Last updated: January 31st, 2022
How Permits Work on the PNT
Between the Crown of the Continent in the Rocky Mountains and the Wilderness Coast, the Pacific Northwest Trail traverses three amazing national parks. It also crosses seven iconic national forests and many other public lands, including state, county and municipal parks.
Camping regulations will vary in each of these places. You can help protect the PNT and ensure a better wilderness experience for everyone by learning about these regulations before you go. On our national forests, at-large or dispersed camping is generally welcome, but it is not allowed in the national parks, Washington State Parks and some other public land sites along the Pacific Northwest Trail.
If you plan to stay overnight on the PNT in Glacier, North Cascades or Olympic National Park, you will need to have a valid backcountry or wilderness permit before you reach the trailhead. Failure to possess and display a valid backcountry permit may result in a fine and/or immediate removal from the national park.
On the Pacific Northwest Trail, these backcountry permits are required for long-distance hikers too. At this time, there is no coordinated permit available (like what is offered for the Pacific Crest Trail) for long-distance hikers on the PNT. To get the necessary permits, you must follow the application process used by each national park.
Applying for a backcountry permit takes careful planning, especially if you are a long-distance hiker. Before you apply for your permit, you should consider making an itinerary to help you choose the specific backcountry campsites that you would like to reserve. A valid backcountry permit must specify the campsites you will stay at each night you spend within the boundaries of a national park.
Thinking carefully about daily mileage, terrain, elevation change and other factors can help you choose the right combination of campsites that will allow you to traverse the park at a pace that’s right for you, or the slowest member of your group. Because some sites may not be available, you’ll also need to be prepared with a plan b, and plan c in the event that your first choice has already been reserved.
Special Accommodations for Thru-Hikers
To assist thru-hikers who are traveling on foot, and can not easily visit permitting locations, North Cascades and Olympic National Park may allow PNT thru-hikers to make reservations, and/ or activate permits by phone. This is a special exception for long-distance backers who do not have access to personal transportation they can use to travel between the trail and permit-issuing locations.
In Glacier National Park, the route of the PNT makes a spectacular traverse of the Rocky Mountains tracking just south of the US-Canada border.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park will begin accepting advance reservations for backcountry permits on Tuesday, March 15th.
In the past, the park has kept a 50/50 split between advance reservation campsites vs. walk-in campsites. In 2022, that ratio will change to about 70/30. This year, the park “strongly encourages backpackers to submit advance reservation requests to take advantage of this extra campsite availability.”
PNT hikers should note that there is a limit of 16 miles-per-day on advance reservation applications. Higher mileage permits may be granted to walk-in applicants only. This year, 30% of backcountry permits will be reserved for walk-in registration.
Successful applicants will receive an email confirmation letter with their permit itinerary and instructions for permit pickup. Advance reservations must be picked up in person at a permitting location before traveling to the trailhead.
Walk-in Permitting in Glacier National Park
In Glacier National Park, “walk-in” wilderness permits may be available the day before, or on the day of, a desired trip start date. Approximately one third of all sites in a backcountry campground are set aside for walk-in backpackers. However, that does not mean those sites will be available at all times. Backpackers on longer trips (4 or more nights) may have taken walk-in sites well in advance.
Park staff recommend that you arrive early the day before your intended trip start date for the best campsite availability. No reservation fees are charged for walk-in permits, only the $7 / night / person camping fee is charged.
Know Before You Go
PNT hikers should arrive in Montana prepared to follow bear safety precautions and to store their food properly in grizzly bear country.
Early season visitors may also need to be prepared for snow travel and other shoulder season hazards. The PNT crosses multiple areas with known snow hazards in Glacier National Park. Special snow travel equipment like microspikes and an ice axe — and the knowledge and experience to use them correctly — may be required to safely traverse the PNT — and to be granted a permit by park staff.
Getting around — visiting the PNT in Northwest Montana involves traveling great distances through remote mountainous terrain. Traveling between trailheads, permitting locations and trail towns around Glacier National Park can be challenging because many locations, including the eastern terminus, and the community of Polebridge on the west side of the park are not serviced by public transit or by park shuttles.
Permitting Locations Convenient for Westbounders Include
- St. Mary Visitor Center
- Two Medicine Ranger Station
Permitting Locations Convenient for Eastbounders Include
- Polebridge Ranger Station
Other Permitting Locations
- Apgar Backcountry Permit Center
- Many Glacier Ranger Station
Ross Lake Resort, located in the North Cascades National Park Complex, holds resupply packages for PNT hikers. Photo by Alex Maier.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park Service Complex accepts advance reservations online starting April 26 for backcountry camping between the dates of May 27 through September 30. This time frame accommodates most trips on the PNT during the prime hiking season. It is also possible to apply for the Early Access Lottery. Learn more about that process here.
