Backpacking FAQ's

Questions About Trip Planning

You should take a look at the Interactive Wilderness Map or download the Wilderness Trip Planner Map. These maps show campsite locations and the downloadable map shows trail mileages.

You can check current trail conditions here. If you have a question about a specific hazard, or the conditions on your planned route haven’t been updated recently, you can also contact the WIC directly via phone or email. Higher elevation trails remain under snow until June or July most years.

Some areas of the Olympic wilderness are both fragile and extremely popular. In these areas, a quota is in place to limit the total number of permits that can be issued for a given date. Once the area is full, no more permits will be issued for that area. Because the quota works by limiting campers in a given area, you are expected to stay in the camp area you have reserved, and on the night you planned to be there.

Non-quota areas of the park still require a permit, but there is no limit on the number of permits that can be issued. In addition, there is more flexibility with trip planning. Although you should always try to follow your permit, when you are travelling in a non-quota area, it is acceptable to camp at another nearby campsite. In addition, you may camp in any area more than 1 mile from a park road where you can camp in a Leave No Trace manner.

The Olympic coast is made up of some of the roughest terrain in the park. Hikers will face loose sand, slick tidepools, jagged boulders and steep overland detours. A good rule of thumb is to plan to hike at about 2/3 of your normal pace, and plan to cover about 2/3 of your normal daily mileage.

Some coastal headlands are impassible at ceratin tides. You will need to refer to a tide chart and bring a topographic map that shows the places on your route that will be impacted by tide. For more information, check out Hiking the Wilderness Coast.

The Custom Correct topographic maps show the tide heights you need to round headlands and are available at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles and at local outdoor stores. They are also available online through Discover Your Northwest here:

When planning a backpacking trip, it’s crucial to make a realistic, honest appraisal of how far you can expect to travel in a given day. Over ambitions plans can, and have, led to dangerous situations in the wilderness.

If you are travelling through a quota area, you must camp in the sites you are permitted for, barring a true emergency situation. Because sites are limited, camping outside of your planned itinerary will likely disrupt another group’s travel plans. Imagine hiking into a remote lake at dusk – only to find another group taking up the only campsite!

When you are travelling in a non-quota zone, you have more options. Because the number of permits is not limited, you may camp at another campsite, or in any location where you are not creating a new campsite and can practice appropriate food storage.

Campfires are not allowed above 3,500 feet, at Boulder Creek/Olympic Hot Springs, at Elk Lake in the Hoh, or on the section of coast from Wedding Rocks to just north of Yellow Banks. If you are in doubt, check the Wilderness Trip Planner map – each site is listed along the top, and whether fires are allowed or not is noted.

Olympic frequently enacts fire bans during dry periods, especially in mid to late summer. If a fire ban is in effect, fires are not allowed anywhere in the Olympic wilderness.

If you plan to build a fire, note that all wood must be dead, down, and on the ground or drift wood on the coast, and that the fire must be completely extinguished before you leave it unattended.

Although you will book a specific camp area (for example, Lunch Lake), individual campsites are first-come, first-served. Most sites have room for up to two small tents, although it can be a tight squeeze. Consult the Wilderness Trip Planner map to find out if a campsite allows fires, has a pit toilet, and what the food storage requirements are.

Some sites, especially high elevation sites, may not have a readily accessible water source. Check a topographic map or contact the Wilderness Information Center directly if in doubt.

The preferred method for treating water in Olympic are filtering or boiling. Chemical treatments may not be effective on the coast, where cryptosporidia is present. UV treatments can be effective, but some water sources (especially coastal ones) are murky and may require longer exposure.

Although bears are common in the Olympics, we have not recorded a single bear attack in the history of the park. Bear spray is not recommended and may present more of a hazard than the bears themselves.

If you are legally permitted to carry a firearm in the state of Washington, then you may carry within Olympic National Park. If you plan to carry a concealed firearm, determine whether your concealed carry permit has reciprocity in Washington. Note that firearms are not permitted inside federal buildings such as visitor centers.

