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Wilderness hiking permits reservation system goes live, sparks frustration for some

'By 7:45 a.m., it was clear there was very little (permits) left'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Beginning May 28, the Willamette and Deschutes national forests will require permits for 19 of their most popular wilderness trails. But first, you need to get a permit, and some are already frustrated trying to do so, on the very first day.

The new Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System went live at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with 20-50% of the season permits being released.  

In a rush perhaps symbolic of the levels of trail use that prompted the system's creation, not everyone who wanted to get a permit was able to -- and that caused some frustration among avid hikers.

Bend resident Susan Long told NewsChannel 21 she took the day off from work to try to obtain permits for her favorite summer hiking trails, but found that many of the permits were already gone.

“By 7:45 a.m., it was clear there was very little left,” she said.

Susan Stanaway also reached out to NewsChannel 21 later Tuesday to voice her frustration in trying to get a permit for backpacking.

"The website was NOT easy to navigate," she said in an email, "and while I wanted a permit for five days, it only gave me a permit for one day."

Stanaway said she'd heard from others with similar issues and "ended up with stupid one-day backpacking permits. So frustrating!"

Jean Nelson-Dean, public affairs officer on the Deschutes National Forest, said the need for a permit system arose from trail use steadily rising for the past 10 years.

“It was damaging trails. We were dealing with tons of human waste, dog waste,” Nelson-Dean said.

Among all the wilderness trails, the three most popular on the Deschutes are the Green Lakes, Devils Lake, and Tam McArthur Rim. A total of 50-80% of the permits will be available on a 7-day rolling window.

Long said, "I realize they will be selling permits the week of. But that means -- and I talked with several friends -- getting up and being on that computer the moment that week opens up.”

Nelson-Dean said if people are having too much trouble trying to obtain the permits online, she suggests calling the forest offices.

“The other way they can do it is to work with people at our front desk," she said. "So they can call anyone of our front desks in the Deschutes or Willamette national forest and work with them to get a reservation.”

Nelson-Dean said she also wanted to make it clear that people who are planning to stay overnight in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington or Three Sisters wildernesses areas need to select a permit for each day they plan on staying.

The wilderness permit reservation system will be in place until Sept. 24.

Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Government-politics / Outdoors / Top Stories
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Leslie Cano

Leslie Cano is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Leslie here.



    1. They might be All of our public lands, But obviously not all of us are taking care of them properly! The lazy entitled shits that leave behind human waste, garbage, camping equipment and pans and everything else that someone has to clean up after, is why they have to limit the amount of people going there! If everyone respected the land properly there would be no reason for the permits. Simple cause and effect! Have you seen any of the photos of all the spray painting going on in other national park areas and such? Lots of entitle people using THEIR lands and defacing them so they can post great pictures on Instagram!

  1. You can take your permits and stick em where the sun don’t shine. I’ll go hiking whenever and wherever I want. The Forest Service is trash.

    1. Actually, it’s not the USFS’s fault, they just happen to be the ones that have to deal with it. You want to ‘trash’ someone, try focusing your hate on all the ones that have promoted Central Oregon for their own personal gain, big boy!

    1. You sound new to all this snowflake! Anyways theres a trailhead reserved exclusively for the III% youll be glad to know- just park at the pulloff where rickard meets 27th and head directly north to spot some gorgeous pristine bend views for your gram… but PLEASE keep its a secret because its one of these cool locals-only things (dont miss the hot springs!)

  2. Its interesting usfs is making a lot of these wilderness trails much harder to use, without providing any incentive or access improvements or info about less used usfs trails elsewhere to use instead… people feel in the dark because they are, and GIGANTIC parking lots right off paved roads like say Wake Butte, always gather dust while instead folks fistfight each other for the right to risk a ticket parking on the shoulder at sparks… do the glossy visit bend glamour shots have anything to do with this phenomenon?

    1. It is a necessary growing pain that these trails are being limited…simply too many people trashing the popular areas! I would also argue its not the USFS’s job to advise people on where else to hike, people really need to learn to use their resources. There are some excellent hiking guides available! And certainly yes we can thank Visit Bend and social media for contributing to this mess

  3. Only natural with how much the permit levels have be reduced. Trails that would normally see 500 people a day would have ~100 people/day permitted to the numbers I’ve seen. That means 80% of people who wanted to go couldn’t. Nothing like a zoo to ruin your forest. I’ve counted 600+ on a trail in one day before.

    Having picked up enough trash from the people who use these trails (both locals and tourists), 30lbs+ at a time, it’ll be nice to hike and not find poop all over the place, hopefully. Thus far, you name it, I’ve probably seen it. Uneaten cans of food, diapers, non-biodegradable wet wipes (and not clean ones), food scraps, barbed wire (that was fun to carry out), frying pans, inflatable boats, and more toilet paper and kleenex than I care to think about.

