With the bewildering array of permits required to access Washington’s trails and public lands, it’s easy to feel lost before you ever reach the trailhead. So here’s a rundown of the most common passes. Need specifics? The Washington Trails Association has a webpage for almost every hike in the state, and pass information is typically listed under “driving directions.”
Discover Pass:Heading to a state park? You’ll need a Discover Pass ($10 day; $30 annual). The pass will also cover you in natural areas managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and wildlife areas under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Northwest Forest Pass: Most of the popular hikes in the central Cascades are located on federal land. That means you need a different pass! At $30 per year, the Northwest Forest Pass is a golden ticket that provides access to thousands of trails in Washington and Oregon, including the well-loved Alpine Lakes Wilderness and massive Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Day passes are also available for $5.
National parks: Both Rainier and Olympic national parks charge $25 for a single-vehicle entry (good for seven days) and $50 for an annual pass. Entry and parking is free in North Cascades National Park, but you will need a Northwest Forest Pass for hikes that begin outside of the park boundary.
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America the Beautiful pass: Visiting more than one national park this year? Consider an America the Beautiful pass ($80 annual) , valid at all national parks and federal lands that would otherwise require a Northwest Forest Pass. The pass is free for fourth graders, active military and people with permanent disabilities; seniors (age 62 and older) can pay $10 for a lifetime pass.
Plan ahead! Some trailheads have day passes available for on-site purchase, but it’s best to buy in advance. All of these passes can be purchased online and at local ranger stations, including the one located inside REI’s flagship Seattle store. Olympic and Rainier national parks collect fees at various entrance stations.