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Forest Service Delays Launch of Central Cascades Permits; Increases Quotas for PCT

Today was supposed to be the first day that hikers could apply for Central Cascades Wilderness Permits for the 2020 hiking season. These are the new permits that will limit hiker access to Oregon’s Central Cascades wilderness areas: Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson. It will also limit access to 110 miles of Pacific Crest Trail to backpackers and section-hikers. The first round of advance permits was scheduled to be released to the public today, but that is now on hold.

Coronavirus Shutdown Delays New Permits

The new Central Cascades permit system is the result of the two year-long Central Cascades Wilderness Strategies Project. This effort was undertaken by the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests in an effort to reduce crowd and mitigate impact in these popular wilderness areas. Following many adjustments and lengthy public comment periods, the new permit plan was set to take effect this spring. The first allotment of permits was to become available on April 7, with the remaining permits  available beginning May 15.

However, with the effective closure of all National Forest lands in the Northwest due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, forest managers have decided to delay the release of this year’s permits. “The uncertainties of COVID-19 are short and long term,” said Deschutes Forest Supervisor Holly Jewkes. “We continue to focus on the safety, health and well-being of our employees and the public at this time.”

This action corresponds with Oregon’s current Stay-at-Home Executive Order to promote social distancing and help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the uncertainty of when the situation will return to normal. At this time, it is unknown exactly when permits will become available for the Central Cascades 2020 hiking season. Forest managers will continue to monitor the situation and work with Oregon health officials to determine when it is safe to recreate again. They expect to release an update sometime in May.

In the meantime, hikers can do their part to help slow the spread of coronavirus by staying at home, minimizing travel to essential needs, and walking or hiking in their local neighborhoods. And while maybe not ideal, just as our spring weather starts improving, it’s a great time to organize gear, catch up on reading, or do some extra trip planning for when this all blows over. For some helpful suggestions, see 10 Things to Keep You Busy During the Coronavirus Lockdown.

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Quota Limits Increased for PCT Access Points

In a spot of good news, the Willamette and Deschutes national forests have increased the daily permit/entry limits for PCT section-hikers wishing to traverse the Central Cascades wilderness areas. This comes after critical feedback was given to forest project managers that the new entry quotas would create a disproportionate barrier to PCT section-hikers—specifically at the southern (Irish–Taylor) and northern (Breitenbush) access points.

Under the initial plan, only three permits/entries per day would be available via Irish–Taylor, and four permits/entries per day via Breitenbush. This small number would only be exacerbated by the plan’s underreported caveat that all “daily” entries would be contingent on previous days’ entries. (For more on this detail, click here.) In the revised plan, which was only made public last month, the new daily allotment is now eleven permits/entries per day for Irish–Taylor and seven for Breitenbush.

For more information on how the new Central Cascades permit system works, and how to get your permit once they become available, visit our updated Permits Page.

While this increase doesn’t open the floodgates, it is an improvement. PCT section-hikers looking to cross the Central Cascades area will still be required to obtain a new wilderness permit, and time their entry/exit to specific dates—but at least now there will be more than a few daily opportunities. Those looking at doing a full trans-Oregon PCT hike should consider obtaining a PCTA long-distance permit. This would require adding a little more mileage to meet the 500-mile qualification, but would allow unrestricted access to cross the central Oregon wilderness areas.

Forest managers have indicated that they will be monitoring the effectiveness of the new wilderness permit system through its inaugural season. If changes are needed, the system’s adaptive management plan will allow them to make adjustments to be more effective at managing access, while maintaining wilderness integrity. PCT: Oregon will continue to follow this process and post updates accordingly.

Eli "Lounger" Boschetto

Eli "Lounger" Boschetto

Eli is director of PCT: Oregon, and the author of three Mountaineers Books guides: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon, Day Hiking: Mount Hood, and Urban Trails: Portland. He is also a brand ambassador for SPOT and National Geographic Maps, and is on the advisory board for the Oregon Trails Coalition. Eli lives in Portland, Oregon.

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