April 13, 2015
By Kris Parfitt
Photo at right: Backpackers enjoy the Wonderland Trail which circumnavigates the base of Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park. Photo by Kevin Bacher, courtesy of the National Park Service
At first it was a surprise to hear that Mount Rainier National Park had stopped taking applications to reserve a permit to hike the full length of the Wonderland Trail, the 93-mile long path that circumnavigates the base of Mount Rainier. However, this is actually a good problem to have for one of Washington state’s most visited national parks.
The National Park Service has been inviting the public to enjoy these pristine places for years with the intention of inspiring people to become invested in the conservation of wild places.
Similar organizations such as the Mountaineers, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society, to name just a few, encourage the public with a similar message: that the more people are outside experiencing the great outdoors, the more nature conservation advocates are being “born” to help protect wild places.
The fact that the permit application process saw its highest number of reservation requests (over 2,500 in 2015 compared to 2,000 in 2014), is a good sign that the efforts of the NPS and other outdoor organizations are paying off and more people are interested in experiencing wild places.
To prevent hikers’ footsteps contributing to potential detrimental trail impact, Mount Rainier limits the amount of permits per year. Deputy Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, Tracy Swartout, says that established carrying capacity for wilderness camping in the park dictates the number of reservations that will be accommodated, and this number does not change annually.
Therefore, in order to minimize processing of reservation requests that will then be denied – and to minimize would-be applicants’ frustrations – the park is no longer accepting reservation requests for Wonderland Trail permits in 2015.
However, according to the National Park Service Permit webpage for Mount Rainier, the park reserves approximately 30 percent of the available wilderness permits to be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. These permits can be issued the same day your trip starts, or up to one day before your trip. These permits are free and they must be made in person at any ranger station in the park.