If you’re like me, the first part of each year is all about planning where I’ll go backpacking in the summer. One of my favourite places to go backpacking is Washington state. And many of the most spectacular backpacking trips in Washington require reservations. So I’ve put together a complete list of the 2021 Washington backpacking reservation dates you need to know.
Put these dates in your calendar! (Or if you’re like me, agonize over which trip to pick since they all sound amazing!) I’ve got Washington backpacking reservation dates for you for 4 different areas in Washington including the Enchantments, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, an Olympic National Park. Plus I’ve also got details on how to reserve, which trails I recommend, and my top tips for getting those hard-to-get reservations.
|Trail/Park||When to Reserve||Where to Reserve|
|Enchantments (Alpine Lakes Wilderness)||February 15 to March 1, 2021||Online|
|Mount Rainier National Park||March 15 to May 22, 2021||Online|
|North Cascades National Park||March 15, 2021 (TBC)||Online|
|Olympic National Park||March 15 to April 15, 2021 (TBC)||Online|
Enchantments Backpacking Reservations for 2021
What: The Enchantments are a high alpine area in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Most people do a 19 mile (30km) thru-hike to see the whole area, but numerous side trips are also possible. For a full guide to the area check out Clever Hiker’s Enchantment Lakes Backpacking Guide.
When to Reserve: Enchantments reservations work on a lottery system. Apply for the lottery between February 15 and March 1, 2021. Check back on March 17, 2021 to see if you “won” the lottery and got a reservation. You have until the end of March to convert your lottery win to a reservation.
Where to Reserve: Online on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest website.
How Much Do Reservations Cost: There is a $6 application fee plus a $5/person/night fee if your application is accepted.
Do You Have to Reserve? No. In previous years 30% of permits were available to walk-ups. However, in 2021 that policy ended. Instead 30% of permits were available for reservation one week in advance.
Tips and Tricks For Getting a Reservation: The Enchantments are one of the most difficult Washington backpacking reservations to get. Pick a start date in the middle of the week. Consider applying for the Snow Zone or the Colchuck Zone and then day hiking into the Core Zone, instead of applying for a difficult-to-get Core Zone permit. Get everyone in your group to submit an application to increase your chances. If you don’t win a permit in the original lottery, check back at the end of March – sometimes people who win the lottery forget to convert their win to a reservation.
Mount Rainier National Park Backpacking Reservations for 2021
What: The crown jewel of Mount Rainier National Park is the 93 mile/105km Wonderland Trail which circumnavigates the mountain. If you aren’t up to the entire Wonderland Trail, you can tackle shorter sections of it or backpack on some of the parks other trails. Find out more on the Mount Rainier National Park website.
When to Reserve: Mount Rainier permits work on a lottery system. Submit your lottery application between March 15 and May 22, 2021 for the summer season. All reservation requests received between March 15 and May 22 go into a lottery for priority. All reservation requests received May 22 onwards are processed in the order they were received.
Where to Reserve: Online via the Mountain Rainier National Park website. A park ranger will get back to you to let you know if a reservation is available for your requested dates. If you submitted your application in March, don’t expect to hear back until May since they are so busy.
How Much Do Reservations Cost: There is no application fee, but if your reservation request is confirmed, it costs $20 per trip.
Do You Need to Reserve? In previous years 30% of permits were available to walk-ups. However, in 2020 that policy ended due to COVID-19. Instead 30% of permits were available for reservation no more than one month and no less than one week in advance. It is unclear if this policy will continue in 2021.
Tips and Tricks For Getting a Reservation: Submit several alternative itineraries. You can only submit one reservation request per person so consider having everyone in your group submit requests.
Olympic National Park Backpacking Reservations for 2021
What: Olympic National Park is a huge park with a variety of rainforest, alpine and beach backpacking trips. For beach backpacking trip ideas, check out my guides to the beautiful coastal backcountry areas of Ozette Loop, Toleak Point, and Shi Shi Beach. For a complete list of trails, see the Olympic National Park website.
When to Reserve: Six months before your trip, with the earliest day you can reserve being March 15, 2021 (to be confirmed).
Where to Reserve: Reserve online via recreation.gov.
How Much Do Reservations Cost: Reservations are $6/trip. You will also need to pay wilderness fees of $8/person/night.
Do You Need to Reserve? Yes and No. Some areas of the park are 100% reservable (such as the popular Ozette Coast). Others are only 50% reservable. There are also areas where no reservations are accepted. To get a walk-up permit for the areas that aren’t 100% reservable you can go to a ranger station either the first day of your trip or the day before your trip. (Note: In 2020 there were no walk-up permits available due to COVID-19. It is unclear what the policy will be in 2021.
Tips and Tricks For Getting a Reservation: You need an account on recreation.gov to make a reservation so set one up before March 15th to save time on the day. Consider going on coastal trips in the off-season (before May 1 or after September 30th) when reservations aren’t required but the weather can often be good.
North Cascades National Park Backpacking Reservations for 2021
What: North Cascades National Park is a huge park with tons of backpacking options, most of them high in the mountains. Reservations are not required for the more remote corners of the park, and they do hold aside a certain number of permits in popular areas for first come-first served permits. But if you want to visit the most popular areas, a reservation is a must. You can find info on all the trails on the North Cascades National Park website. Looking for trip ideas? Check out my trail guide for the East Bank Trail on Ross Lake.
When to Reserve: Reservations are expected to open on March 15, 2021. (To be confirmed.) All reservation requests received between March 15 and April 15 go into a lottery for priority. All reservation requests received April 15th onwards are processed in the order they were received.
Where to Reserve: Online via the North Cascades National Park website. A park ranger will get back to you within a few weeks to let you know if a reservation is available for your requested dates.
How Much Do Reservations Cost: It costs $20 to apply for a reservation. You have to pay this fee even if your trip dates aren’t available.
Do You Need to Reserve? No. About 60 percent of the available wilderness permits can be reserved while the remaining 40 percent are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. To get a walk-up permit you need to go to a ranger station either the first day of your trip or the day before your trip.
Tips and Tricks For Getting a Reservation: Come up with lots of alternative itineraries. Submit early. You can only submit one reservation request per person so if cost isn’t an issue, consider having a few people in your group submit requests.
So there you have it: 2021 Washington backpacking reservation dates for 4 different parks. How many of these parks have you done already? Tell me in the comments. I’ve been backpacking in all of them except Mount Rainier National Park. But the real question should be: which of these parks do you want to visit next? (My answer might be all of them. Eep.)
I’ve got trail guides for a few hikes in Washington’s parks
- Shi Shi Beach Hiking and Camping Guide
- Ozette Loop Backpacking Trip Guide
- How to Hike and Camp at Toleak Point in Olympic National Park
- The East Bank Trail in North Cascades National Park
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