What is different in 2022?
The first year for major implementation of the hiking system was in 2021. After working out some kinks, it was determined that the season start a bit later and that overnight and day use trips will be reserved in different windows. The forest service also updated the daily quotas at certain locations when people did not show up for their reservations. This is an update to our previous post: What’s up with the 2021 Oregon hiking permits?
Here is a quick bit of information about the overnight permitting system. Starting at 7am on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022 you can ensure your overnight place on Oregon’s wilderness trails between June 15th and October 15th. Roughly 40% of the permits will be released in April, with the remainder released seven days prior to the trip. This expanded system works much like making a dinner reservation, except instead of palatable bites, you will have breathtaking views unencumbered by the crowds. And at only $6 per permit per group (1-12 people), it is way cheaper than your night out at a local restaurant! If you want to make sure and not miss out, recreation.gov is where you need to be on April 5th!
Day use permits will now be released in two rolling windows: 10 days before and 2 days before the day of your hike. The cost, really just a processing fee, is only $1 per person. Can you really beat that? Read on to learn more about the permits and find more information about hiking in Oregon.
Where in Oregon do I need permits?
How many permits per hike per day? Find it here.
And where? We can’t seem to find a comprehensive map of the area so we will work to make one! The map below links to sites featured in our driving tours around the state.
The purple pins on the map below identify the general area of the new hiking permit regulations. The dark red pins in that area are the hiking trails that require permits.
Our Together Anywhere Driving Tours cover this new change in depth on our tour along the McKenzie Scenic Highway 242. This drive is only open June-November each year. We have provided excerpts from our tour here in this blog post so you can understand a bit about the need for this massive change to the Oregon hiking landscape.
Why is this area so special?
Maybe you have heard of permitting in national parks and maybe you are wondering why you need a permit in the middle of Oregon. Well, let’s set the stage for this wild area… imagine yourself curving up Dead Horse Grade in your Suburu (or other outdoorsy vehicle), catching glimpses of sun rays poking through the thick forest and smelling the recent rain mixed with Douglas firs from your half-down window. You are smiling, of course, because you know you are driving towards your favorite place: an adventure to the mountains of some of Oregon’s most pristine wilderness. And better yet, you are even more intrigued as you listen to the stories on your way, connecting you to the area as you travel towards your destination. You are not only immersed in the nature, you are connected to the history, the ancestors, and of course, you feel super intelligent because you also now understand why the expanded permit system is necessary.
By taking our tours you can have location based narration on your drive to the trail like the audio excerpt above.
Can I hike without a permit? Kind of.
One of the few hikes that does not require a permit on McKenzie Pass is Proxy Falls.
If you are a geology buff, hiker, photographer, or overall lover of nature, you have the perfect opportunity to see the contrast between forest and lava fields on a hike to Proxy Falls. At under 2 miles, it’s a short hike of less than an hour to see both Upper and Lower Proxy Falls. But please be mindful as with all hikes, it can be uneven at times due to the lava rock terrain. At 226 feet, the Lower Proxy Falls is surprisingly easy to get close to and even touch it as it softly cascades over these glacier-formed cliffs. If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend checking out this Oregon treasure.
Do I need a parking pass too? Maybe.
As with many parking areas in the Willamette National Forest, make sure you either have cash to pay the day use fee or have your Northwest Forest Pass in the car. This pass, available at most outdoor shops, online, or at a ranger station, covers you throughout Washington and Oregon in all of the National Forests. What a deal! However, if you are a major road tripper like me, I suggest buying the federal Interagency Annual Pass that will cover your visits for a full year to all national parks, national forests, national monuments, and basically any of the 2000 plus federal locations that have an entrance fee. I like to think of it as the best deal in the country. By the way, all military and family get one for free and any family with a 4th grader can also get one for free. In addition, any person over the age of 62 just pays $80 for a lifetime pass. I can’t wait!
