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Passed out

You’re at the trailhead. Now what? It’s complicated. Before you go, check out our detailed list of passes, permits, fees and other requirements at local public recreation areas at the end of this article, and also find where to buy passes at local vendors.

By Marcy Stamper
Maps of the Methow show land ownership as a jigsaw puzzle of irregular shapes in shades of pastel, so it is no wonder that figuring out which pass you need to enjoy those lands can be such a mystery.

But as government land managers try to fill budget gaps with passes and day fees, people using those areas to hike, watch wildlife or float their boat have to try to solve the puzzle.

The U.S. Forest Service has been requiring passes for most trails since the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act was passed in 2005, although the application of the law has been refined over the years.

Forest Service sites must be equipped with six amenities before the fee can be collected – a picnic table, toilet, trash collection, interpretive sign, developed parking and security – and virtually all local trails in the area have been equipped over the past year, according to Jennifer Zbyszewski, recreation program manager for the Methow Ranger District. In addition, the area around Harts Pass has been designated a recreation-fee area, meaning that all trailheads, picnic areas and even roadside parking there require a user pass.

Washington began imposing its own fees for most state recreation lands in July, including State Parks, wildlife areas and forests. The new state Discover Pass is now required at lands managed by Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources (but not necessarily in all situations).

“It’s hard to just make a general statement because people have to know where they are,” said Rob Wottlin, assistant manager for the Methow Wildlife Area. “You’ve got to know where you’re parking, and whether it’s state, federal or private.”

In the Methow, anyone parking on the state land needs a Discover Pass, but if you can park safely on a state or county road, you do not need a pass, according to a spokesperson for WDFW.

Both federal and state passes apply to vehicles – primarily for parking – and therefore do not apply to anyone arriving on foot, bicycle or horse, according to state and federal land managers. The federal passes can be transferred between an unlimited number of vehicles, while the state pass is connected with a single vehicle.

DNR is requiring the Discover Pass only at designated natural areas, which in Okanogan County means only the Loup Loup State Forest and Loomis State Forest. Most of the shrub-steppe areas in the Lower Valley and those east of the Loup Loup summit are managed by DNR but do not presently require a pass, according to an agency fact sheet.

Some recreationists are happy to support public lands by paying fees, while others complain that these areas are already supported by taxes and that fees are burdensome for families and low-income people.

Gold Creek resident Curt Channing questioned how the money for WDFW areas is being spent, noting that restrooms at several sites, including the Carlton swimming hole, Patterson Lake boat launch and Riser Lake off Rendezvous Road, had been poorly maintained for years, with broken door locks, no toilet paper and heaps of garbage.

“We need to get on the state – if they’re going to charge these fees, they need to maintain these facilities. We need to put some heat on them,” said Channing.

Wottlin said the sites are maintained regularly. “You know how it is – you can clean and restock on Monday and, by Tuesday, it can look like nobody’s been there for a year,” he said. Wottlin acknowledged that maintenance had lagged recently at WDFW sites when the maintenance person had been sick. Efforts to reach a staff person for more details on maintenance were unsuccessful.

The Discover Pass was instituted to fill a $71 million budget shortfall, which state officials said could have meant closure of many public lands. The pass is projected to raise $47 million in the first two years; 84 percent will go to Parks and 8 percent each to WDFW and DNR.

The money from the Discover Pass will be shared by all parks in the state, where on average fees cover only 45 percent of expenses, according to Pearrygin Lake State Park manager Rick Lewis. Pearrygin is one of only six of the state’s 142 parks where revenue covers expenses, he said.

The fees collected for the Northwest Forest Pass are returned to local districts and used to maintain trails and fund the recreation program, but the $75 fine for noncompliance goes to the general fund and does not help locally, said Zbyszewski.

Discover Pass

Required for:
Vehicle access to state lands managed by the following three agencies. Good for one vehicle; not transferable.
• Washington State Parks
• Department of Natural Resources (DNR), at certain designated or developed recreation and natural areas. (In Okanogan County, this means Loup Loup State Forest and Loomis State Forest.)
• Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)

Annual pass: $30 ($35 with transaction and dealer fees if purchased at a licensed dealer, by phone or online).
One-day pass: $10 ($11.50 with transaction and dealer fees).

Where to buy:
By phone: (866) 320-9933
Online: Can be printed out for use until you receive an official pass in the mail.
• When you renew your vehicle license (beginning fall of 2011); no extra fees.
• At state parks when staff is available; no extra fees.
• At area vendors listed below.

Penalty for non-compliance: $99; reduced to $59 with proof of purchase of a Discover Pass within 15 days of the violation.