Olympic has a dry season (July and August) and a wet season (the rest of the year); however, you should come prepared for hard rain and cool weather for any backpacking trip. Make sure to consult a weather forecast prior to departure.

The maximum allowable group size in any area of the Olympic Wilderness is 12 people. If you have a larger group, you’ll have to plan two separate trips, with both groups travelling and camping at least 1 mile apart from one another and never congregating.

In many areas of Olympic, the maximum group size is 6, and larger groups must reserve designated group sites. In Recreation.gov, the reservation system displays options based on your group size. If you put in a group of 10, the system will only allow you to book sites that would allow a group of that size.
 

Questions About Permit Requirements

You need a Wilderness Permit for all overnight stay in the Olympic wilderness. Permits can be set up online via Recreation.gov

Permit reservations for the summer season (May 15th through October 15th) will be released on April 15th, at 7:00 AM PST. Some quota areas, such as the Sol Duc / Seven Lakes Basin, have a narrower season based upon snow conditions. If you are attempting to book early season dates that are not available online, please contact the Wilderness Information Center at (360) 565 3100.

Once you have set up a permit, the WIC will confirm your reservation and review your trip plan. Your permit will be issued up to 7 days in advance of your trip; however, if you are planning your trip ‘last minute’, one day is usually ample time to issue your permit.

Once your permit has been issued, you will be able to print it out from Recreation.gov directly. If you don’t have access to a printer, a digital copy of the permit can be downloaded to a phone, showing your campsites and dates. You should plan to bring this copy of the permit with you on your trip, attached to your pack while you are hiking, and displayed on your tent when you are at camp.

No, but you may need to pay a parking fee, depending on which trailhead you are using.Visit the Olympic National Forest website for more information.

Yes. Backpacking fees are separate from the standard park entrance fee.

If you do a lot of backpacking in Olympic National Park, you should consider purchasing a Wilderness Annual Pass. The pass costs $45 and lasts for one year from purchase. It covers the $8 per night fee for one camper, but not the $6 fee to make a permit on Recreation.gov. Wilderness Annual Passes can be purchased at the following website: https://www.pay.gov/public/form/start/129856631
  • If your mailing address is different than the billing address you use for the purchase, email us at OLYM_WIC@nps.gov with the address you would like the pass(es) sent to.

Popular areas, such as the High Divide / Seven Lakes Basin area, can be fully booked months ahead of time.
Permit reservations for the summer season (May 15th through October 15th) will be released on April 15th, at 7:00 AM PST.
Some quota areas, such as the Sol Duc / Seven Lakes Basin, have a narrower season based upon snow conditions. If you are attempting to book early season dates that are not available online, please contact the Wilderness Information Center at (360) 565 3100. It has become a competitive process.

However, most of the Olympic wilderness is managed on a non-quota system. If you are flexible in your hiking goals, there will always be a trail available for you to explore.

Visit Recreation.gov to see the current availability.

You can book a permit over the phone at (360) 565-3100 or in person at one of the Wilderness Information Centers.

Yes, you can still get a permit in person at Wilderness Information Centers, check here for locations and current hours.

No. Self registration at trailheads is not currently allowed. Permits can be booked online via Recreation.gov, over the phone at (360) 565-3100, or in person at Wilderness Information Centers.
 

Questions About Using Recreation.gov

First, go to Recreation.gov and search for “Olympic Wilderness Permit”. Then, select the option for Olympic National Park Wilderness Permit. 

Next, you will see an option to "Check Availability". You’ll be prompted to enter your dates, group size, and permit type (which will be ‘overnight’ unless you are travelling with stock animals (horses, mules, llamas, etc). 

Finally, you’ll designate a starting area, and you will see available campsites in that area. From here, you’ll be able to book as many nights as are needed to complete your trip. Your campsite options will change based upon your selections, the system allows you to select any campsite within 15 miles of your previous selection. The Wilderness Trip Planner Map will show you campsite locations.

