Backcountry Permits

A Student Conservation Association volunteer assists visitors to the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount with backcountry permits and trip planning information. Image Credit: NPS/NOCA Staff
Visitors stop by the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, the park's main backcountry permit office, for permits, trip advice, and more.

NPS/NOCA Staff

When Is a Backcountry Permit Required?

Permits are required year round for all overnight stays in the backcountry of North Cascades National Park Service Complex (North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas). The primary objective of the permit system is to better manage backcountry visitation to prevent overcrowding and resource damage, and to provide for opportunities for solitude and a quality backcountry experience for all visitors, including future generations.

  • Each party (individual or group) must obtain and carry a backcountry permit for the duration of the backcountry trip.

  • Permits are specific to a site (along trails or boat-in areas) or a cross-country zone each night of the itinerary. You must follow the itinerary listed on your permit.

  • Failure to possess and display a valid backcountry permit may result in a fine and/or immediate removal from the backcountry.

Note: Permits are not required for day use or for camping in car-accessed campgrounds along State Route 20 or at the drive-in campground at Hozomeen. Parking passes (such as the Northwest Forest Pass, required at USFS trailheads) do not substitute for a backcountry permit.

 

How to Get a Backcountry Permit

Advance reservations – Reservations are now available for up to 60 percent of the sites for certain areas of the park. Advance backcountry reservations may be submitted March 15 - May 15 for the current season. Reservations hold a site for you, but must be converted to a permit before you enter the park. Visit the advance backcountry reservations page for full details.

Walk-up permits – For the remaining areas of the park, backcountry permits are available the day before or day of a desired trip start date on a first-come, first-served basis. There are many options for walk-up permits in the park, including many that are not popular or crowded. Rangers can assist you with planning, but please be flexible, as walk-up permits are subject to same-day availability. Keep in mind that not all sites will be available every day because backpackers on longer trips may obtain walk-in sites for their entire trip itinerary. Arrive early for the best campsite availability. Walk-in permits are free, but must be obtained before entering the backcountry. Also, please note that:
  • Walk-up permits are issued in person only, at the ranger stations listed below
  • These permits can be issued the same day your trip starts, or up to one day before your trip starts, but no sooner than one day.
  • First-come, first-served permits cannot be issued over the phone.
  • There is no fee for a first-come, first-served permit.
  • Please bring the license plate number of any vehicle(s) that will be parked at a trailhead during your stay, along with make, model, and color of the vehicle(s)

Where to Obtain a Permit

Permits may be obtained only at ranger stations within or around the park. These stations are:

  • Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. Obtain permits here for all areas of the park. This center is the main backcountry permit office for the park complex, with extended summer hours to accommodate backcountry travelers. Wilderness rangers are on hand to provide firsthand trip planning advice for all wilderness and backcountry areas of the park, including Ross Lake and climbing areas. You'll also find current trail and camp conditions, maps, and more to assist with your trip planning.
  • Note: All permits for the Cascade River Road are issued via Marblemount only (including Sahale, Cascade Pass, Boston Basin).
  • If you will not be passing through Marblemount, you must obtain your permit at the closest ranger station en route to your destination trailhead:
    • Golden West Visitor Center, Stehekin - issues all permits for trips beginning in Stehekin
    • Glacier Public Service Center, Glacier - issues permits for trips beginning off SR 542 (Mt Baker Highway) or trips beginning in Hozomeen
    • Park /Forest Information Center, Sedro-Woolley - issues permits for trips beginning from the Baker Lake Road or Hozomeen only
    • Hozomeen entry - There is no staffed ranger station in Hozomeen. Permits can be obtained at Sedro Woolley, Glacier, or Marblemount.
    • Methow Valley Visitor Center, Winthrop (USFS) - issues permits for trips beginning along the Twisp River Road or entering the park via Winthrop on SR 20
    • Chelan Ranger Station, Chelan (USFS) - issues permits for trips beginning on the Chelan Summit Trail or for trips beginning along the Twisp River Road

For driving directions and current hours for all National Park Service ranger stations, click here. If you have any questions about obtaining a permit, please call the Wilderness Information Center at 360-854-7245.

Winter Permits: Backcountry permits are required year round. When the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount is closed, a self-issue permit station is available at an outside kiosk, and is accessible at any time, or permits may be obtained in Sedro Woolley (winter only). Ranger station hours are listed here.

 

Permits Are Limited

To protect the wilderness and visitors’ experiences, the number of permits issued for each area is limited. Popular areas such as around Cascade Pass, along Ross Lake, on Copper Ridge, and at Thornton and Monogram Lakes can be very busy during the height of summer, and permits can fill quickly. The busiest climbing areas are: Sulphide Glacier, Boston Basin, and Eldorado cross-country zones. To maximize your chance of obtaining a permit and finding solitude, visit these areas midweek or after Labor Day, and have a backup itinerary or climb in mind if your first-choice area is already full. Ask a ranger for less busy alternative areas to visit. There is always somewhere to go.

Why do I need a permit?

Backcountry permits protect your wilderness experience by preventing overcrowding at camps or climbing routes, providing for opportunities for solitude and a quality backcountry experience, and protecting natural resources so that all visitors – including future generations – can enjoy them. Permits also serve an important safety function in the event of an emergency or wildfire, and allow Park managers to gather data important for planning and decision making. Thanks for doing your part to help steward these important wilderness resources.

 
Backpacker descending to lake
Permits help ensure solitude and a quality backcountry experience.  Juanita Lake, War Creek Pass.

NPS / R. Seifried

Last updated: November 7, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

Phone:

(360) 854-7200

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