This year, the park will maintain a roughly 70/30 split between advance reservations and walk-up permits.
In North Cascades National Park, walk-up permits may be available the day before or the day of a desired trip start date. Approximately 30% of all sites in a backcountry campground are set aside for walk-in backpackers. However, that does not mean those sites will be available at all times. Available permits are issued on a first-come first-serve basis in-person at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, Washington.
Park staff recommend that you arrive early the day before your intended trip start date for the best campsite availability. No fees are charged for walk-in permits.
Converting a Reservation to a Permit
Advance reservations must be converted to a backcountry permit before the start of the trip. Reservations can be picked up at the park station closest point of entry, and must be picked up by 11 am of the trip start date or the reservation will be canceled and the sites made available to other visitors.
Special Accommodations for PNT thru-hikers
To assist thru-hikers who are traveling on foot, and can not easily visit permit-issuing ranger stations, North Cascades National Park grants a special exception to allow PNT thru-hikers to make “walk-in reservations” by phone.
To apply for a “walk-in” permit, PNT thru-hikers may call the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount at: 360-854-7245. The PNTA asks that you always show respect for park staff and this special courtesy by calling no later than one hour before closing. Keep in mind that ranger stations can be extremely busy during peak season. Before calling, have an itinerary ready and other resources on hand to help plan your trip, like a backcountry trip planning map that shows backcountry campsites. Be aware that your first choice may already be reserved. Be prepared with a back-up itinerary with alternate sites and dates, just in case.
It is recommended that westbound thru-hikers call the WIC from Oroville, Washington and eastbound hikers call from the Puget Sound area to ensure reliable cell service. Thru-hikers who make advance reservations online must call the WIC to activate their permit, or the sites will be released to others.
To reach the eastern park boundary via the PNT, westbound thru-hikers will travel 140 miles from Oroville across the Pasayten Wilderness and other remote areas without reliable cell service. In the event that they arrive in North Cascades National Park off the itinerary of their original permit, park rangers can typically help them adjust their permit to match their schedule.
Welcome to Olympic National Park by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park has not announced the status of the walk-up permits for the 2022 season. In 2021, no walk-up permits were available. 100% of the available permits were available online for advance reservation. All WIC locations are currently closed to the public, but WIC staff are available to answer telephone calls and assist with permit questions and issues.
Permits are available for advance reservation up to six months before your start date on a rolling window.
Be aware that certain camp areas along the PNT close seasonally. The Seven Lakes Basin/ High Divide area is open between July 15 and October 15. Other high elevation sites along the PNT in the park are only open between June 15 and October 15.
Accommodations for PNT thru-hikers
WIC staff will be available to answer telephone calls and assist thru-hikers with permit issues. Westbound thru-hikers that expect to arrive in the park a little off of the schedule specified on their advance permit can get assistance by calling the WIC at (360) 565-3100.
PNT hikers should note that there is a 16 miles-per-day limit on advance reservation applications. Higher mileage permits may be granted by calling WIC staff.
The PNTA asks that you always show respect for park staff and this special courtesy by calling no later than one hour before closing. Keep in mind that ranger stations can be extremely busy during peak season. Before calling, have an itinerary ready and other resources on hand to help plan your trip, like a backcountry trip planning map that shows backcountry campsites. Be aware that your first choice may already be reserved. Be prepared with a back-up itinerary with alternate sites and dates, just in case.
Directions and Transportation
Visiting the PNT on the Olympic Peninsula can involve traveling great distances to remote trailheads. For those traveling without personal transportation, it can be challenging to get around. You can learn more about the public transit and private shuttle services available on the Olympic Peninsula on our blog.
Know Before You Go
PNT hikers should arrive prepared to follow park rules for food storage. Some areas along the Pacific Northwest Trail in Olympic National Park require a hard-sided bear canister. This season, bear canisters can be rented from the WIC in Port Angeles and from private businesses in Forks, Washington.
Visitors to the Wilderness Coast section of the PNT should also need to be prepared for the unique hazards of coastal travel and to plan their trip around the tides. Along the Pacific Coast, the PNT crosses 15 rocky headlands that require low tides for passage. Other headlands along the coast can never be rounded safely. In these situations, the PNT leaves the beach and climbs steep trails over land. Careful planning is needed to take advantage of the low tide and to safely traverse the PNT along the Pacific Coast.