Permits and Camping on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Between the Crown of the Continent, high in the Rocky Mountains, and the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Northwest Trail traverses three amazing national parks, seven spectacular national forests, and many other special places. Camping options will vary along the length of the trail.

Roughly 600 miles of the PNT crosses national forest lands where backcountry permits are not required and dispersed camping according to the principles of Leave No Trace is generally welcome. In some areas, self-registration permits can be obtained at trailheads. Learn more about dispersed camping on our national forests here.

Over 200 miles of the PNT pass through three national parks where backcountry permits are required for overnight camping trips. Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park National Park provide designated backcountry campgrounds for wilderness camping. Dispersed, or at-large camping, is not allowed anywhere in these national parks. A valid permit will specify each campsite you will stay at each night you spend in the backcountry of the national park. Each park has a different set of procedures for getting a backcountry permit. Learn more about how to get a permit for your adventure below.

Permits for Long-distance Hikers

Long-distance hikers and thru-hikers will camp in many of these parks and adjacent public lands while traveling along the Pacific Northwest Trail. At this time, no coordinated permit is available for PNT thru-hikers (like what is offered for the Pacific Crest Trail). To get the necessary backcountry permits, every PNT hiker must plan accordingly and follow each national park’s application process. Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park may offer special accommodations for long-distance hikers who are traveling without personal transportation and can not easily travel between the trail and distant ranger stations. Learn more below.

Getting Started

Before you apply for your permit, we recommend learning more about the Pacific Northwest Trail using the resources below. Conditions on the trail vary from year to year, but generally a good permit strategy starts with understanding the seasonality and condition of each section of trail you plan to visit.

Keep in mind that conditions on the PNT may be very different from other long trails you have hiked before. Some areas will require special skills and equipment to visit safely and responsibly.

Glacier National Park Permits

Getting There

The Pacific Northwest Trail explores 49 miles of some of the most remote and spectacular trails in Glacier National Park. Whether you are a PNT thru-hiker or a backpacker on a shorter trip, this guide will help you plan and prepare to visit this remote and special part of Northwest Montana.

The eastern terminus of the PNT is located at the Belly River Trailhead near the Chief Mountain Port of Entry on the US-Canada border 60 miles north of East Glacier, Montana. This Port of Entry is scheduled to reopen on May 15th for the first time in over three years making travel between Waterton Park, Alberta and northwest Montana much more convenient for PNT hikers in 2023.

On the west side of the park, the primary route of the PNT can be accessed from the Bowman Lake Campground 7 miles north of Polebridge, Montana. Note that a vehicle permit system is in effect for those that plan driving trips to the North Fork Area, from May 26th – September 10th.

Know Before You Go
  • The peak season for advance reservation and walk-in permit availability in Glacier National Park falls between June 16th and September 28th. Advance permits can be reserved starting on March 15th.
  • From May 1 through October 31, there is a $10 permit fee and additional $7/night per person camping fee in the park.
  • In a typical snow year, most areas along the PNT in Glacier National Park will be snow free by early July. In a high snow year, or if snow arrives late in the season, snow hazards near Stoney Indian Pass and Brown Pass can be present well into mid-July. Learn more about snow and choosing a start date here.
  • Special snow travel equipment, like microspikes and an ice axe, and the ability to self-arrest, may be required to safely traverse the PNT and to be granted a permit by park staff.
  • PNT hikers should arrive in Montana prepared to follow bear safety precautions and to store their food properly in grizzly bear country.
  • Getting around Northwest Montana can involve driving great distances through remote mountainous terrain. Traveling between trailheads, permitting locations and trail towns can be challenging for thru-hikers and other visitors without personal transportation. Learn more about directions and transportation on the PNT here.
  • Failure to possess and display a valid backcountry permit may result in a fine and/or immediate removal from the national park.
Advance Reservations

On Wednesday, March 15th, Glacier National Park will begin accepting advance reservations for backcountry permits through the website. New for the 2023 season, this change should provide a much more convenient process for making advance reservations than in previous years.

