Backcountry Permits

Learn and Explore

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.

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

How to Get a Backcountry Permit

Advance Reservations

Advance reservations are available during a limited period each spring for up to 60 percent of the sites in the park. Reservation holders must still convert to a permit before entering the park. Visit the advance backcountry reservations page for full details.

Winter Permits

The Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount will be closed starting October 12th, but backcountry permits are required year round. While the station is closed for the season, physical self-issue permits will be available outside the station or you can submit your permit via email.

To submit via email, please complete the following steps:

  1. Review regulations and Leave No Trace principles.
  • PERMITS ARE REQUIRED and valid only for the trip leader, number of people, and sites/dates listed. Your group must follow this itinerary!
  • KNOW AND FOLLOW ALL PARTY SIZE LIMITS: 12 pairs of eyes (people + stock) in all trailed areas and around the Boston Basin, Eldorado, and Sulphide Glacier Cross Country Zones; 6 in all other areas.
  • CAMP ONLY IN DESIGNATED SITES along trail corridors.
  • IN CROSS-COUNTRY ZONES camp on snow, rock, or bare ground. Avoid vegetation and water.
  • STORE FOOD PROPERLY at all times. Hang food and scented items at least 12 feet up, 5 feet out from any tree limb, or use a food canister or box.
  • MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS — Use a stove instead. Where allowed, use established campfire rings only, and burn only small, dead and downed wood. Campfires are prohibited in all cross-country zones. Never burn trash.
  • PROPERLY DISPOSE OF WASTE — Use toilets where provided; if no toilets are provided, dig a cathole in organic soil. On rock, snow or ice, pack out human waste. Pack out all garbage—never burn it!
  • LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND — Leave all natural and cultural objects as you found them.
  • PETS are not allowed in the National Park (except on the Pacific Crest Trail). Leashed dogs allowed in the Recreation Areas.
  • STOCK PACKERS must use stock trails and camps. No grazing in the National Park, grazing permit required for Recreation Areas where allowed.
  • HUNTING / FISHING must follow state regulations and require a valid WA license. Hunting prohibited in National Park.
  1. Copy the contents below. (To copy, select the content in the box below, right click and select "Copy".)
FULL NAME: __
ZIP/POSTAL CODE: __
# OF PEOPLE: __ BOATS: __ STOCK: __
VEHICLE MAKE/MODEL/COLOR: __
VEHICLE LICENSE/STATE: __
TRIP START DATE: __
BEGINNING TRAILHEAD: __
ITINERARY...
- 1: CAMP/ZONE: __ DATE: __
- 2: CAMP/ZONE: __ DATE: __
(Add or remove lines as necessary)
ENDING TRAILHEAD (If different.): __

REQUIRED: Do you agree to abide by all NPS regulations and Leave No Trace principles? Violators are subject to fines. If so, type YES: __

  1. Send us an email no sooner than the day before you plan to start your trip, pasting the above contents into the Your Message field of the form at appears. All fields above are required. (To paste, right click the text box and select "Paste".) If you're having difficulties copying and pasting, please just be sure to include all of the information above in your permit request.
  2. Enjoy your trip! You will not receive a confirmation.

Walk-Up Permits (Summer)

After the reservation period, backcountry permits for remaining sites 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.

  • 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. 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 in person only (including Sahale, Cascade Pass, Boston Basin)
  • North Cascades Park Headquarters in Sedro-Woolley — Obtain permits here for access to the park via Baker Lake Road (i.e. Sulphide Glacier route on Shuksan, Baker River) . Sedro-Woolley is also the permiting station for HOZOMEEN access to Ross Lake (access via the south must obtain permits in Marblemount)
  • Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin — Obtain permits here for entering the park via Stehekin (Lake Chelan ferry system, private boat, plane, foot) or coming in via the southern PCT (Agnes Creek)

  • Glacier Public Service Center Obtain permits here for entering the park via Hwy 542 (Mt. Baker Highway), including Hannegan Pass, Copper Ridge, Whatcom, and northern Shuksan access (i.e. Price XC)

  • Chelan Ranger Station — Obtain permits here for trails that enter the park from the south or east (Chelan Summit Trail, War Creek, Twisp River Road)

  • Methow Valley Ranger Station in Winthrop — Visitors approaching the park from eastern Washington on SR 20, or via Twisp Pass or War Creek Pass

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 email us at the Wilderness Information Center.

 

Are you a Pacific Crest Trail hiker?

Beginning in 2020, North Cascades National Park will honor the long-distance Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hiking permit issued by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) for camping at specific camps. This is a policy change from previous years. PCTA long-distance permit holders no longer need to obtain an overnight backcountry camping permit for Six Mile Camp and Bridge Creek Camp within North Cascades National Park.

Any hiker without a PCTA Long-distance Permit must obtain, in advance, a park-issued backcountry permit at designated ranger stations for camping inside North Cascades National Park.

Visit the Pacific Crest Trail page for more information.

 

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 and prevent overcrowding at camps or climbing routes, provide for opportunities for solitude and a quality backcountry experience, and protect 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: October 15, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

Phone:

(360) 854-7200

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