Mount Rainier to Test a New Approach for Wilderness and Climbing Permits

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Rising over 14,410 feet (4392 m) in elevation, Mount Rainier dominates the Washington State skyline, surrounded by wildflower-filled meadows and ancient forests.

Each year, tens of thousands of visitors encounter the park’s wilderness on overnight trips, whether through the challenge of a summit climb, the immersion of the Wonderland Trail, or the restorative peace of a shorter trip into the backcountry.

Permits to the area are in high demand and required for all overnight trips. Mount Rainier National Park receives about 7,500 requests for climbing and backpacking trips annually.  On average, about 2,700 of those requests are for the celebrated Wonderland Trail.  However, the park’s federally designated wilderness can accommodate only 600-700 reservations for the Wonderland Trail every summer.

As demand continues to increase and requests to the park for overnight trips in the wilderness far exceed the amount of permits and trip itineraries available, Mount Rainier will try a first-of-its-kind Early Access Lottery in 2021 for overnight permits.  The goal is to make the process for securing a permit more simple, fair and improve the overall experience for visitors.

Wilderness and climbing permits are in high demand at Mt. Rainier, now more than ever.

In the past, Mount Rainier park rangers have done their best to make the most trips available to visitors using a labor-intensive permitting process, often taking up to six weeks to confirm or deny visitors a permit. New this year, the park will pilot an Early Access Lottery on Recreation.gov, providing an opportunity for visitors to book their desired trip, view available inventory in real-time, and receive immediate confirmation of a reserved trip.

The Early Access Lottery provides visitors wishing to reserve a Mount Rainier wilderness permit an opportunity to book a single, advance reservation, during a designated time period prior to advanced reservations being released for a general on-sale.

The Early Access Lottery is the first of its kind related to online reservations for federal recreation permits and supports the park’s established permitting system and rules, offering a fair and randomized process.  This metered approach allows staggered access to sequential campsites and dates to allow visitors to create a complete itinerary. Without limiting competition, expected intense competition between visitors to secure sequential campsites and dates may result in partial, incomplete, or impossible itineraries for a large portion of visitors. When visitors book reservations for permits which are not realistic, they may be extending themselves beyond their skills and abilities, contributing to resource damage, and diminishing the overall visitor experience.

This Early Access Period is divided into staggered time slots when awardees are granted early access to create a reservation among others who were also successful in securing a time slot. While the lottery system reduces the number of users competing for a site simultaneously during the Early Access Period, users will still face competition for available sites and will need to plan their preferred itinerary prior to making any reservation.  We recommend having a plan B in mind, just in case your preferred choices are not available.

A hiker climbs snowy Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier National Park (Meagan Shelton, Share the Experience)

Outdoor enthusiasts will have three options to acquire a backcountry or climbing permit for overnight trips during the peak season, June 1 through September 30, 2021.  

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