Lightning destroys the summer hopes and dreams of thousands of backpackers to Mount Rainier National Park.

You can blame the weather and our reliance on technology, I guess.

According to rumors from park rangers, a lightning storm helped ruin the old reservation system for backcountry permits in Mount Rainier National Park. All who applied for backcountry camping permits, including permits for the Wonderland Trail, are subject to first-come, first-serve reservations.

Thanks to a failure of Mount Rainier’s current reservation system after a strong storm, all backcountry camping permits will be issued as “walk-up permits” for all of 2016. This comes after last year, when 70% of all campsites could be reserved in advance. The news is sure to cause some anger and frustration for those hoping to plan their trip to Rainier’s backcountry, but there is little that can be done about it this year.

The popularity of backcountry camping at Mount Rainier has increased in the past few years, almost doubling in permit requests since 2013.  The reservation issue is scheduled to be resolved for 2017, but that doesn’t exactly help anyone now. While the natural reaction for many might be to express their displeasure at the Park and those who work there, please cut them some slack. The rangers and employees, both year-round and seasonal, are doing their best and will work their asses off to help ensure you have a fantastic trip around Mount Rainier. Be patient, be humble and accept that sometimes, things suck for a bit. The permit system will be fixed and be better than ever, but not this year.

Mount Rainier from above Sunrise. Image via Mathias Eichler.
Mount Rainier from above Sunrise. Image via Mathias Eichler.

Read the Full Press Release from Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King reports that the park will process wilderness camping and climbing permits on a first-come, first-served basis only in 2016, including permits for hiking the Wonderland Trail. This represents a significant departure from prior years, when up to 70% of campsites could be reserved in advance. This change in procedure for 2016 comes as a result of a critical failure of the park’s existing reservation system during a recent storm event. The wilderness reservation system failure does not affect the public’s ability to reserve campsites at Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock Campgrounds through www.

“The ability to make a reservation for popular hikes in the park, especially the high demand backcountry campsites on the Wonderland Trail, is an important visitor service that offers certainty for those planning an overnight hike. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide that service for this summer,” said Superintendent King.

A new online Wilderness reservation system has been in development in partnership with the University of Washington Information School over the last few months. This system will be beta-tested internally during the summer of 2016 in preparation for its initial public launch in March, 2017. The online system will eliminate the existing mail-in and fax-based system that has been in place for many years, and greatly improve visitor experience with the reservation process. However, the system is not ready accept reservations for 2016. Therefore, all reservation requests submitted by mail or fax in 2016 will be returned unprocessed, and fees will be refunded. All wilderness camping and climbing permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis during 2016.

Established carrying capacity for wilderness camping in the park dictates the number of permits that can be accommodated annually. In a typical year, wilderness camping reservations received between March 15 and April 1 would be processed in random order starting April 1. Reservations received on or after April 1 would then be processed in the order received. Prior to 2013, the number of wilderness reservation requests received at Mount Rainier during the first two weeks of the reservation window averaged in the hundreds. In 2013, requests jumped to 1,400. In 2014, the park received 2,000 requests, and in 2015, the park received over 2,600 reservation requests as of March 31, necessitating a halt to processing Wonderland Trail reservation requests. This year, no reservation requests will be processed as a result of the system failure.

First-come, first-served permits (also know as walk-up permits) will be required for all Wilderness camping in the park during 2016. Permits can be issued up to one day prior to your trip start date, or on the start date. Permits must be obtained in person at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am – 5:00 pm), White River Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am – 5:00 pm), or the Carbon River Ranger Station (hours vary, call in advance). Remember to bring:

  • An emergency contact phone number
  • The license plate number of any vehicle being left behind in the park
  • The make, model, and color of the vehicle

There is no fee for a first-come, first-served permit.

Climbing permits for Paradise area routes require registration at the Climbing Information Center at Paradise. Emmons/Liberty Ridge route climbs require registration at the White River Wilderness Information Center at the White River Entrance. Climbs initiated from the northwest corner of the park (Carbon River & Mowich Lake) must register with staff at the Carbon River Ranger Station.

“Mount Rainier offers outstanding wilderness hiking and camping opportunities. The permit system for overnight backcountry camping is in place to ensure a quality visitor experience and protect a cherished wilderness resource. All opportunities for wilderness camping in the park will be still be available this summer, just on a walk-in basis. Visitors shouldn’t let the lack of a permit reservation system keep them home. The park employees who staff the Wilderness Information Centers work hard to help people and can generally put together a permit for those who can be flexible,” concluded Superintendent King.