Backcountry Reservations

 
A group looks over a map of the park
Begin your trip planning now! Photo courtesy of North Cascades Institute.

Overview

North Cascades National Park Service Complex is now using Recreation.gov for all backcountry permits and reservations. The park is making the switch for several reasons. Recreation.gov:

  • makes booking online easier and quicker.
  • greatly increases the odds of securing a backcountry site by reserving online.
  • replaces a labor-intensive process of manually entering in reservation requests.
  • allows visitors to make reservations throughout the entire summer.

In the past, participants had to wait several weeks to hear back about their reservation results. With Recreation.gov, visitors receive confirmation immediately after submission. This new process offers a fairer and more efficient method of obtaining reservations to enjoy the backcountry of North Cascades. See below for more information and FAQs.

What is staying the same?
Walk-up permits will still be available in person at the Wilderness Information Center and certain permitting offices the day of or day before a trip begins. All reservations must be approved by a ranger before going out on a trip.

The Wilderness Information Center will still be open 7 days a week to help with questions during the summer season. As always, backcountry users are responsible for following all backcountry regulations, adhering to Leave No Trace principles, and being good wilderness stewards.

New Application Process

All backcountry reservations will be processed through Recreation.gov and approved by North Cascades National Park rangers before permits can be picked up. Use this video with detailed instructions on how to make a reservation on Recreation.gov. There are three ways to reserve backcountry campsites:

Early-Access Lottery
Apply for the lottery and if you are successful, you will be awarded a timeslot to make a reservation. Lottery winners are allowed to make just one reservation from the beginning of the timeslot until the end of the lottery period.

General On-Sale
After the lottery, the remainder of reservable sites will be open for reservations during the General On-Sale. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before the trip start date.

Walk-up Permits
If you are unable to make a reservation, approximately 40% of sites can be reserved through walk-up permits at the Wilderness Information Center and certain permitting offices the day of or day before your trip.

All reservations and walk-up permits will cost $20 plus a non-refundable $6 transaction fee. Only debit or credit cards will be accepted, no cash. The $20 reservation fee can be refunded if a trip is cancelled at least 3 days before the trip start date. See the table below for specific 2022 dates.

Dates for 2022

Information

March 3


Early-Access Lottery applications open (7 am PT)

March 15

Early-Access Lottery closes (9 pm PT)

March 18

Users are notified of results and, if successful, their timeslots


March 21 to April 19

Early-Access reservations can be made during or after the awarded timeslots, deadline is April 19 (9 pm PT)

April 26

General On-Sale period for reservations opens (7 am PT)

May 20

Wilderness Information Center opens


May 27- September 30

“Peak Season” or time frame within which reservations can be made. All other trips must be reserved through a walk-up permit

October 8

Wilderness Information Center closes
 

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about the reservation process by exploring the questions below.
How much of the park’s backcountry campsite inventory can be reserved in advance?
Approximately 60% of the park’s backcountry campsite inventory is reservable in advance. The remainder are available as walk-up permits on a first-come, first-served basis.

When can I hike to Cascade Pass or Sahale Glacier camp?
Cascade Pass and Sahale Glacier camps melt out in early July and become unreachable in late September when snow returns to high elevations. Cascade Pass Trailhead is typically open mid-July, road dependent.  At this elevation, winter weather conditions can last until early summer. Navigation and travel challenges include steep, icy slopes, uncertain river crossings, and flooded or snow-covered camps. Reservations for this area are not allowed before July 1st, but walk-up permits can be obtained year round.

What about Copper Ridge?
Camps along Copper Ridge such a Boundary, Egg Lake, Silesia, and Copper Lake remain snow covered into July, depending on snow pack and spring temperatures. The prime backpacking season for the Copper Ridge area is mid-July to mid-September. Attempting to access the ridge before the snow melts is dangerous. Visitors must be proficient with an ice axe for steep snow fields and be prepared for high creek crossings. Reservations for this area are not allowed before July 1st, but walk-up permits can be obtained year round.

What about boating trips on Ross Lake?
Boat-in campsites along Ross Lake will also be available for reservations on Recreation.gov. However, Ross Lake is a reservoir and water levels fluctuate throughout the year. Some boat-in campsites are not available if the lake level is too low. Visit the boating on Ross Lake site for more information. The lake generally reaches full pool at the beginning of July, use this site to monitor: Ross Lake levelsReservations for boat-in sites on Ross Lake are not allowed before July 1st, but walk-up permits can be obtained year round.

What if I want to go on a mountaineering trip or travel through a cross-country zone?
Popular mountaineering areas such as Mt. Shuksan, Boston Basin and Eldorado are all located in cross-country zones. Only the following zones will be available for advanced reservations: Boston Basin, Eldorado, Sulphide, Price, Triumph, and Tapto Lakes. The remaining cross-country zones can be booked through walk-up permits at the Wilderness Information Center.
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 starting March 3. Using a fair and randomized approach, 1500 participants will be awarded specific access timeslots to log-on and submit a reservation.

How many people apply for Early-Access Lottery?
Since 2017, 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 trips. Participation in the early reservation lottery has been increasing over the years, with submissions more than doubling from 2020 to 2021.
This year, the park received over 7000 applications for the Early-Access lottery.
 