    And for those saying its ‘your’ forest, screw the permit system, etc, just know that you and I are also part of the problem. Section C part 2, “has outstanding opportunities for solitude” drives a lot of this. So many places were so overrun with people that it was impossible to get away from people at these high use trail-highways, massive user impacts side trails and trash as the bonus prize.

    Those who don’t understand why the system is being in place don’t understand wilderness or the issues our local areas face- I suggest you do some research, get involved. I pity the FS folks who get to make these decisions and be the target of your misplaced anger- it’s the forest management paradox… You want to preserve the wilderness for all to enjoy, but if all enjoy it, nothing is preserved, and it’s not wilderness anymore.

    Ideas for you:

    Text of the original act:

    1. Divermartin… Thank you for explaining this! And thank you for helping to clean up messes that others make. You are a rare person… Most just claim their right to enjoy the woods but don’t realize the actual impact of too many folks who don’t truly care about the land… They just get angry over their right to do what they want! Wish there were more people like you! Bravo!!

    2. Thank you for all you have done to help to keep these areas clean!! I agree with you 100%. The increased number of people on these trails has been shocking, total clown show even on weekdays lately, and the number of inexperienced hikers seems to be rising at an exponential rate- I have given directions and even water to more ill-prepared folks in the past couple years than ever- I am sure these are the same folks who don’t know how to dig a proper hole for toileting. It is sad to not be able to just spontaneously be able to jump in the car for a quick afternoon Green Lakes run, but the reality is these areas are getting trashed and the crowds are taking away from what used to make this area so special, I am actually looking forward to being able to hike here again without it feeling like Disneyland. Those who are complaining- there are plenty of other great hikes in the area that don’t require permits

  4. I had to pay for my permits online. To do that I needed a payment method that requires identification.

    What if I don’t have ID?

    I can’t hike? I can’t drive I can’t see a doctor I can’t get on a plane…..

    What is this country coming to? Is there anything I can do without an ID?

      1. How do I buy a visa gift card? Or even get to the supermarket? In order to get a job or government assistance I need an ID. To drive? Yep ID. You are aware there is a huge segment of society that has not figured out this ID card thing right? Sure, being able to shop, drive, get a job? All that and more that requires an ID is just nice stuff to have, the travesty is when it comes time to vote, I can’t because of my failure to grasp this ID card thing. Ignorant lives matter.

        1. Renounce your US citizenship and self identify as an illegal immigrant from El Salvador and you will be entitled to all the benefits of US welfare without pesky requirements like IDs. Heck. even democrats don’t want us as sophisticated as El Salvador when it comes to voting. They require a voter ID.

      1. Still dont need one to buy a prepaid debit card, no matter how many comments you make about it, same with voting… thought you guys guys wanted less bureaucracy not more

  5. It used to be that if you wanted to go hiking or backpacking anywhere in a wilderness area, your only immediate costs were your gear, grub, and gas. But, times have changed. The NW Forest Pass was implemented and, even though a federal appeals court has ruled against it, you can still be ticketed for not having one on your car at a trailhead (enforcement levels vary by location). I have also heard (but don’t have figures for it) that USFS budgets for trail maintenance and trash cleanup have shrunk over the years. Add to that the significant increase overall in hiking/backpacking popularity (one figure I saw was a 34% increase between 2015 and 2020) and you get a perfect storm of things which cause land managers to assess what they can do to lessen impact on wilderness. Here in central Oregon, it’s especially bad because of how popular Bend is and how close the wilderness trailheads are. When you need only drive for half an hour to reach a wilderness-access trailhead, it’s only natural that eventually you’re going to see overcrowding and other issues.

    1. Well if folks wouldn’t trash those public lands, there wouldn’t have to be regulations taken to this level. Oregon is being “loved to death” and everyone wants to go enjoy the beauty but they don’t want to clean up after their entitled selves!

  6. Interesting survey question about this – The question asks “did you try?” then the answers assume you did try and want to know if you were successful or not. Leads right down the common path for so many surveys – phrase the question to get the outcome you want rather than an unbiased true picture.

    1. Actually, it’s you that should be deported. But you’d probably need an ID for that.
      Horses were native to North America before they actually went extinct 8-14000 years ago. The Spaniards were the first ones that reintroduced them to Mexico and Florida and they migrated north. Only then did the French, British, and English migrants bring more of them to the continent.

      And although this post and the post made by you have nothing to do with the permit requirements stated by this article… I hope you can learn something. I doubt it though.

  7. Susan-I logged in right before 7am, was able to book a number of random day hikes but they were going quickly. I can imagine if you were trying to book at 7:45 am there would be hardly anything left!

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