Summer in the Central Oregon outdoors will look different this year, due largely to the unveiling of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System. Years in the making, the new system will cap the number of day-use and overnight visitors to some of the region’s most popular trails — including Green Lakes and Soda Creek, Broken Top, South Sister, and the Tam MacArthur Rim trails.
If you’re wondering how this new Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System might impact your summer plans, here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know — along with how to secure your own permits as the spring and summer seasons unfold.
Which Trails are Part of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System?
Trails throughout the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas of the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests will be restricted to permit-holders between May 28 and Sept. 24, 2021. (In future years, a good rule of thumb is to know that permits will generally be required from the Friday before Memorial Day through the final Friday in September.) In all, 19 trails will require day-use permits, and nearly 80 will require overnight permits.
Some of Central Oregon’s most popular trails will be restricted — including Devils Lake, South Sister, Scott Trail, the Obsidian Trail, Green Lakes and Soda Creek, Broken Top, Black Crater, and Tam MacArthur Rim. The U.S. Forest Service has produced an FAQ (PDF) that lists every impacted trail, along with whether day-use or overnight permits are required (or both).
How Many Day-use and Overnight Permits Will Be Issued Per Day?
Day-use permits are issued on a per-person basis — so the Broken Top Trail, with 40 day-use permits available on any given day, is limited to exactly 40 hikers per day. Different trails will have different capacities; 12 day-use permits will be available each day for the Scott Trail, for instance, while the South Sister Climber Trail will be capped at 100 hikers per day.
Overnight permits are a different story; anywhere between three and 17 overnight permits will be issued for each of the 79 impacted trails on any given day — but one overnight permit covers a group of up to 12 hikers and backpackers.
When Will Day-use and Overnight Permits Be Made Available?
Reservations for day-use and overnight permits will open at 7 a.m. April 6, 2021. In future years, permit reservations will go live the first Tuesday in April.
Note that only some permits will be made available on April 6.
For overnight permits, 40% of a trail’s full season will be made available on April 6; the remaining 60% will be available on a seven-day rolling window as the season opens up. So if you want to spend a night on the Obsidian Trail on August 8 —but miss out on an overnight permit when it’s made available on April 6 — you can angle for additional permits starting on August 1.
For day-use permits, 20-50% of a trail’s full season will be made available on April 6; the remaining 50-80% will be made available, like the overnight permits, on a seven-day rolling window as the season opens up.
In both cases, the seven-day rolling window allows for more spontaneous travel, giving hikers more choice for planning around weather events, wildfires, and so forth.
How Much do Day-use and Overnight Permits Cost?
Day-use permits cost $1 each, and overnight permits run $6 apiece — though the overnight permit is good for a group of up to 12.
How Can You Secure Permits?
All permits must be purchased through Recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. The following links offer different options for purchasing permits, depending on which permit you’d like (and how far in advance you’d like to purchase):
- Central Cascades Wilderness Permit — Day-use
- Central Cascades Wilderness Overnight Permits — Full Season in Advance (available April 6, 2021)
- Central Cascades Wilderness Overnight Permits — Seven Days in Advance (available on a seven-day rolling window)
What Happens If You Can’t Secure a Permit?
If you can’t secure a permit, don’t hike your desired trail without one; Forest Service rangers will monitor trail usage this spring and summer, and they may choose to issue citations that run $200 or more.
If you can’t secure a permit, consider finding an alternate trail. Here are a few suggestions (note that other types of recreation passes may be required):
West Metolius River Trail: A footpath hugs the banks of the West Metolius River, passing springtime wildflowers and cutting through ponderosa pine forests before arriving at the Wizard Falls Hatchery.
LaPine State Park: Several miles of trails crisscross the popular LaPine State Park (just outside La Pine), with paths passing through forests of pine, hugging the Deschutes River, and offering views of surrounding Cascade peaks.
Whychus Creek Scenic Overlook: An easy, wheelchair-accessible trail arrives at an overlook that affords views of the Three Sisters, as well as the Whychus Creek Wild and Scenic River area. A longer trail can turn the hike into a loop that affords additional mountain viewpoints.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Hiking Black Butte – Central Oregon’s Iconic & Majestic Cinder Cone
From a distance, Black Butte looks like it doesn’t quite match the picturesque alpine mountains that surround it. The volcanic rock that emerges above the tree line gives the impression of a hill constructed with loose stones that was carelessly dropped in the middle of the woods. Unlike the Cascades that puncture the horizon to the west and north, Black Butte can be hiked and enjoyed in under four hours.
Accessible Adventure: Easy Hikes for Families near Bend, Oregon
There are so many great hikes in Central Oregon, it can be tough to choose where to start. For beginner hikers or families here’s a couple of easy to get to – and more importantly – easy to conquer starter-hikes. Flanking the Deschutes River near Bend’s Old Mill District, the Deschutes River Trail is a 3-mile loop that starts near Farewell Bend Park.
Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
Outward Bound in the City: Central Oregon’s 5 Best Urban Hikes
Hiking in Central Oregon can take you deep into the wilderness, far away from worry and stress. But sometimes all you need is a quick break from reality…just a half hour or so outside in nature, on a trail, alone with your thoughts (or with your dog, husband and two kids.) There are hundreds of hikes and trails available in and around Bend, Oregon and Sunriver, Oregon. These “Urban Hikes” are the perfect remedy to slow down our all-too-busy lives.
Lava Lands Visitor Center a Central Oregon Geologic Gem
In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
Central Oregon Hiking Trails
Head east on Highway 20 (Greenwood Avenue) to the Pilot Butte State Park. The parking area and trailhead are just east of the butte. Walk on either the nature trail or the paved road. The road is also for vehicle traffic, weather permitting. It is a wonderful viewpoint for the entire Bend area. This hiking trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Pull Off For a Central Oregon Adventure
The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Central Oregon’s Moonscape
Many who come to Central Oregon say it looks like nowhere else they’ve visited. Sure, there are the mountain vistas and the Ponderosa pines, the picturesque rivers and the deep blue lakes. But to many, the most astonishing aspect is the lunarscape — the lava rocks, cinder cones and lava tubes that dot the region, betraying its geologic history.
The Central Oregon Adventure 6-Pack
6 ADVENTURES…1 DAY….A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES. “You should do it,” they said. “Think about how cool it’d be,” they told me. “You get to do it during the work day, ya know,” they reminded me. So I said yes.