Generally, taking a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail does not require any special permits or fees. You can go to just about any trailhead in Oregon and start hiking. However, there are a few exceptions to that rule. Most are simply a matter of filling out a free wilderness area registration form at a trailhead. A few areas require you to obtain a wilderness access or camping permit. The latter of these have become necessary to keep particularly sensitive wilderness areas from being overrun and trashed. This page outlines all the current permit requirements for hiking the PCT in Oregon.
NATIONAL FOREST & WILDERNESS PERMITS
Some Oregon national forest and wilderness area trailheads have small kiosks and wooden boxes containing bundles of self-issue permits. These permits are free, and you should fill them out when you come to them, every time. The information you provide (e.g., number of hikers in your party, where you plan to camp, etc.) helps forest agencies apply for trail-funding grants in order to help maintain the PCT and other area trails and facilities. It also lets authorities know where you are, which can be essential to helping locate and evacuate you in case of a natural disaster such as wildfire or landslide. All you need to do is fill in the information on the form, sign it (this states that you agree to the rules and regulations of the area—read them!), then leave one copy in the box and carry the other copy with you.
Soda Mountain Wilderness (Section 1/B) – Permits not required
Sky Lakes Wilderness (Section 2/C) – Permits not required
Mount Thielsen Wilderness (Section 3) – Permits not required
Diamond Peak Wilderness (Section 3/D) – Self-issue permits at Summit Lake, Pengra Pass
Deschutes National Forest (Section 4/E) – Self-issue permits at Willamette Pass
Three Sisters Wilderness (Section 4/E) – See CENTRAL CASCADES WILDERNESS PERMITS
Mount Washington Wilderness (Section 4/F) – See CENTRAL CASCADES WILDERNESS PERMITS
Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Section 5/F) – See CENTRAL CASCADES WILDERNESS PERMITS
Warm Springs Indian Reservation (Section 5/F) – Permits not required to hike and camp on reservation land, but follow all posted rules and regulations
Mount Hood Wilderness – South (Section 5/F) – Permits not required
Mount Hood Wilderness – North (Section 6/G) – Self-issue permits at Timberline Trail, Lolo Pass
Bull Run Forest Reserve (Section 6/G) – Permits not required to hike across this federally-protected watershed, however PCT hikers must remain on the trail at all times
Mark O. Hatfield (Columbia) Wilderness (Section 6/G) – Self-issue wilderness permits at Wahtum Lake
CENTRAL CASCADES WILDERNESS PERMITS
Beginning in 2021, special limited-entry permits will be required for hiking in Oregon’s Central Cascades wilderness areas: Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson. This new requirement applies to some dayhikers and all overnight backpackers and PCT section-hikers. PCT thru-hikers holding a long-distance permit (see below) are exempt from this requirement. These permits are available through the recreation.gov website, and can be obtained in advance of your trip. Similar to other limited-entry wilderness areas (e.g., Yosemite NP, Inyo NF), you will need to identify your intended entry and exit dates and adhere to those on your hiking schedule. Click on the tabs below for more information about this permit system, and how to get your permit.
All overnight backpackers and PCT hikers wishing to travel within or through the Central Cascades wilderness areas are required to obtain a limited-entry permit for their dates of travel. These permits will be required for all wilderness entry from Memorial Day Weekend through the end of September. The only exception are hikers holding long-distance permits issued by PCTA; see more in LONG-DISTANCE PERMITS. There are daily limits to the number of hikers/permits that will be issued to access these areas, both via the PCT and connecting trails. The following chart shows the primary access points for PCT hikers, south to north. Connecting trails will also have their own daily limits (see TRAILHEAD QUOTAS).
|Trailhead||Road||PCT Section||PCT Mile||Oregon Mile||Daily Quota|
|Big Lake (Old Santiam Rd)||FR-811||4/F||1997.1||305.4||2|
For PCT hikers and overnight backpackers, permits are issued on a per-group basis. A “group” can consist of anywhere from one to twelve hikers. There is no cost for the permit, but there is a $6 processing fee for the reservation. Reservations can be made for up to 14 days/13 nights per trip. Individuals will be limited to five (5) permit reservations at one time. The Forest Service encourages you to only make the reservations you will use, and not “hoard” permits. This will give as many hikers as possible an opportunity to plan a hike in the area. If you reserve a permit but have a change of plans, or cannot make your hike, you should cancel your trip on recreation.gov in order to open that permit up for other hikers. In the event of permit cancellation, reservation fees are not refunded.