Is the permit system new? Not really.
In the 21st century, there is a new struggle facing this wilderness: overuse. The 1964 Wilderness Act made a first stand against overuse and protected these areas as places “where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man.” Like national parks, wilderness areas are federally protected natural areas where motorized and mechanical travel is strictly controlled to ensure its sustainability. The highway driving through the wilderness area is the exception. In 45 of Oregon’s 47 wilderness areas, hikers have generally had free reign, but that has left marks on the vegetation, wildlife, and terrain.
While many national parks and popular hikes in other states have permitting systems, Oregon has only ever had two trails that required permits to hike since the 1990s: the Pamelia Lake hike in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and the Obsidian Trail hike up ahead. Conservation managers noticed how the two areas were being loved to death in the early 1990s and the answer was a permit system to allow the forest to recover, bringing back natural scenery and solitude. The success of the permitting system on those two trails is now being expanded as Oregon continues its growth as an outdoors and tourist destination.
Why do we even need permits?
With up to 500 cars per day in the summer, the visitation of the Three Sisters Wilderness nearly tripled between 2010 and 2019. It is named Three Sisters Wilderness for the South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister mountains, two of which you will see from the Dee Wright Observatory. In 2021, all trailheads started requiring permits for overnight use in the Three Sisters and Mount Washington Wilderness areas and 12 trailheads requiring permits for day use only. The best way to stay informed of course is to visit the forest service centers during their open hours in McKenzie Bridge (Highway 126) or in the town Sisters (Highway 20/22). The fines for hiking without a permit are large and the low cost of permits makes them accessible to all, now with fewer people and more pristine environment. All we need to do now is plan a bit more in advance…not a bad deal to save these unique Oregon areas.
What happens if I don’t get a permit?
You might get fined. As this system is built to save the natural areas, please get a permit.
What is the most epic hike?
That has to be the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, one of the two original permit areas in Oregon since 1995. This limited entry area takes you through alpine meadows, crystal clear streams, volcanic lava and finally to the obsidian cliffs. Obsidian, or dragonglass if you are a Game of Thrones fan, is a naturally occurring volcanic glass that was important to Native Americans for constructing their tools. The Obsidian Trail is a difficult 12 mile loop intersected by other routes taking you to Scott Trail, Matthieu Lakes Loop, Linton Meadows, or, if you are up for nearly a week of trekking in this wilderness, the 50 mile Three Sisters Loop that encircles the large mountains found on the south side of the road. If you are interested in hiking here, don’t forget to plan in advance and please leave it better than you found it, following the ever important Leave No Trace outdoor ethics for us lovers of the outdoors. Also, as with any hike, make sure you have your Ten Essentials to be prepared for minor injuries, sudden weather changes, or unexpected delays.
Do we recommend any other spots?
If it is a clear day, I recommend taking a turn into Scott Lake area off of Highway 242 so you can capture the beautiful mirror imagery of the mountains being reflected by the lake. Found down this road, the trailhead near the lake also serves as the entry point for some Mount Washington Wilderness area hikes to Scott Mountain and Benson, Tenas, and Hand Lakes. Remember, if you are stopping here for a hike or backpacking, make sure to have those permits! The separate Scott Trail has a parking area directly after the turnoff from 242 and requires you to walk back over the highway to get started. Scott Lake, Scott Pass, Scott Mountain, Scott Trail, so who is this Scott guy? He’s a man who hired a team of over 50 men to build a trail for delivery of cattle into the gold mining populations found in eastern parts of Oregon and into Idaho during the early 1860s. While Felix Scott got all the name recognition, it was one of the men he hired, John Craig, who really got things going. Every year, the Oregon Nordic Club remembers this man with a John Craig Memorial Ski Race.
For more stories and to hear more about hiking and more, make sure to download our driving tours that are expanded across Oregon every year. Download the app on Apple or Google Play. Your adventure is ready with Together Anywhere.