A permit program to reduce crowding at popular wilderness areas in Oregon’s Central Cascades will take effect this summer.
The Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System will implement a $1 day-use fee per person for 19 popular trails in the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington wilderness areas. All 79 trails across the three wilderness areas will require permits for overnight use, which will cost $6 per trip (up to 12 people, up to 14 days).
The Deschutes and Willamette national forests approved the permit system in 2019 and had planned to implement the program in May of last year. Uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect wilderness and forest operations led public land managers to put the program on hold.
Deschutes National Forest public affairs officer Jean Nelson-Dean said land managers couldn’t even guarantee whether wilderness areas would remain open at the pandemic’s outset.
“Now we have a better sense of what this pandemic means and how we can manage things on the ground appropriately,” she said.
The following trails will require $1 day-use permits:
- Mount Jefferson Wilderness: Breitenbush Lake, Duffy Lake, Jack Lake, Marion Lake, Whitewater, Pamelia Lake and South Breitenbush & Crag
- Mount Washington Wilderness: Benson/Tenas and Pacific Crest Trailhead at McKenzie Pass
- Three Sisters Wilderness: Broken Top Trailhead, Crater Ditch, Devils Lake/South Sister, Green Lakes/Soda Creek, Obsidian, Quinn Meadow, Scott, Sisters Mirror, Tam McArthur Rim and Todd Lake
The trails requiring day use permits often draw large crowds, especially on weekends, which has led to resource damage and unauthorized expansion of trails.
For example, Nelson-Dean said, only five of the 35 trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness account for more than half of all use — most of it on the weekends. The intent of the permit system is to spread that use out across the week while also encouraging people to use some of the less-visited trails.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 requires land managers to preserve wilderness areas and the wild characteristics that make them so, while also providing access to the public.
Permits for Central Cascades wilderness areas will go on sale April 6. People can reserve permits at Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. People can also buy permits at Forest Service offices, however, many are closed due to the pandemic.
The Forest Service will make 40% of overnight use permits for the full season available immediately on April 6. The remainder will become available on a rolling basis for more spontaneous trips.
Between 20% and 50% of day use permits for the full season will also be available immediately, depending on the trail. The remainder will become available on a rolling basis as well.
The permit program will make some exceptions for Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, hunters and volunteers.