When you apply for a Central Cascades wilderness permit (see How to Get Your Permit), you will be required to indicate your planned entry and exit dates. Once your permit has been secured, you should print it out and carry it with you on your hike. While on your hike, if you are approached by a patrol ranger who requests your permit, you should be polite and show it. Hikers in violation of their permit dates, or hiking without a permit, may be subject to citation up to $250.
A Few Notes for Pass-Through Section-Hikers
Unfortunately, the Central Cascades wilderness permit requirement presents additional challenges to longer-distance PCT section-hikers seeking to simply pass through the area. It requires section-hikers to indicate specific entry and exit dates on their permit applications, and adhere to a strict mileage itinerary to meet these dates. When planning a multi-week hike across a large portion of Oregon, this can be difficult. Consider adding a couple “cushion days” into your itinerary to give you added flexibility to meet your intended entry and exit dates.
Section-hikers should do their best to enter the limited-entry area on or after their permit date, but not before. If you arrive early at either entry point (Irish–Taylor Lakes at the south end, Breitenbush Lake at the north end), there are good camp areas nearby to wait for your entry date. If you arrive at your entry point after your entry date, your permit is still valid for you to enter and proceed—you’ll just need to be sure to exit the area by your exit date.
If you’re planning any resupply or layover days at Elk Lake, Big Lake or Sisters, or any side trips within the wilderness area, be sure to include those days into your itinerary and on your permit application. Permit requests can be made for up to 14 days/13 nights in the limited-entry area. If you’re attempting to hike the entire state of Oregon and simply need more flexibility, consider a PCT LONG-DISTANCE PERMIT (see below).
All limited-entry permits for the Central Cascades wilderness areas will be available through the recreation.gov website. Approximately 40% of each day’s permits will be available for advance reservation. For the 2020 season, reservations will begin on April 7. The remainder of each day’s permits will be available 7 days in advance of any trip start or area entry.
How to Get Your Permit
- Visit recreation.gov
- Search for Central Cascades Wilderness Permits
- Select your desired trailhead, entry and exit dates
- Complete the permit reservation application
- Pay the reservation processing fee
- Print your permit, and carry it with you on your hike
Permits can also be obtained from area ranger stations during normal operating hours. Permit reservation fees still apply for in-person permit requests.
Tips to Help You Get the Permit You Want
- Weekend and holiday permits are usually in high demand. Instead, go for a weekday permit, which can be much easier to get.
- If you have a high-clearance vehicle, permits for remote trailheads can be easier to obtain than permits for popular, easily-accessible trailheads.
- If your trailhead of choice is full, consider a nearby alternative, then get creative with your hike plan so you can still enjoy the route you want (see TRAILHEAD QUOTAS).
- If you don’t mind hiking in inclement weather, look for last-minute permit cancellations when the forecast indicates clouds, rain or cooler temps.
The following chart indicates all the trailheads (south to north) with direct or nearby access to the PCT in the Central Cascades wilderness areas. It also indicates the daily permit quotas available for each trailhead. This “daily” quota however is dependent on previous days’ entries. EXAMPLE: If a trailhead has a “daily” quota of three, and all three permits are taken for a given day, each for three nights, then no more permits will be issued for that trailhead for the next three days, until those permits have expired. This can significantly reduce the actual number of daily permits available—so flexibility is key!
|Trailhead||Access Point||PCT Section||Miles from PCT||Daily Quota|
|Six Lakes||Cascade Lakes Hwy||4/E||5.3||9|
|Elk Lake||Cascade Lakes Hwy||4/E||1||4
|Sisters Mirror Lake||Cascade Lakes Hwy||4/E||3.4||5|
|Devils Lake/Wickiup Plain||Cascade Lakes Hwy||4/E||3.8||17|
|Big Lake (Old Santiam Wagon Rd)||FR-811||4/F||0||2|
|Bear Valley (Rockpile Lake)||FR-1235*||5/F||5.6||3|
*Remote trailhead and/or unimproved road.
