A new permitting system for hikers and backpackers in Oregon’s central Cascade Mountains will finally be implemented this summer, after years of development and a year after it was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that permits will be required starting May 28 for some of the most popular trails in the Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters and Mount Washington wilderness areas. Permits will be required only during the busiest hiking season, which will end Sept. 24 this year.
Permits are aimed at reducing the number of hikers allowed into those wilderness areas, as a response to overcrowding and human impact on what are supposed to be pristine natural spaces.
The number of permits issued per day will vary from trailhead to trailhead. A full list of the trailheads and the number of permits that will be issued is posted in documentation of the plan online. Day hikers will be charged $1 and backpackers $6 to book a permit online at Recreation.gov, officials said.
Reservations for permits will open at 7 a.m. April 6, forest officials said. However, only a portion of the permits will be made available right away. At least half of all hiking and backpacking permits will be held back and released on a seven-day rolling window throughout the season, allowing for more spontaneous trips.
Permits can also be reserved at Deschutes and Willamatte national forest offices, or by calling 1-877-444-6777, though forest officials are urging people to book their permits at Recreation.gov instead, telling prospective hikers: “go online, don’t stand in line.”
Forest officials delayed the launch of new permits as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the Pacific Northwest in 2020, marking another twist to a process that has at times been controversial. When first proposed, the plan was opposed by some central Oregon residents who sought an exemption for locals, fearing they would lose their ability to spontaneously hike the nearby trails.
The original forest service plan called for $3 to $6 fees to reserve permits, but after a public comment period drew backlash from some hikers, officials called off some of the fees. Forest officials also carved out exemptions for hunters, volunteers and thru hikers tackling the Pacific Crest Trail.