2016 Mount Rainier Permits Demystified

Glaciers on Mount Rainier

Planning for Mount Rainier isn’t just about gear, food, people, and conditions; we also have to think about permits.

Summertime within Mt. Rainier National Park is truly stunning - from lowland forested trails to the massively glaciated alpine - it offers exceptional recreational opportunities. Being so close to Seattle, however, things get a little complicated if you are looking to experience the beauty by exploring the high mountain or staying overnight.

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Most years, getting camping permits to the most sought after locations within the park can test the will of most folks. Large chunks of the allocated spots are reserved months in advance, and the few that remain are left to a first-come first-served battle of the early birds.2016 is unique, however. ALL wilderness camping and climbing permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis (aka walk-in). Usually you put in a request for a climbing date or a Wonderland trail trip plan, and then reservations are processed by hand. Earlier this year, however, the old reservation system experienced a critical failure resulting in the loss of 2,000 odd reservation requests. The result is an atypical permit season - a great opportunity to get out on a whim! With that in mind, it is important to understand the passes, permits, and registrations needed.

Most years, getting camping permits to the most sought after locations within the park can test the will of most folks. Large chunks of the allocated spots are reserved months in advance, and the few that remain are left to a first-come first-served battle of the early birds.

2016 is unique, however. ALL wilderness camping and climbing permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis (aka walk-in). Usually you put in a request for a climbing date or a Wonderland trail trip plan, and then reservations are processed by hand. Earlier this year, however, the old reservation system experienced a critical failure resulting in the loss of 2,000 odd reservation requests. The result is an atypical permit season - a great opportunity to get out on a whim! With that in mind, it is important to understand the passes, permits, and registrations needed.

Climbing Mount Rainier involves glacier travel and spending a night on the mountain. If this applies to you, then you will need the following: a Wilderness Camping Permit and a Climbing Pass, which you use to obtain your Climbing Permit for specified dates.

Climbing Pass & Permit

According to the National Park website, a “Climbing Pass is required for anyone who plans to climb above 10,000 feet or onto any glaciers.” In other words, if you plan to go to go beyond camp Muir or Camp Schurman, or on a glacier, you’ll need a pass. Each pass covers your climbing fees for the rest of the calendar year and you can use it to register for an unlimited number of climbs that year.

Once you have a Climbing pass, the day before or the day of your climb you go to a ranger station and use it (along with Photo ID) to reserve your climbing permit. The permit should go up the mountain with you. One way to think of it is the climbing pass is your admission fee for the year, and the climbing permit reserves your spot on the mountain during a specified time frame.

Permits are first come first serve. Wherever you plan to go on the mountain, there is a set number of climbing permits allowed each day for each location, which means on the most popular weekends you would be best off going the day before to help ensure that you are not turned away empty handed. A climbing pass does not guarantee a climbing permit for the time that you want.

The fees associated with the climbing permits support a variety of programs on the mountain that ensure the health of the ecosystem and the safety of human visitors. These include supporting the climbing rangers at the high camps, staffing ranger stations, flying human waste off the mountain to be disposed of properly, and protecting the alpine environment.

In addition, According to the NPS website, “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.”

For more information, check out these pages from the National Park:

NPS Information on Climbing Passes

NPS Climbing Pass FAQs

Wilderness Camping Permit

Planning to camp? Then you need a wilderness camping permit. These can be issued IN PERSON the day of or the day before your trip.There is also NO fee for these camping permits.

Unlike the climbing pass, there are quotas for backcountry camping in the national park. During peak (ha) season, popular camps and zones can and do fill up. Suffice it to say: the early bird gets the worm. Pro tip: avoid the lines at 7am Saturday morning and claim your spot Friday afternoon. Heading out midweek? Chances are you will have far more options available, but it is still busy, so having a contingency camping plan is always a good idea.

Get an overview of camping zones and zone capacity: Rainier Climbing Zones

This means that if you plan to go over a glacier and camp, you need to have obtained three things: Climbing Pass, Climbing Permit, and Wilderness Camping Permit.

NPS Info on Wilderness Camping