Glacier National Park staff strongly encourage backpackers to use the new advance reservation system to take advantage of higher campsite quotas and to eliminate the stress of competing for a walk-in permit at the height of the busy summer season.

PNT hikers should note that there is a 16 mile-per-day limit on advance reservations. Although it may be possible to obtain a higher mileage permit by visiting a ranger station to request a walk-in permit, success is not guaranteed.

It is possible to reserve an advance permit that will allow you to cross the Park in four or five days due to the distance between campsites. Remember that hiking at night, dawn, or dusk is highly discouraged due to the presence of grizzly bears in this area. The 16 mile-per-day limit helps ensure that hikers are able to arrive at each of the campsites specified on their permit. Moving at moderate pace helps ensure a safe and enjoyable visit in Glacier National Park. The PNTA’s Permit Planner and other resources in this guide may be helpful in planning your itinerary.

Successful applicants will receive an email confirmation 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.

Permitting locations convenient for hikers starting the PNT on the east side of the park include the Two Medicine Ranger Station and the St. Mary Visitor Center.

The Polebridge Ranger Station is the most likely location for an eastbound journey on the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Learn more about the advance reservation process on the Park’s website.

Walk-in Permits

Walk-up wilderness permits may be available the day before, or on the day of, a desired trip start date by visiting a permit-issuing ranger station in the Park. PNT hikers looking to travel more than 16 miles per day may be granted a high-mileage permit at a ranger’s discretion.

There is no guarantee that a walk-in permit application will be successful. Only 30% of permits are reserved for walk-in registration, and competition for permits has grown in recent years. It is possible that the sites you hope to reserve will have been taken by other backpackers well in advance.

Park staff generally recommend booking online in advance whenever possible. If you choose to wait until you arrive in the Park and make a walk-up permit, it is recommended to budget additional time to arrange for permits and to be flexible about your itinerary and start date. Park staff recommend that you arrive early — at least one day — before your intended trip start date for the best remaining campsite availability. Permits will not be issued after 4:30 pm at any location.

Learn more about walk-in permits and wilderness camping on the Park’s website.

North Cascades National Park Permits

Getting There

PNT visitors enjoy a majestic wilderness experience in North Cascades National Park. The remote park is surrounded by vast wilderness areas, public land, and is bounded by an international border. Only a few mountain roads provide access to the park and services in this area are limited.

Whether you are a PNT thru-hiker or a backpacker on a shorter trip, this guide will help you plan and prepare to visit this remote and special park in the heart of the North Cascades.

Coming from the east, westbound PNT thru-hikers will enter the park from the Pasayten Wilderness high atop the Devils Ridge Trail above the shores of Ross Lake. Many will have walked for 7-9 days across the wilderness to reach the park. After crossing the park boundary, they will follow the East Bank Trail south toward SR-20 and the foot of Ross Lake.

The East Bank Trailhead, located on SR-20, is approximately 33 miles east of Marblemount, Washington, and provides the most direct access to the Pacific Northwest Trail in the park.

On the northwest side of the park, the PNT crosses from the Mt Baker Wilderness into the national park near Hannegan Pass. To reach this point, it is an 8-mile hike from the Hannegan Trailhead, which is located 19 miles east of Glacier, Washington on Hwy 542. The driving distance between these trailheads is approximately 130 miles. The trail mileage is approximately 51 miles.

Know Before You Go

Trail Alert — Severe wildfire damage has prompted a closure of 11 miles of the PNT in the Northwest corner of the park. The closure extends between Boundary Camp and Whatcom Pass on the PNT and includes the Copper Ridge Trail.

Because these trails provide the only routes across the park in this area, it will not be possible to follow a continuous footpath across the North Cascades during the 2023 season. PNT thru-hikers should be prepared to find transportation around the closure.

Most hikers will exit the PNT at the Eastbank Trailhead (mile 746) and find transportation to rejoin the trail at the next accessible point, such as Hannegan Pass (mile 793). Note that the driving distance between these points is approximately 130 miles.