Note that one permit should cover all hikers for the entire trip – if you are having difficulty building the trip you have in mind, you may need to contact the Wilderness Information Center

There are a few reasons that this can happen. 

First, Recreation.gov is programmed to prevent you from booking sites that are more than 15 miles from a trailhead, or more than 15 miles from one another. On the coast, this mileage limitation is set to 10 miles, to account for the rough terrain and tidal restrictions. If you are planning a hike with longer mileage days, you’ll need to contact the WIC directly to set your permit up over the phone.  

Your intended campsite may not fall within the starting area you have selected. For example, Appleton Pass is a common camp site for hikers on the Sol Duc / Seven Lakes Basin loop, but the site itself is in the Elwha drainage and is nested under ‘Elwha’ on Recreation.gov

If your group is too large for a desired campsite, Recreation.gov will not list it as an option. For example, there is nowhere for a group of 8 to camp at Heart Lake.  

Not every site is listed on Recreation.gov, only the sites on the Wilderness Trip Planner Map are available online. If you are planning a cross-country, off trail trip, or have used a site in the past that isn’t on the site, please contact the Wilderness Information Center and we can help you to set up your permit. 

It depends. Generally, adding people is more difficult than subtracting them. 

If you need to change your group size, and your permit has not been issued yet, you can change your permit directly on Recreation.gov using the My Reservations tab.  A useful guide to the process is available here.  

However, you will not be able to add new campers if your site is in a quota zone and is full, or if adding group members would result in a group that is too large for your reserved site. The maximum group size in many areas is 6 campers, and the absolute group size limit for any backpacking trip is 12 campers. 

If your permit has already been issued, you will need to contact the Wilderness Information Center directly.

 

You can cancel your permit via Recreation.gov at any time until you are within one week of your trip. At that point, you will need to contact the WIC directly to cancel your permit. 

Generally, permits cancelled within one week of departure are non-refundable. However, exceptions apply – if you feel that your situation merits a refund, please call or email the WIC. 

Even if you will not be eligible for a refund, it is critical that you cancel a trip if you are unable to make it. By keeping your reservation, but not completing your trip, you are preventing others from backpacking in the park. 

Permit reservations for the summer season (May 15th through October 15th) will be released on April 15th, at 7:00 AM PST. Some quota areas, such as the Sol Duc / Seven Lakes Basin, have a narrower season based upon snow conditions. If you are planning a trip to a popular quota zone in Olympic, you should plan to reserve sites as early as possible.  

If you are travelling exclusively in non-quota areas of the park, there is no pressure to reserve early, because there is no cap on the number of permits that will be issued. 

Permits can be made up until the day of departure, provided there is availability. However, booking a day or two in advance will give the WIC time to issue your permit. 

Usually this happens when the permit you are trying to print has not been issued yet. During busy summer months, your permit may not be issued until a few days before your trip. If your trip is coming up soon and you can’t print out your permit, contact the WIC or stop by an open WIC location and ask to have your permit printed out. 

The easiest way to set your permit up is to call the WIC and ask for help over the phone at (360) 565-3100. Because of the long mileages involved in most PNT thru-hikes, you will not be able to set up your trip online without help. 

Most PNT through-hikers purchase a Wilderness Annual Pass. It costs $45 per person, and waives the $8 per night backpacking fee. So unless you are crossing the park in less than 6 nights, it’s a smart purchase. 

You should plan for about 45 minutes to set the permit up over the phone; you can make this process faster if you call with a tentative itinerary planned ahead of time. Most of the camp areas along the PNT route do not have quotas, so there is no risk of not getting a permit. So they have a more solidified idea of what dates they will be travelling through the park, most thru-hikers call the WIC when they are hiking through the Puget Sound section.

Contact the Wilderness Information Center directly. You’ll get your permit set up over the phone, and it will give WIC staff a chance to talk over the challenges you may face on your adventure.