Year Status Total Requests   
2019
*many reservations were
cancelled due to low water  
levels on Ross Lake
Submitted      2380
Approved 1455
Percent 61%
2020 Submitted 1898
Approved 1496
Percent 78%
2021 Submitted 4991
Approved 3324
Percent 67%
3 year avg Submitted 3089
Approved 2013
Percent 68%


Does winning an Early-Access timeslot guarantee that I will get the trip I want?
No. Although successful applicants will be assigned an access timeslot for a chance at a reservation, they will be competing with others who have been assigned that same access timeslot and those individuals with an earlier assigned timeslot.

North Cascades National Park has determined the number of individuals (successful lottery applicants) competing at one time during an access timeslot. 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 timeslot offering the most options to 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.

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. Many popular climbing and backpacking sites will be booked early in the season, but there are many other less frequently visited camps that may remain available for reservations 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 mid-March. If you have a later access timeslot, pay attention to availability as it changes, and adapt your intended dates and route if necessary. Use the hours prior to your access timeslot 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 timeslot, 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 want?
Research several different sites and itineraries before you make your reservations. It might be helpful to rank your trips in order of preference, first choice, second choice, etc. 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. You can only apply once to participate in the lottery and you cannot apply for a friend or family member.

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 26th.

Can I cancel my 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 26th 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 26th to book a new reservation.

Why does the camp that I want not show up?
It could be due to a few reasons: 1) It is more than a reasonable distance 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. Keep in mind that not all areas can be reserved ahead of time or before a certain date.

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. Walk-up permits are available up to 24 hours in advance at the Wilderness Information Center.
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 a reasonable day’s hike or paddle 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. Paddling trips on Ross and Diablo Lake can be impacted by winds, high waves and inclement weather.

If you are interested in an itinerary with longer distances, you may email the Wilderness Information Center at e-mail us. after April 26. Rangers might be able to adjust your itinerary, depending on availability. In addition, the farther you can 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.

Do I have to book a separate reservation for each night of my trip?
No. You may book up to 14 days 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.
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 or other permitting office for North Cascades 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. Visit our Backcountry Permits page for more information. 

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, 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 display 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 in a different part of the park or for fewer days than you would prefer.

If I am first in line, does that mean I am guaranteed a permit?
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 be instructed to plan an itinerary 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 “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?
  1. Come to the Wilderness Information Center or other permitting office 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. 
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. You must convert your reservation to a permit by 11 am on your trip start date.

Do I need to go to the Wilderness Information Center to acquire my permit or can I do it over the phone or online?
As of now, only the Wilderness Information Center and Glacier Public Service Center will be open for the 2022 season. If another location is listed on your reservation, such as the Golden West Visitor Center or Park and Forest Information Center, or you are entering the park from the east, please email e-mail us the day before your trip to request a callback to issue your permit remotely.

Can I make changes to my reservation?
You can make changes to your reservation on Recreation.gov up to two days before your trip begins. After that, all changes must be made in person with a ranger when you activate your reservation. You cannot change your trip start date, you must make a new reservation for a new date. 
 
A person fords a swift creek along a trail
A creek crossing along the Chilliwack River trail in late June. Photo by NPS/WHsieh
The wilderness is a dynamic, natural environment where events and conditions are unpredictable and may vary widely year to year. There is a possibility that trail and campground closures, environmental conditions (such as snow, high stream crossings, etc.), natural events (such as fires, aggressive animals, etc.), or other events may impact your itinerary. In the event this occurs, every effort will be made to provide an alternative itinerary when you activate your reservation at a ranger station.
 

Learn and Explore

Backcountry Conditions

Some areas are snow covered until early or mid-July! Be aware of potential hazards. If in doubt, wait to visit these areas until later in the season. Hazards include but are not limited to:

  • Cascade Pass — Steep snow (ice axe may be needed), high water crossing (Doubtful Creek, Basin Creek in early season), camping and routefinding in snow, Cascade River Road early season closure. Primary hiking season is July 1 until snowfall, typically mid-to-late September.
    NOTE: The Cascade River road typically does not open until July. Heavy snowpack and winter storm damage often delay opening.

  • Copper Ridge — Steep snow (ice axe may be needed), high water crossing (northern Chilliwack), camping and snow, thin or collapsing snowbridges (Hannegan Pass Trail), Hannegan Pass USFS Road #32 early season closure. Primary hiking season is July 15 until snowfall, typically mid-to-late September.

  • Rainbow - McAlester Loop — Steep snow, ice axe needed (Bowan Pass, north of Rainbow Lake), high or impassable river fords, seasonal bridges (Rainbow Creek). Primary hiking season for entire loop is late July until snowfall, typically mid-to-late September. McAlester Pass may be accessible earlier.

  • Park Creek Pass, Easy Pass — Steep snow, ice axe and routefinding skills required in early season, ford of Thunder Creek just south of Thunder Basin Camp. Primary hiking season is mid-to-late July until snowfall, typically mid-to-late September.

  • All climbing areas — Normal travel requires the skills and expertise to routefind and navigate technical terrain, including glaciers, crevasses and moats, steep snow and rock, avalanche zones, etc.

 

Last updated: October 2, 2022

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