Permits in the 2023 season — It is an 18-mile hike from the Bear Skull cabin near the Pasayten Wilderness boundary to the Eastbank Trailhead. Many westbound hikers that plan to exit the park at this trailhead will be able to travel across the park in a single day and will not need a permit. Note that it is also possible to hike an additional 6 miles west along the PNT to Ross Dam and to exit the park at the trailhead one half mile south of there. Those that choose to camp in the park will need to obtain valid backcountry permits in advance.

During the wildfire closure, 49 miles of the PNT will remain open. Out-and-back trips will still be permitted in the park. The Hannegan Trail on the adjacent Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will also remain open for out-and-back trips.

Seasonality — Summer arrives late in the North Cascades. In a typical snow year, hazards along the PNT may persist along the route until mid-July. Thin or collapsing snow bridges, high-angle snow travel, fast-moving creeks, and other hazards can make travel along trails difficult or life-threatening during the shoulder season transition between winter and summer conditions.

Permits protect the PNT experience — Note that the PNT follows one of the busiest trail corridors in the park. The permit system is designed to disperse visitors and preserve the wilderness character of the park and provide a special experience for every backcountry visitor. Camping in the Park is only allowed at designated sites. No dispersed or “stealth” camping. Permits are limited to the site capacity of each backcountry camp. Failure to possess and display a valid backcountry permit may result in a fine and/or immediate removal from the national park.

Learn more about thru-hiking in the Park here.

Advance Reservations

North Cascades National Park Service Complex accepts advance reservations online at starting May 1st for the peak season, May 19th and October 7th.

Park staff highly recommend making advance reservations at Same-day walk-in permits may also be available, learn more below.

Advance reservations can be made for up to 60% of the park backcountry camp capacity. The remaining 40% are set aside for walk-up permits.

Converting a Reservation to a Permit – Advance reservations made by PNT backpackers and section hikers (traveling 500 miles or less) 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. Learn about where to obtain a permit in-person here.

PNT hikers should note that there is a 16 mile-per-day limit on advance reservations made through the website. PNTA strongly encourages PNT hikers to utilize this system, and to camp and recreate responsibly while visiting the park.

Due to the distance between designated sites, it is usually not possible to make an advance permit that will allow a thru-hiker to travel from the Pasayten Wilderness to the Mt Baker Wilderness and across the Park in less than four days. The PNTA’s Permit Planner and other resources in this guide may be helpful in planning your itinerary and choosing campsites.

PNT thru-hikers that would like to request a higher mileage permit may do so by contacting the Wilderness Information Center. See below.

Learn more about the advance reservation process here.

Walk-in Permits

Section hikers (backpackers traveling 500 miles or less on the PNT) are required to make an advance permit on, or make a walk-in permit by visiting a permit-issuing ranger station.

In North Cascades National Park, walk-up permits may be available the day before or the day of a desired trip start date. Approximately 40% 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.

Learn more about walk-in permits and wilderness camping here.

Special Accommodations for PNT Thru-hikers 

To assist PNT thru-hikers (traveling 500 miles or more) 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 permit, PNT thru-hikers may call the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount at: 360-854-7245.

During peak season, the WIC can be extremely busy assisting other visitors. PNT thru-hikers should be prepared to leave a message and await a call back from WIC staff. It may take up to 24 hours for WIC staff to return your call, so plan accordingly. Consider taking a “zero day” to rest and enjoy a trail town while you wait.

The PNTA asks that you always show respect for park staff and this special privilege available only to PNT thru-hikers.

Before calling, have an itinerary ready and other resources on hand to help plan your trip. Be aware that your first choice may already be reserved. Be prepared to be flexible and have a back-up itinerary with alternate sites and dates, just in case. The PNTA’s Permit Planner and other resources in this guide may be helpful in planning your itinerary and choosing campsites.

Reliable cellular service can be difficult to find outside of trail towns on the PNT. It is recommended that westbound thru-hikers call the park from Oroville or Winthrop, Washington. Eastbound PNT thru-hikers are encouraged to call the park from Sedro-Woolley, Concrete or Glacier, Washington.

