Mount Rainier National Park has determined the number of individuals (successful lottery applicants) competing at one time during an access window. The number of successful applicants is a conservative estimate made by the park to ensure those participating in the Early Access period have a reasonable chance to secure a desired trip.

Successful applicants are granted early access to reservations, with the earliest access window offering the most options to build a complete Wonderland Trail trip itinerary or secure permits for the most desirable dates. Lottery participants with later access might not have access to their preferred itinerary but can create an alternate trip using available camps.

I was awarded an early-access window. What are my chances of getting a complete Wonderland Trail Circuit?

Even with creative variations, we do not believe that there is capacity during the summer for many more than about 600 reserved Wonderland Trail trips between July and September. We expect the proportion of requests during the early access period to remain similar to what it has been in past seasons, with one-half coming as Wonderland Trail requests, one-third as section hikes or other backpacking, and the rest as mountaineering.

What are my chances of getting a reservation after the early-access period?

During the general on-sale, you can make a reservation based on actual availability. Most Wonderland Trail camps and popular climbing dates will be booked early in the season, but there are many other less frequently visited camps that may remain available for reservation throughout the season.

What tips do you have for securing the trip I want?

Use the Wilderness Trip Planner to pre-plan your route.

During the early-access period, all award recipients can view availability starting March 22. If you have a later access window, pay attention to availability as it changes, and adapt your intended dates and route if necessary. Use the hours prior to your access window to plan out a good itinerary based on the most current availability.

Because you are competing with a small number of other applicants with the same window, be prepared with alternate dates and camps in case your preferred itinerary becomes unavailable.

What should I do if I can’t get the trip I wanted?

When the Wonderland Trail is booked to the extent that no more full circuit trips can be made, there are still many options for multi-day itineraries on and off the Wonderland Trail. If you are flexible, you should be able to find a great backpacking trip during your early-access window.

Can I submit multiple reservations?

Applicants are limited to a single reservation during the early-access period. Additional trips can be booked once the general on-sale starts.

I can only get one or two sites along the Wonderland Trail, is everything full?

A suggestion is to click on each starting area during several date ranges, print out all available camps posted within that start area, then do the same for all other start areas so that you can look at the big picture and try to plan an itinerary based on what is available overall.

Can I make a change to my reservation during the early access period?

You cannot make changes during the early access period. You can make changes starting April 27th.

Can I cancel my early access reservation and make a new reservation during early access?

No, you have used up your early access reservation. If you cancel your reservation, you will have to wait until April 27th to book a new reservation.

I have cancelled my early access reservation, can you please un-cancel that reservation?

You will have to wait until April 27th to book a new reservation.

If I just booked one or two sites along the Wonderland Trail, does that mean I have a permit to hike the entire Wonderland Trail?

No, your permit is ONLY good for the camps that you have booked. If you only reserved Devil's Dream Camp on 8/1, then your reservation is only good at Devil's Dream camp on 8/1, no other camp along the Wonderland Trail.

How come the camp that I want does not show up?

It could be due to a few reasons: 1) It is more than 17.5 miles away from the last camp you clicked on; 2) It is full for reservations; 3) It is in a different start area than the start area you selected.

Why are all the camps I want listed as W (walk-up)? How am I supposed to reserve a camp if it's only available for walk-up?

That means all the reservable sites have already been booked and the only sites left at the chosen camp are first-come, first-served through a walk-up permit available up to 24 hours in advance at the Wilderness Information Center.

 

Building a trip in Recreation.gov

Do I have to wait for a ranger to review and modify my request before it is confirmed?

No. Campsite availability is displayed in real time, but availability can change between the time you add a camp to your itinerary and when you complete the itinerary by clicking “book now.” You will have immediate feedback on whether or not your requested trip is available, or if you need to make a modification.

A ranger will still review your permit before it is issued and resolve any necessary modifications. It is possible to create an unrealistic or non-sensical itinerary in Recreation.gov. It is your responsibility to plan your trip according to your capabilities.

Why does a camp that I know is available show zero quota once I begin building my itinerary?

To reduce the potential for unrealistic itineraries, Recreation.gov will not allow users to book sites that are more than 17.5 miles apart.

The environment around many backcountry camps is fragile and very sensitive to trampling. It is very important that parties reserve trips that are achievable so that they can make it to their destination. Camping off-itinerary can create crowded conditions in already booked sites, or natural resource impacts from camping in undesignated areas.

