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Floaters, hikers, more need to think ahead for summer permits

Sun., Jan. 30, 2011

Hikers pause below Dragontail Peak as they enter the Enchantment Lakes area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Applications for summer permits go online Feb. 28.  (File)
Hikers pause below Dragontail Peak as they enter the Enchantment Lakes area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Applications for summer permits go online Feb. 28. (File)

It’s the season to think ahead to summer adventures that require a special permit or reservations.

Campers seeking a stay at popular national park or national forest cabins, lookouts and campgrounds generally can make reservations up to six months in advance to the date of arrival. That means Tuesday is the first day to begin making reservations for campsites in the busy month of July at parks such as Glacier.

River rafters and paddlers seeking coveted permits for the Selway, Snake and Salmon rivers must submit their applications for the lottery drawing by Monday.

New this year, applications for the limited number of permits for backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Leavenworth will be taken on the national reservation system. Relax: There’s still plenty of time.

Following is a sampling of the reservation and application considerations to make soon.

National Forests have many historic cabins and lookouts in their popular rental program, including the Red Ives cabin on the St. Joe River.

These facilities can change from year to year. For instance, the Clearwater National Forest added two nifty cabins to its rental program just last year: the Kelly Cabin on the North Fork Clearwater River, available by vehicle, and Liz Creek Cabin off the Lolo Motorway in the Weitas Creek drainage, available by trail.

Cabin fees start at $40 a night, although a $55 fee is being charged for the Kelly Cabin because of its choice location in a popular river and fishing corridor.

National Park Service campsites can be difficult to find in peak season without a reservation, which can be made six months in advance.

Most reservations for cabin, lookouts and campgrounds can be made on National Recreation Reservation System, (877) 444-6777);

Yellowstone Park, however, is one of the rare exceptions. Yellowstone has its own reservation system, which currently offers no online option. Call (866) 439-7375.

River runners looking for slots on the region’s world-class streams sometimes can obtain no-show permits; a portion of available permits may be held back and issued daily at ranger stations.

But locking in a reservation for a major river trip is key to planning.

Savvy trippers get a group of people to apply for dates to boost their chances in lottery drawings. Maximum group size on the rivers generally is around 30. Mid-week launch dates tend to be easier to get than Friday-Sunday dates.

Following are some of the most sought-after permits in the region.

• Idaho’s Selway, Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon and the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Deadline for applications: Monday. Details:

• Montana’s Smith River, a classic 59-mile multiday floating and fishing experience in Central Montana.

Deadline for applications: Feb. 15. Details:

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area’s Enchantment Lakes Basin, plus Stuart, Colchuck, Snow and Eightmile lakes areas near Leavenworth, require a permit for overnighting June 15-Oct. 15.

New this year, the permits are changing to a web-based reservation system. Applications may be filed online 24 hours a day Feb. 28-March 20. Application fees are $5 per person plus a reservation fee of $6 per permit payable by credit card.

Applicants must set up a profile and password before filling out an application. Notification of permit status will begin April 5.

A similar permit lottery system has operated online for several years at Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The online system will provide area information and alerts to notify people as their trips draw near about special conditions such as wildfires.

Apply on the NRRS website,

For more details on the permit system, go to

Mount Rainier requires permits for the 94-mile Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates the mountain (beware that trail reconstruction will still be under way this summer in washed out areas).

Applications are accepted starting March 15. Details:

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