Thru-hikers who make advance reservations online must call the WIC to activate their permit by 11am the first day of the reserved itinerary or the sites will be released to others. If you expect to arrive in North Cascades National Park a little off schedule, park rangers at the WIC may be able to assist you in making any necessary changes to your permit.

Learn more about thru-hiking in the Park here.

Olympic National Park Permits

Mount Olympus
Choose Your Own Adventure

The Pacific Northwest Trail traverses two separate areas in Olympic National Park. Whether you are a PNT thru-hiker or you are a backpacker on a shorter trip, this guide will help you prepare to visit these popular and scenic areas.

Between Discovery Bay and the Pacific Coast, the PNT traverses the Olympic Mountains located in the Park’s interior and the adjacent Olympic National Forest. The best hiking for this 149-mile route is generally between mid-July and October. It takes most hikers seven to nine days to travel this spectacular section of the trail.

On the west side of the peninsula, the PNT follows along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This 40-mile route is the longest stretch of wilderness coast in the contiguous 48 states. Due to the rugged terrain on the coast and tidal restrictions, it takes most hikers about four days to travel between Oil City and Ozette.

Getting There

Starting near Discovery Bay on the east side of the Olympic Mountains, PNT hikers may choose from two major routes. The southern primary route, also called the Congressional, or red route, explores two wilderness areas and is the longest route across the Olympic Range at 149 miles.

Westbound PNT hikers taking the primary route will enter the Park from the Buckhorn Wilderness south of Marmot Pass. The PNT can be reached from the Tubal Cain Trailhead or Dosewallips Trailhead on the Olympic National Forest.

The northern alternate, or blue route, provides a more direct pathway across the Peninsula at 108 miles. The route stays in the frontcountry of the range and may be best suited for hikers that plan to exit the trail along the Hurricane Ridge Road, or to resupply in Port Angeles, midway through the journey. Note that camping options are extremely limited on this route in the national park and that the route does not appear on the Park’s backcountry trip planning map.

Eastbound PNT hikers visiting the Olympic Mountains may access the Pacific Northwest Trail on the west side of the Park from the Bogachiel Trailhead on the Olympic National Forest,11 miles south of Forks, Washington.

See PNTA’s section overview maps and strip maps for more information on routes in the park.

Know Before You Go

Getting around on the Olympic Peninsula can involve traveling long distances to reach the PNT. Learn more about the public transit and private shuttle services available on the Olympic Peninsula here.

Food storage — All PNT hikers visiting the Wilderness Coast in Olympic National Park will need a hard-sided bear canister. Canisters are also required in other areas of the park that are less common for thru-hikers to camp in, such as the Seven Lakes Basin. Outside of these areas, all food and scented items must be hung from a tree branch 12 feet high and 10 feet from the trunk. Learn more about food storage requirements on the PNT here.

Visitors to the Wilderness Coast section of the PNT will need to be prepared for coastal travel and to plan their trip around the tides. The PNT crosses 15 headlands in this area that require low tides for safe passage. Headlands in the South Coast near Oil City are the most restrictive. Careful planning is needed to time the tides along the coast. Learn more about the challenges of coastal travel here.

Resupply and Bear Can Rental

Resupply — most PNT hikers will resupply in Port Townsend and in Forks, Washington. Some hikers will also choose to resupply in Port Angeles in the middle of their journey across the Peninsula.

It is possible to access Port Angeles from both the red and blue routes of the PNT. The city can be reached from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center (stage 44A) and from the Olympic Hot Springs Road (stage 44). Note that two miles of the road are closed to vehicular traffic between Elwha and the Madison Falls parking area. Public transit may be available from both access points. See our directions and transportation page for more information.

Bear canisters can be rented from the WIC in Port Angeles and from private businesses in Forks, Washington. Learn more about food storage requirements on the PNT here.

Olympic NP Permit Basics

All overnight camping within Olympic National Park requires a wilderness camping permit issued by the Park. The primary route passes through two quota areas, the Sol Duc/Seven Lakes Basin and the Ozette Coast, where permits are limited; permits are not limited elsewhere along the PNT. It is possible to make a permit that will allow you to traverse the PNT and avoid all of these popular quota areas.

