It's been in the works since 2016—but on May 10, officials from the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests issued a Final Decision on the plan that manages entry at trailheads in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas in the Central Cascades.
The plan is a scaled-back version of what officials revealed in a Draft Decision in November. Under the Final Decision, just 19 of 79 trailheads will fall under a day-use permit quota system—instead of the 30 trailheads proposed under November's Draft Decision. At the same time, all trailheads fall under a permit and quota system for overnight use.
- U.S. Forest Service
- Access maps of future trail permit requirements at the Deschutes National Forest website. (See link below)
In response to what officials called a "noticeable spike in use" in some "locations and high-use travel corridors since 2011, and most noticeably in 2016," the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests launched the Central Cascades Wilderness Strategies Project—an effort to preserve wilderness, while also allowing people to recreate there.
"We are proud to issue this decision to protect the character of these special places for future generations," John Allen, the forest supervisor for the Deschutes National Forest and Tracy Beck, the forest supervisor for the Willamette National Forest, stated in a release.
Starting next year, each person visiting the affected trails for the day will need their own day-use permit. In the Three Sisters Wilderness—which includes several popular trails along the Cascade Lakes Highway—10 trailheads will require a day-use permit. People staying overnight will need an overnight permit, issued per group, rather than per person.
Trails falling under day-use permit requirements starting in 2020 include Broken Top (max of 40 day-use permits), Crater Ditch (16), Devils Lake/Wickiup (100), Green Lakes/Soda Creek (80), Lava Camp (40), Obsidian (30), Scott Trailhead (12), Sisters Mirror (16), Tam McArthur Rim (80) and Todd Lake (12.)
- U.S. Forest Service
In the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, trails that will be under a day-use permit system starting in 2020 include PCT Breitenbush/Breitenbush Lake (4 day-use permits), Duffy Lake (30), Jack Lake (60), Marion Lake (40), Pamelia Lake (24), South Breitenbush (12) and Whitewater (30).
In the Mt. Washington Wilderness, two trailheads will require day-use permits, including Benson/Tenas (30 day-use permits) and PCT McKenzie Pass (24). Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak Wilderness areas will not have limits on day use or overnight use.
For long-distance hikers, the Pacific Crest Trail Association already issues a permit for hikers who walk more than 500 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers who hike fewer than 500 miles will be able to obtain one permit to cross the three wilderness areas under the new plan.
Another change: Campire bans above a certain elevation. Under the Decision, no campfires are allowed above the 5,700-foot elevation in the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington Wildernesses, or above the 6,000-foot elevation in the Diamond Peak Wilderness.
The new quota and permit system will go into effect in the summer of 2020, with permits required from the Friday before Memorial Day weekend through the last Friday in September.
While officials have not yet set a plan for how and when people can get permits, the Final Decision states, "It is our commitment to allow for a portion of permits/use to be reserved in advance and the remainder to be available on the day or day before a trip starts; for day use, the majority of permits will be available shortly before the trip starts. For overnight use, the majority of use will be reservable."
What happens next: Implementing the plan, with input from the public.
Access the Final Decision here.