PCT Hiking Permits
Generally speaking, taking a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail does not require any special permits. You can go to just about any trailhead and start hiking. In Oregon, however, there are a few exceptions to that rule. Some are simply a matter of filling out a free wilderness area registration form at a trailhead. Others require you to obtain a wilderness camping permit in advance of your trip for a small fee. The latter of these are in order to keep particularly sensitive wilderness areas from being overrun and trashed—something that, unfortunately, has happened.
If you plan on hiking more than 500 miles continually along the PCT, you should secure a thru-hiker permit from the 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. The PCTA begins processing long-distance permit requests in early February. Each hiker must secure his or her own permit. A new daily quota limit was implemented in 2016 in order to reduce heavy trail traffic. Hiking the PCT in Oregon—either in sections or in whole—does not qualify for this permit.
National Forest & Wilderness Permits
Some Oregon national forest and wilderness area trailheads have a small kiosk and wooden box containing a bundle of self-issue permits. These permits are free, and you’re required fill them out when you come to them. The information you provide (e.g., number of hikers in your party, where you’re traveling from to hike, etc.) helps agencies apply for trail-funding grants in order to help maintain the PCT and other area trails. 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 attach the other copy to your pack.
Limited Entry & National Park Permits
In addition to general wilderness permits, there are four areas in Oregon that require special permits for camping on or near the PCT. You must obtain and be in possession of the required permit to camp in these areas, or risk a hefty citation. These areas also require you to camp in specific, designated areas in order to keep impact isolated in sensitive environments. When planning your trip and applying for these permits, you can improve your chances of getting the dates and locations you want by avoiding weekends and holidays.
Here is a list of the wilderness areas the PCT passes through in Oregon (south to north), and the permits required.
Soda Mountain Wilderness (Section 1) — Permits not required.
Sky Lakes Wilderness (Section 2) — Permits not required.
Crater Lake National Park (Section 2) — The national 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. 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.
Mount Thielsen Wilderness (Section 3) — Permits not required.
Diamond Peak Wilderness (Section 3) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailhead kiosk.
Deschutes National Forest (Section 4) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailhead kiosk.
Three Sisters Wilderness (Section 4) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailhead kiosk.
Obsidian Limited Entry Area (Section 4) — Located within the Three Sisters Wilderness, this special area requires permits for both dayhikers and backpackers to explore and camp in this unique volcanic environment. PCT hikers are permitted a pass-through, but not permitted to camp without an Obsidian Area Permit. LNT camping should be done at existing sites, and you should be mindful of areas that have been closed for rehabilitation. Permits are just $6 and can be obtained in advance of your trip.
Mount Washington Wilderness (Section 4) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailhead kiosk.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Section 5) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailhead kiosk.
Pamelia/Shale Lake Limited Entry Area (Section 5) — Located in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, this popular, near-trailhead location requires permits for all campers in the Pamelia Lake, Hunts Cove (including Hanks and Hunts lakes), and Shale Lake (on the PCT) areas. All camping must be done at designated campsites at each location. Pamelia Lake Permits are just $6 and can be obtained in advance of your trip.
Jefferson Park (Section 5) — No longer required. Following an unsuccessful implementation of a permit system in 2016, the Forest Service has removed the permit requirement for the Jefferson Park area. Campers are still asked to utilize designated campsites whenever possible. When designated sites are not available, visitors should select previously-impacted sites at least 250 feet from water sources.
Warm Springs Indian Reservation (Section 5) — Permits are not required to hike and camp on reservation land, but please follow all posted rules and regulations.
Mount Hood Wilderness (Section 5, south) — Permits not required.
Mount Hood Wilderness (Section 6, north) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailside kiosk.
Bull Run Forest Reserve (Section 6) — Permits are 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) — Obtain self-issue wilderness permits at trailside kiosk.
Trailhead Parking Permits
Many—but not all—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 and wilderness permit kiosks, restrooms, picnic facilities and trash service, e.g., Sno-Park trailheads. Trailheads that are just turnouts on the roadside, and on remote forest roads typically do not require passes. 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 be purchased on the USGS website.
Here is a list of the main PCT trailheads in Oregon that require a Northwest Forest Pass (south to north).
Summit Trailhead/Sno-Park – OR 140, near Fish Lake (Sections 1/2)
North Crater Trailhead/Sno-Park – OR 138, at Cascade Crest (Sections 2/3)
Willamette Pass Trailhead – OR 58, near Odell Lake (Sections 3/4)
Elk Lake Trailhead – Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, near Elk Lake (Section 4)
Santiam Pass Trailhead – US 20/OR 126, west of Sisters (Sections 4/5)
Frog Lake Trailhead/Sno-Park – US 26, near Blue Box Pass (Section 5)
Barlow Pass Trailhead – OR 35, at Barlow Pass (Section 5)
Wahtum Lake Trailhead – FR 660, at Wahtum Lake (Section 6)
Bridge of the Gods Trailhead – US 84, at Cascade Locks (Section 6)
For a complete list of all the trailheads in Oregon that require a Northwest Forest Pass, CLICK HERE.