All permits cost $8 per adult per night for those 16 years of age and older. As an alternative, thru-hikers may opt to purchase a $45 Wilderness Annual Pass if staying seven or more nights in the Park.

All advance wilderness backpacking permits are created through the website via the Olympic National Park Wilderness Permit page. Campsite availability is updated in real time on, and no sites are held for walk-in reservations.

Higher elevation camps and alternate PNT routes have a shorter season. In a typical snow year, snow hazards along the PNT may persist along the route until mid-July. If you are attempting to book early season dates in these areas that are not available online, please contact the Wilderness Information Center.

Advance Online Reservations

On April 15th, 2023, all permit reservations for the peak summer season, May 15th through October 15th, will become available. (Previously, permit reservations were available on a 6-month rolling window.)

All advance permits are created through via the Olympic National Park Wilderness Permit page. Camp area availability is updated in real time on, and no sites are held as same-day walk-ups.

The website is a convenient way to reserve an advance permit for a shorter backpacking trip. If you are planning to traverse the Park, or if you need a high-mileage permit that requires traveling more than 15 miles per day between campsites, see Permits for long-distance PNT hikers for more information.

When using to make a permit, note that some remote campsites may not initially appear in a list of available sites. After selecting your first or second night’s camp, additional options to choose from may be revealed by the website. Also note that campsites located within different areas of the Park may not be reservable on the same permit. If you are having trouble booking your permit online, contact the Wilderness Information Center at (360) 565-3100 for assistance.

Permits reserved through are typically issued by WIC staff 5-7 days before the start of your trip. Once the permit has been issued, you will be able to log in to your account and print the permit yourself.

If the reservation is made less than a week in advance, permits are typically issued within the business hours of the same day or the following morning. If you need a permit before then, visit a Wilderness Information Center or call the WIC at (360) 565-3100.

Permits for PNT hikers

There are endless opportunities for day hiking and overnight backpacking trips on the Pacific Northwest Trail in the Olympics. The website may be used to reserve campsites for many overnight adventures.

PNT hikers on longer adventures, or who plan to traverse the entire park, will need separate permits for the interior of the park and Wilderness Coast, or each time they plan to exit and reenter the park to resupply or travel to a new area. It takes most hikers 11-14 days to traverse the entire length of the Pacific Northwest Trail in Olympic National Park.

To assist PNT thru-hikers and section hikers who are unable to reserve these complex permits online, WIC staff will help them make permits by phone. Wilderness permits for non-quota areas (shown as the brown camps on the Campsite Map) can be obtained by calling the WIC.

It is recommended to use the PNTA Permit Planner and other resources in this guide to plan an itinerary before calling. When WIC staff are available to take your call, it is usually possible to reserve a permit and pay any necessary fees on a live phone call in about 30-45 minutes. After the call, Park Rangers will email you a permit that can be downloaded to your smartphone or printed and carried with you while you are visiting the Park.

During the busy summer season, you may be required to leave a voicemail and request a call back for help in setting up your permit. Plan accordingly, it may take over 24 hours to return your call during peak hours. It is recommended that westbound hikers call the WIC at least 48 hours before they begin hiking across the Olympic Mountains. Many westbound thru-hikers call from Whidbey Island, or take a “zero day” in Port Townsend to allow for adequate time to get a permit.

All permits cost $8 per adult per night for those 16 years of age and older. As an alternative, thru-hikers may consider getting a $45 Wilderness Annual Pass if staying seven or more nights in the Park.

“In non-quota areas, camping in established sites is always encouraged, but dispersed camping is permitted on durable surfaces with a wilderness camping permit. Camping is not permitted at trailheads; you must camp at least one mile beyond trailheads. If campsites are full and you can’t avoid camping on fragile vegetation, you need to move on until you find somewhere suitable to camp. Always practice Leave No Trace principles.” – Olympic National Park

Learn more about Wilderness camping permits on Olympic National Park’s website.