Updated information for 2023 permits
It’s time to bust out the maps, scan your calendar, and bookmark the Forest Service page for the Central Cascades Wilderness Permits that’ll serve as your ticket to outdoor adventure this summer in Bend.
If you’re planning an overnight backpacking trip between June 15 and October 15, 2023 in areas requiring a permit, the window for snagging one starts April 4. Day use permits open June 5 for day hikes in affected areas through that same window of time.
If you feel yourself fretting over whether you need a permit, where you might need one, or what the meaning of life might be, don’t worry—I gotchu, boo.
Well, maybe not with the meaning of life. But here’s everything you need to know about permits to play in the Central Cascades this summer.
How do I know if I need a permit?
If this whole permit thing sounds scary and complicated, relax. I promise, it’s easy (and easier now that we’ve had two years to practice!)
The permit system applies to select areas of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the Mt. Washington Wilderness, and the Three Sisters Wilderness in areas most prone to overuse. You’ll find links to maps on this page.
But here’s the thing––pre-registered day use permits are required at only 19 out of 79 trailheads in those areas. That’s a whole ‘lotta land where you either don’t need a permit at all, or can grab the self-issue one right at the trailhead for free. Easy peasy, right?
As far as day use permits go, we’re talking about 19 areas most at risk of overuse. The ones where Forest Service rangers have had to clean up more than a thousand pounds of human excrement (I wish I was kidding). Some of the biggies include popular trails like Green Lakes and Tam MacArthur. For a complete list, see the Forest Service page.
For overnight visitors who want to camp in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the Mt. Washington Wilderness, and the Three Sisters Wilderness, you’re required to have a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit.
But I liked it better when I didn’t need a permit
I feel ya, but you know what? Since the permit system started in 2021, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in illegal campfires and trash in the forest. Even better, elk, foxes, and other wildlife are returning to areas where they hadn’t been seen since these wilderness areas started seeing a 300-500% increase in use.
When you put it like that, a few extra mouse clicks and some advance planning are a small price to give our high-traffic trails a chance to heal. I like knowing that my kids’ kids’ kids’ (should they choose to spawn) can enjoy the same pristine trails I’ve roamed since I was a kid myself. That’s really what this permit stuff is all about.
Tell me about timing
This is the part that’s changed just a wee bit since the program began in 2021, and I’m happy to say it’s for the better.
The Forest Service ditched earlier rules that had a bunch of day use permits up for grabs early in the season, since it turns out folks don’t know what they’re doing tomorrow, let alone four months from now. Overnight quotas have shifted too, and are based on date of entry so more overnight groups can enter the area while others are still on the trail.
Can I get a quick round of applause for the Forest Service being willing to tweak and pivot as we all adjust to the new system?
Now, here’s what you need to know about dates and timing for 2023 permits:
- About 40% of each day’s overnight permits will be released on the first Tuesday in April at 7:00 a.m. (PDT).
- The remaining overnight permits become available seven days before a trip start date. For example, for a trip starting on a Saturday, that permit could be reserved starting on the Saturday prior.
- Day-use permits will be released in two rolling windows: 10 days and then 2 days before the trip date.
- Example: for the first day of permit season, June 15, the first batch of permits will be released on June 5 at 7:00 a.m. (PDT). The remaining permits will be released June 13 at 7:00 a.m. (PDT).
How do I get a permit?
Permits are all handled through Recreation.gov, so it’s a system familiar to most of us who’ve used it to book campsites.
Based on the type of permit you’re seeking, here are the links:
What if I miss out but reeeeally want to go?
If it’s already past April 4, 2023 when the first round of overnight permits are released, don’t panic.
First, check the system to see if spots remain for the dates you want to camp. Some dates won’t fill up as fast, while other dates might see users returning permits to the system as their plans change.
Second, pay attention to the calendar and the rolling window dates when more permits will be released. That’s a handy way to snag something a bit more last-minute.
If you still strike out, please, please don’t show up in person at the trailhead or at Forest Service offices. They won’t have permits there.
Instead, use the skills you honed during the pandemic. You know how we all had to get clever about having plan A, B, C….heck, maybe even Z because things kept changing? Same deal here. Scan Visit Bend’s hiking pages or buy a guide book so you can keep a living list of hikes that sound fun. You can even stop by the Bend Visitor Center to get ideas from our knowledgeable staff (though keep in mind…we don’t have permits, either).
However you build it, make a nice, long bucket list of hikes. That way you can move on if your first pick doesn’t pan out.
I got one! Now what?
Unlike the parking permits you’re accustomed to leaving in your car, the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit system requires you to keep your permit on your person. If you’re stopped by a ranger along the trail, you’ll need to show your permit.
Keep in mind the permit system doesn’t replace your Northwest Forest Pass or any other permit you might otherwise need to access a specific area. Whatever you’re used to doing, just keep doing it (and add one more small step!)
Most of all, have fun! Breathe deeply. Savor the fresh air. And remember, be nice––you’re in Bend.
I can’t get one. Now what?
I feel ya. It’s a bummer when you’ve got your heart set on a certain trail and it’s unavailable. Even before the permit system, folks ran into this when parking lots were full and good sense indicated it wasn’t wise to invent a parking spot on that patch of tender of saplings.
That’s why it’s smart to have plans A, B, C….why not make a whole alphabet full of Central Oregon hikes to try? There are plenty to be found on our website or popular hiking guides.
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness is another area with plenty of room to roam and fewer crowds at trailheads.
You can also still hit spots like Diamond Peak, Waldo Lake, and Mt. Thielsen for recreation opportunities that don’t require permits. Besides that, the Deschutes National Forest has more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails, not to mention amazing wilderness areas in the nearby Ochoco National Forest.
And keep in mind, there are tons of other trails within the Three Sisters, Washington, and Jefferson Wilderness areas that don’t require the pre-paid Central Cascades Wilderness Permit, but rather a free self-issue permit at the trailhead. By studying the maps, you’ll know beforehand what’s what so you can pivot as needed.
I like this responsible recreation thing. How else can I help?
Since a big chunk of this permit system is about tending the lands we love, it’s natural you might want to take your commitment to the next level.
Consider taking The Bend Pledge to renew your commitment to sustainable outdoor recreation.
This blog post has lots of ideas for responsibly recreating in Bend’s outdoor playgrounds, so consider tattooing the tips on your forearm or other frequently used body part.
Since Visit Bend became Oregon’s first destination organization to partner with Leave No Trace earlier this year, we’re brimming with ideas to help you preserve and protect Mother Nature. Check out our list of Bend-specific Leave No Trace principles to get a sense of what’s expected in the great outdoors.
Want an extra reminder? For zero pennies, you can swing by the Bend Visitor Center for a free sheet of stickers featuring those Leave No Trace tips. We’ve also got free (did I mention free?) durable placard cards with detailed tips on recreating safely and responsibly in Bend’s great outdoors. They’re made to hang on a backpack and available in both English and Spanish. We even have versions with tips for both winter and summer.
What else should I know?
Got a question I haven’t answered above? Scroll down on this page to find the handy-dandy FAQ page assembled by the fine folks at the Forest Service.
And if you’re feeling frustrated with the system, breathe. Just remember it’s in place to preserve and protect the places you love so much, and isn’t that a good thing?