NATIONAL PARK BACKCOUNTRY PERMITS
The PCT passes through Oregon’s only national park: Crater Lake. The park requires all PCT and backcountry hikers to obtain a park wilderness permit for camping within the park boundaries. Camping is limited to designated wilderness areas, and recommended in five established backcountry camp locations: Dutton Creek, Lightning Springs, Bybee Creek, Red Cone Spring, and Grouse Hill. Camping is not permitted anywhere between the park road and the rim of the crater. Permits are free and must be obtained in person from the Steel Visitor Center on Munson Valley Road, or at the Rim Village visitor center. This permit is not required for hikers carrying a PCT Long-Distance Permit.
Because of the long, waterless stretch of trail through the park—especially for those who opt for the Rim Trail instead of the official PCT—the park provides a storage locker for water caches at the Red Cone Trailhead. This is located on the North Entrance Road, near where the PCT crosses the road near Grouse Hill (PCT mile 1839.2, OR mile 147.5). Hikers should only store water here—no food—and label containers clearly with name and estimated pick-up date.
PCT LONG-DISTANCE PERMITS
If you plan on hiking 500+ miles continually along the PCT, you can obtain a long-distance permit from Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). This free permit allows you to travel and camp on all federal lands (e.g., national forests, wilderness areas, national parks) along the PCT corridor. Each hiker must secure their own permit. You can apply for permits directly on the PCTA website. A daily quota limit applies to some areas—particularly the Campo, CA launch point for thru-hikers—so having some flexibility in your desired start date can be helpful. Check PCTA’s website for application dates, and be prepared to wait a few weeks to see if you are granted a permit.
Hikers wishing to traverse the entire state of Oregon generally do not qualify for long-distance permits, as the entire state only measures 455 miles. However, if you are willing to add a little mileage by starting and/or finishing your hike in Seiad Valley, CA (at SR 96; PCT mile 1654.5) or Panther Creek, WA (at Panther Creek Rd; PCT mile 2182), you then qualify for a PCT long-distance permit. There currently are no daily quotas for these trailheads during the Oregon hiking season. Simply visit the PCTA website and fill out the application. This permit can help you avoid the limited-entry permit requirements in the Central Cascades wilderness areas. Note however, these permits are not intended for section-hikers, but only those who plan to adhere to the 500-mile requirement.
While the PCTA long-distance hiking permit allows you to travel and camp on federal lands without requiring additional permits, there are some restrictions. In Oregon, PCT hikers holding long-distance permits are required to camp within the “PCT Corridor.” This is 1/2 mile to either side of the PCT. Side trips to scenic destinations, and off-trail to resupply are permitted. In addition, hikers with long-distance permits are not permitted to camp at the following locations:
- Obsidian, and South and North Matthieu Lakes – Three Sisters Wilderness
- Coyote and Shale Lakes, and Jefferson Park – Mount Jefferson Wilderness
For more information about long-distance permits, regulations and applications, visit PCTA.
TRAILHEAD PARKING PERMITS
Many PCT trailheads in Oregon require vehicles to display a Northwest Forest Pass (NFP) for trailhead use. Typically, these are trailheads that are improved with information boards, permit kiosks, restrooms, picnic facilities and trash service. This includes most Sno-Park trailheads. NFPs cost $5 for a day pass and $30 for an annual pass, and can be obtained at most ranger stations and many outdoor recreation businesses, such as REI. Annual passes can also be purchased on the USGS website and at Discover Your Northwest. Trailheads that are just turnouts on the roadside, and on remote forest roads typically do not require passes.
Summit Trailhead/Sno-Park – OR-140, near Fish Lake (Sections 1/2/B/C)
North Crater Trailhead/Sno-Park – OR-138, at Cascade Crest (Sections 2/3/C/D)
Willamette Pass Trailhead – OR-58, near Odell Lake (Sections 3/4/D/E)
Elk Lake Trailhead – Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, near Elk Lake (Section 4/E)
Santiam Pass Trailhead – US-20/OR 126, west of Sisters (Sections 4/5/F)
Frog Lake Trailhead/Sno-Park – US-26, near Blue Box Pass (Section 5/F)
Barlow Pass Trailhead – OR-35, at Barlow Pass (Section 5/F)
Wahtum Lake Trailhead – FR-660, at Wahtum Lake (Section 6/G)
Bridge of the Gods Trailhead – US-84, at Cascade Locks (Section 6/G/H)
For a complete list of all the trailheads in Oregon that require a Northwest Forest Pass, CLICK HERE.
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