2016 Wilderness Camping to be First-Come, First-Served

Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King reports that the park will process wilderness camping and climbing permits on a first-come, first-served basis only in 2016, including permits for hiking the Wonderland Trail. This represents a significant departure from prior years, when up to 70% of wilderness campsites could be reserved in advance. This change in procedure for 2016 comes as a result of a critical failure of the park’s existing reservation system due to a power failure during a recent storm event.  The wilderness reservation system failure does not affect the public’s ability to reserve frontcountry campsites at Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock Campgrounds through www.recreation.gov.

“The ability to make a reservation for popular overnight hikes in the park, especially the high demand backcountry campsites on the Wonderland Trail, is an important visitor service that offers certainty for those planning an overnight trip.  Unfortunately, we are unable to provide that service for this summer,” said Superintendent King.

A new online Wilderness reservation system has been in development in partnership with the University of Washington Information School over the last few months. This system will be beta-tested internally during the summer of 2016 in preparation for its initial public launch in March 2017. The online system will eliminate the existing mail-in and fax-based system that has been in place for many years, and greatly improve visitor experience with the reservation process. However, the system is not ready to accept reservations for 2016. Therefore, all reservation requests submitted by mail or fax in 2016 will be returned unprocessed; no fees will be charged. All wilderness camping permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis during 2016.

Established carrying capacity for wilderness camping in the park dictates the number of permits that can be accommodated annually. In a typical year, wilderness camping reservations received between March 15 and April 1 would be processed in random order starting April 1. Reservations received on or after April 1 would then be processed in the order received. Prior to 2013, the number of wilderness reservation requests received at Mount Rainier during the first two weeks of the reservation window averaged in the hundreds. In 2013, requests jumped to 1,400. In 2014, the park received 2,000 requests, and in 2015, the park received over 2,600 reservation requests as of March 31, necessitating a halt to processing Wonderland Trail reservation requests. This year, none of the ~2,000 reservation requests received since March 15 will be processed as a result of the software system failure.

First-come, first-served permits (also known as walk-up permits) are required for all wilderness camping in the park. Permits can be issued up to one day prior to the trip start date, or on the start date. Wilderness permits must be obtained in person at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center (7:30AM- 5:00PM), White River Wilderness Information Center (7:30AM- 5:00PM), or the Carbon River Ranger Station (hours vary, call in advance).

Visitors seeking a wilderness camping permit should remember to bring:

  • An emergency contact phone number
  • The license plate number of any vehicle being left behind in the park
  • The make, model, and color of the vehicle

There is no fee for a first-come, first-served permit.

“Mount Rainier offers outstanding wilderness hiking and camping opportunities. The permit system for overnight backcountry camping is in place to ensure a quality visitor experience and protect a cherished wilderness resource. All opportunities for wilderness camping in the park will be still be available this summer, just on a walk-in basis.  Visitors shouldn’t let the lack of a permit reservation system keep them home.  The park employees who staff the Wilderness Information Centers work hard to help people and can generally put together a permit for those who can be flexible,” concluded Superintendent King.

Additional information is available at:  Wilderness Camping and Hiking – Mount Rainier National Park (U.S. National Park Service)