Many factors can affect how far a group might hike in a day: fatigue, injury, river crossings, rough trails, elevation changes, interactions with wildlife, ripe berry batches, etc.

If you are interested in an itinerary with longer distances, you may call the Wilderness Information Center after April 27 and request a reservation over the phone (Wed-Sun through May at 360-569-6650). In addition, the farther you are able to hike in a day, the better your chances of obtaining a first-come, first-served permit. Note: Staff are not able to submit non-standard itineraries during the Early Access period.

I can’t find the camp or zone I want to camp in on Recreation.gov.

Not all sites and zones are available on Recreation.gov. If you do not see the site or zone you are looking for, call the Wilderness Information Center after April 27 to speak to a ranger (Wed-Sun through May at 360-569-6650).

Do I have to book a separate reservation for each night of my trip?

No. You may book up to 13 nights on one permit, with payment of a single fee. Attempting to extend a trip by purchasing an additional reservation is not allowed. Modifications can be made before the permit is issued based on availability.

 

Walk-up Permits

What is a walk-up permit?

These permits cannot be reserved in advance, online nor through the Recreation.gov Contact Center. Instead, these permits are claimed in person, once you are physically on site at the Wilderness Information Center in Mount Rainier National Park. Permits are granted to visitors in the order that they arrive, to those with an itinerary already in mind, and if there is space available.

How many days in advance can I attempt a walk-up permit?

Up to 24 hours in advance. For example, if you want to start backpacking on July 31, you may attempt a walk-up permit on July 30 or July 31.

When attempting to get a walk-up permit for the Wonderland Trail what should I come to the ranger station prepared with?

Before leaving home, check availability on Recreation.gov. Camps that still have walk-up quota available will display a "W". Full camps will dispaly a "0" (zero). If you are attempting a walk-up permit then you will need to come with an itinerary in mind. The park will not plan your trip for you. Be willing to accept an alternate itinerary, even if it is not on the Wonderland Trail or for fewer days than you would prefer.

If I am first in line, does that mean I am guaranteed a Wonderland Trail Permit as a walk-up?

No. It will increase your chances, but it will also depend on your flexibility. Just as you are picking up a walk-up permit for, say, a 10-day trip, hikers like you may have shown up a day or more before you and secured walk-up sites for their multi-day trip, so some of the walk-up sites they picked up on their permit are now taken.

If I am really flexible with my itinerary can the ranger just plan my trip for me?

No. You need to come with an itinerary in mind. If you arrive without an itinerary you will receive a trip planner map and a pen and will be instructed to work on the back table on a trip that will work for you while rangers continue helping other visitors. If you arrive at the Wilderness Information Center before it opens and there is a current list of “open camps” or “full camps” posted on the door, please use this list to try to plan a trip that works for you while you are waiting for the Wilderness Information Center to open.

How can I increase my chances of obtaining a walk-up permit?

Here are a list of things that you can do to increase your chances of obtaining a walk-up permit:

  1. Come to any Wilderness Information Center before it opens the day before you want to start your hike.
  2. Be flexible, including which trailhead you start at, alternate campsites (staying within your distance comfort level), hiking direction (either clockwise or counter clockwise).
  3. Start your hike in the middle of the week so that you are not competing with weekend warriors.
  4. Be open to starting your trip on the same day or the next day.

What day(s) of the week will increase my chances of obtaining a Wonderland Trail reservation or walk-up permit?

The Wonderland Trail is busy 7 days a week; however, applying for a weekday permit does have the advantage of not competing with weekend warriors. Keep in mind that many Wonderland Trail hopefuls will be using this same strategy, so sometimes the park does see an influx of Wonderland Trail requests for weekdays.

 

Activating a Reservation

How many days in advance can I pick up a permit that I have a reservation for?

Up to 24 hours in advance. For example, if your reservation starts on July 31, you may pick up your permit on July 30 or July 31.

Do I need to go to a Wilderness Information Center to acquire my permit or can I do it over the phone or online?

You need to pick up your permit at any Wilderness Information Center. You may pick up your permit at the: White River Wilderness Information Center, Longmire Wilderness Information Center, Paradise Wilderness Information Center, or the Carbon River Ranger Station. Reservations and walk-up permits are NOT issued over the phone or online.

 

Last updated: April 1, 2021

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