The U.S. Forest Service is making big changes to a permit program designed to reduce crowding at popular trailheads in Central Oregon wilderness areas.
Adventurers will no longer be able to purchase day-use permits for 19 trailheads in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas before the start of the permit season. The earliest people can now purchase day-use permits is 10 days before their trip.
New day-use permits will be made available in 10-day and two-day rolling windows.
For example, a maximum of 45 day users will be allowed to enter the wilderness at the Broken Top trailhead every day of the permit season. For people wanting to hike that trail on Saturday, June 18, for instance, 27 permits would be available June 8 and the remaining permits would be released on June 16.
The move comes after no-shows hampered the permit system’s inaugural year last summer, blocking out many would-be hikers. Deschutes National Forest spokesperson Jean Nelson-Dean said more than 40% of day-use permits sold last year were not used.
“That’s not the goal,” Nelson-Dean said. “The no-shows surprised us and wasn’t an outcome we wanted. It kept people out of the wilderness. That certainly wasn’t intended on our part.”
The majority of no-shows were from people who bought permits before the start of the season. Hikers and campers previously told OPB that heavy wildfire smoke, extreme heat and the COVID-19 pandemic were significant factors in whether or not they used their permits.
The Forest Service is also pushing back the starting and ending dates of permit season. The season will now run from June 15 to Oct. 15.
Overnight campers can still purchase permits before the start of the season, but they will only need a permit for the day they enter the wilderness. Those permits will become available on April 5 at 7 a.m. The agency will only impose quotas on overnight campers based on the day they enter the wilderness, which Nelson-Dean said will hopefully accommodate more people than last year.
“You say the day you’re going to go in, you say how long you’re going to stay there,” Nelson-Dean said. “But every day everybody has access to new permits.”
Hunters can still access the wilderness with a valid tag.
Day-use and overnight permits can be purchased for $1 and $6, respectively, at Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. For a full list of changes to the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System, visit the Forest Service website.
OPB’s Cassandra Profita contributed reporting.