When booking, you may enter “X” or “TBD” in the place of a hiker’s name if you’re not sure who is coming. If you are planning a higher risk trip, the best practice would be to modify your permit on Recreation.gov when your plans are solid, or to contact the WIC directly to confirm names.

Vehicle information is collected on Recreation.gov only as a safety measure. You are not breaking any rules if your vehicle information is inaccurate or incomplete. However, if you are travelling solo or have a high risk trip in mind, you should contact the WIC to update your vehicle information when you know which car you will have.
 

Questions About Wildlife and Food Storage

Bear canisters are required for any coastal trip, in the Sol Duc / Seven Lakes Basin area, and in other areas of the park. When in doubt, consult the Wilderness Trip Planner map

If you have bear canisters already, and they are on the list of approved canisters for Olympic, then you can use them on your trip. We also have bear canisters available for loan from the WIC.

Hanging food is not a substitute for using a bear canister, but it is permitted in some areas of the park.

Some sites in the Olympic Wilderness have bear wires – high steel cables with loops of wire rigged to help you hang your food. Other sites allow bear hangs. If you are using a wire, or hanging your food, you should have your food in a durable bag, at least 12 vertical feet from the ground, 10 feet out from the nearest tree trunk.

The vast majority of inexperienced hikers build bear hangs that are much too close to the ground. If you can touch the bottom of your food with a trekking pole, it is probably too low.

Bear wires frequently fail in the wilderness. If you are planning to rely on them, you should also pack enough cord to hang your own food.

You can check out bear canisters from any open Wilderness Information Center location. All you need is your permit reservation number; the cans are included in the cost of your permit. However, note that availability of canisters is limited and they are released on a first-come, first-served basis.

The WIC in Port Angeles is open seven days a week, year round (excepting Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). The Wilderness Information Centers at Quinault and Hoodsport are open seasonally. If you can’t confirm that the location you want to pick up a bear canister at will be open, contact the WIC directly.

Provided you have a permit reservation number, you can pick up your canister ahead of time. However, during the busy summer months, we would ask you to check the canister out no more than one day in advance of your trip, and to return it promptly after your hike is finished.

The WIC locations in Port Angeles, Quinault and Hoodsport all have 24 hour drop bins to return your canister. Find the labelled drop bin, lift the flap and drop the canister in – it’s that easy! Please don’t leave canisters on the porch or in the parking lot at these sites. If they are stolen, you will be responsible for replacing them.

Ursacks, ‘smell proof’ bags, or other soft-sided food storage items are not an acceptable alternative to hard-sided bear canisters. When in doubt, review this list of approved bear canisters.
 

Questions about Special Uses

Dogs, and other pets, are not permitted on most park trails, and there is nowhere within the boundaries of Olympic National Park that you can backpack with your dog. However, dogs are allowed in car camping areas, as well as on trails through Olympic National Forest.

In Olympic, stock animals are defined as horses, mules, llamas or burros. Other animals are not permitted.

When you are on Recreation.gov, you will see an option to select your Permit Type. Change your permit type to “Overnight with Stock” and available stock sites should appear. However, many areas of the park, even areas that are stock accessible, may not have designated stock sites. If you are planning a trip through such areas, the best plan is to contact the Wilderness Information Center directly.

The boat-in campsites on Lake Ozette are non-quota, and you can book them in two different ways.

You can go directly to Recreation.gov and search for permits in the ‘North Coast’ region. You’ll find permit available for Ericsons Bay.

Planning to camp on Tivoli Island, or elsewhere on the lake? The best practice is to call or email the Wilderness Information Center directly. We can reflect your campsite on your permit. However, because Lake Ozette is non-quota, you should note that your permit for Tivoli Island does not represent a ‘reservation’ for Tivoli Island – there are limited sites on the island, and they are still first come, first served.

No special permits are required for climbing in the Olympics. However, many of the popular peaks, including Mount Olympus, represent technical climbs. You’ll need the appropriate equipment (ropes, crampons, ice axes, harnesses, climbing helmets, etc.) as well as the experience to complete your climb.

Last updated: November 12, 2023

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