Mount Rainier May Start Requiring Reservations, and Now Is Your Last Chance to Weigh In

Park officials say requiring visitors to make reservations for Mount Rainier National Park would help cut down on crowding and protect natural resources—but one major hiking organization opposes the change.

Photo: Rene Frederick/DigitalVision via Getty Images

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The National Park Service is considering implementing a timed-entry reservation system in Mount Rainier National Park—and if you want argue for or against it, you only have a few days left.

A draft management plan released in April outlines the proposal, which would resemble booking systems implemented by busy parks like Arches and Rocky Mountain in recent years. According to the draft plan, visitation in Mount Rainier increased by 85 percent from 2008 to 2021, and 70 percent of the million-plus park users come between July and September. The document cites hours-long wait times at the park’s popular entrances and congestion on roads and trailhead parking lots. Park officials claim that managing visitation numbers through a reservation system will resolve these issues, plus aid in protecting alpine meadows and natural resources, and offer a high-quality visitor experience. 

The new reservation system would apply to the park’s Nisqually to Paradise Corridor, which runs from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise, a popular visitor destination. A timed-entry reservation system would require visitors to book a time slot for visiting the park ahead of time, and would likely charge a small fee. Visitors with wilderness permits or campground reservations would not need additional entry permits.

While the draft plan outlines a handful of alternative solutions, a reservation system is the park’s preferred plan. The park will reach a decision after public commenting closes next week, and would implement the new rules in 2024.   

The Washington Trails Association (WTA), a nonprofit that advocates for trail preservation, conducts trail work projects, and offers resources to hikers, has publicly opposed the park service’s preferred plan

According to a statement on WTA’s website, “Getting to the park would be even harder for anyone who can’t plan ahead, doesn’t have a regular schedule, isn’t familiar with public-land systems, does not speak English or who doesn’t have easy access to technology.”

According to WTA, it’s a matter of equity. The statement references research that shows that reservation systems tend to curb economic and racial diversity among park visitors. Rather than requiring reservations, WTA supports a shuttle system that they say would mitigate crowding and parking issues while making it even easier for visitors to access everything the park has to offer. 

In an email to Backpacker, WTA wrote that “Mount Rainier National Park’s 2002 general management plan outlined visitor management strategies, including adding shuttles, that the park has not yet tried.” This option would require additional funding for a new shuttle system, as well as land outside the park’s boundaries for parking. 

“WTA consistently advocates at the state and federal levels for funding for our public land management agencies. We would continue our advocacy to secure the needed resources for transportation solutions at Mount Rainier National Park,” wrote a WTA representative, who also said the organization is working to educate park visitors and encourage hikers to explore lesser-known trails in an effort to disperse crowds. 

Not all Washington hikers share in WTA’s opposition to the park service. On WTA’s website, several hikers commented in support of the draft plan.

“It’s a fact that vehicle lines at Paradise have reached 2 hours long,” wrote one commenter. “It’s a fact there are more vehicles entering the park than parking spots, and that actual fistfights have broken out over parking spots. I no longer go to Paradise or Sunrise because of the long lines and potential lack of parking once in. I feel that I no longer have access to those places. Having a reservation would give me access again.”

“We understand how challenging this issue is, the solutions are expensive and complicated,” WTA told Backpacker in an email. “Mount Rainier is such a special place that provides vital connections to nature and offers visitors mental and physical restoration—this experience should not be something enjoyed only by an elite few.”

Public comment closes on Monday, June 26. WTA is encouraging hikers to make their voices heard before the park service finalizes a decision. According to the nonprofit, Rainier has one of the highest levels of local visitation compared to other national parks, so a decision will have an outsized impact on Washington residents. 

“That’s why it’s so important that local hikers get involved with decision making about the future of access to Mount Rainier National Park,” said the representative from WTA. “We also believe that with a place as iconic as Mount Rainier we have an opportunity to inspire other land managers to think not just about today but how we can build innovative infrastructure that will meet the needs of the next generations of hikers.”

From 2023