Planning a backpacking trip? Think about permits now

I love the New Year. January is a perfect time for plotting adventures — particularly backpacking trips. The rush of the holidays is over and the weather is lousy. It’s an ideal atmosphere for hovering over maps and guidebooks with a cup of tea or glass of wine.

Let me share a useful tip I’ve learned over the years. Drink tea if you want to plan a good, solid trip that you know is within your reach. Drink wine or similar if you’d like to plan a trip that will stretch your limits. (Just analyze your plans later to make sure the wine didn’t give you too much courage.)

If you have big plans for summer adventures, you’ll want to start thinking about permits soon. Here’s the info you need to getting permits for some popular backpacking areas.

Permits

Early on in your planning process (as in NOW), you should check if the area you want to go requires a permit. It’s a bummer to plan a brilliant adventure, only to learn you’ve missed the permit deadline.

Here are some areas that require permits, along with deadlines and basic information on submitting the applications.

Enchantments: This is an extremely popular area for hiking — and for a reason. The Enchantments are something out of a dream. In order to protect the delicate area, access is limited. Day hikers don’t need permits, but you do to stay overnight anytime between June 15 and Oct. 15. Permits are very hard to get, especially for trips that start on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

The application period is from Feb. 15-March 2. (Update: The start of the lottery has been temporarily delayed. Check this site for updates.)Seventy-five percent of the total permits are issued through a lottery system at the end of this period. Applying early in this period does not give you an advantage. As long as you get in by the deadline, you’ll have the same chance as anyone else.

You apply for permits at recreation.gov. You’ll need to create an account. The non-refundable application fee is $6. After March 6, return to your account to determine if you received a permit. (Write yourself a note. You might not get an e-mail.) You must confirm your acceptance of your permit reservation and pay $5 per person, per day. You have until March 31 to confirm your reservation. Up to 14 days before your trip, you must print out your permit and sign it. Once you do that, you can no longer make any changes to it.

For more information and more detailed directions, click here.

Mount Rainier National Park: A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the wilderness of the park. The Wonderland Trail is especially popular, and permit reservations fill up quickly. About 70 percent of permits are allotted in advance, and the rest are first-come, first-served. You also need a permit for climbing above 10,000 feet or on any glaciers.

Reservations are accepted beginning March 15 and rangers begin processing the permits on April 1. All requests received between March 15 and April 1 are processed in random order. After that, requests are processed in the order they are received.

Requests can be made by fax or letter. (After late May, they can also be made in person.) Use black ink and fill out this form. Reservations are $20. (If you don’t get a reservation, you will not be charged.) You will receive a letter stating whether or not you received a reservation. If you did, you must pick up your permit by 10 a.m. the day your trip starts. If you can not pick it up by that time, you’ll need to contact the park in advance.

For more information and more detailed directions, click here.

Olympic National Park: You need a permit for all backcountry camping in the park. Some areas have quotas and reservations are recommended for May 1 to Sept. 30. Reservations are accepted beginning March 15. Do not submit a request before then, it will be ignored. Reservations can be mailed or faxed. They cost $5, plus $2 per person, per night. (Kids under 16 are free.)

Click here to see the areas where reservations are available. Some areas of the beach require permits. Also, if you’ve never camped on the beach, I highly recommend it. Check the suggestions at the end of this story for some good beaches, some of which need reservations.

For more information and more detailed directions, click here.

North Cascades National Park: You need a permit to stay in the backcountry in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, which includes the park and Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. However, permits are only on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here for more info.

Planning

Not sure where you’d like to go this year? A good place to start is your local library or bookstore. Stroll through the outdoors guides section and see what catches your eye. The Washington Trail Association is also an excellent resource. Check out their hiking guide. Their trip reports are also very useful. If you click on advanced options, you can search for only overnight trips.

UPDATE: I just found this excellent roundup of permit information for popular areas around the country. Check it out if you’re planning a trip farther afield.

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