More info: (866) 320-9933 or

Exceptions to Discover Pass
Non-vehicle use: Not needed for walking, bicycling or horseback riding on state lands, as long as you do not park a vehicle on state lands. Parking along a state or county road (in a safe pull-out) to access state lands does not require a Discover Pass.

Overnight accommodations
State Parks: Discover Pass not needed for using a state park where you have paid a separate fee for camping or other overnight accommodations.

Hunting and fishing on WDFW land
Purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses will receive a vehicle-access pass for WDFW-managed lands and won’t need the Discover Pass for WDFW lands. They will still need the Discover Pass for DNR land and State Parks.

Off-road vehicles and other non-street-legal vehicles: These vehicles do not need a Discover Pass, but the vehicle used to transport them to state lands does require one.

Sno-Park Permits: Separate fee; valid and needed from Nov. 1 through April 30.

Boating at State Parks
Natural Investment Permit (annual boat-launch permit)
People will not need a Discover Pass to launch a boat from a State Parks boat launch if they have the Natural Investment Permit, but will need the Discover Pass for boat launches managed by DNR and WDFW.

Annual pass: $70
One-day pass: $7

Northwest Forest Pass

Required for:

Vehicle access to U.S. Forest Service trailheads in Washington and Oregon, picnic areas, other recreation sites. The annual 
pass can be transferred between vehicles and individuals.

Annual pass: $30
National Forest Recreation Pass (day-use): $5

Free Trailheads:
Goat Peak
West Fork Methow River
Slate Lake (Twisp River)
Copper Glance (Chewuch)

Exceptions to 
NW Forest Pass:
Recreation passes do not cover fees for camping, boat launches or Sno-Parks.

Where to buy:
Winthrop Ranger Station (Monday through Saturday, 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed for lunch on Saturday from noon to 1 p.m.).
By phone: (888) 275-8747 (888-ASK-USGS) (U.S. Geological Survey store, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time); $5 for shipping and handling.
Online: (U.S. Geological Survey store); $5 for shipping and handling.
Online: Discover Your Northwest (; minimum $1.50 for shipping and handling.
Online purchases cannot be printed out for use; you must allow time to receive the official pass in the mail.
• Day passes can be purchased at most trailheads with exact change or a check. Annual passes cannot be bought at trailheads.
• At local vendors listed below.

Penalty for non-compliance: $75

Interagency Passes
Good at all areas managed by these five federal agencies:

• National Park Service
• U.S. Forest Service
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
• Bureau of Land Management
• Bureau of Reclamation

America the Beautiful Pass
(Interagency Annual Pass)
Good for one or two people; covers all access to areas managed by the five agencies above.
Cost: $80; $5 for shipping and handling through USGS.

Where to buy:
On site: At a federal recreation site.
By phone: (888) 275-8747 (888-ASK-USGS) (U.S. Geological Survey store, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time); $5 for shipping and handling.
Online: (U.S. Geological Survey store); $5 for shipping and handling.

Senior Pass
Lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over; good at all federal recreation lands. May provide a 50-percent discount at campgrounds, boat launches, etc.
Cost: $10 (in person at federal recreation sites); additional $10 for shipping and handling through USGS (see America the Beautiful Pass above).

Access Pass
For U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. May be obtained in person at a federal recreation site or through USGS.
Cost: Free. $10 for shipping and handling through USGS (see America the Beautiful Pass above).

North Cascades National Park
Cost: Free, but all trails east of the Cascade crest start on Forest Service land, which requires a NW Forest Pass.

Backcountry Permits: Required for all overnight stays in the backcountry of North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Permits are specific to a site. Free, available in person only, on the first day of your trip or up to one day before, on a first-come, first-served basis. Available at Forest Service ranger station in Winthrop and visitors’ centers in North Cascades National Park.

Trails and recreation sites
(a selection of popular places)

Lower Valley (Pateros to Carlton)
Alta Lake State Park, DP, NIP
Foggy Dew Trail, NW, IA
Martin Lakes, NW, IA
Eagle Lakes, NW, IA
Carlton Swimming Hole, DP, VA
Golden Doe Wildlife Area, free*
Leecher Mountain, NW, IA

Twisp and Twisp River
Lookout Mountain, NW, IA
Blackpine Lake, day use free
Deadhorse Lake, free*
Big Buck Wildlife Area, free*
Aspen Lake, free
Twisp River Trail, NW, IA
East Fork Buttermilk, NW, IA
War Creek, NW, IA
Twisp Pass, NW, IA
Copper Pass, NW
Louis Lake, NW, IA

Winthrop, West Chewuch, Rendezvous
Pearrygin Lake State Park, DP, NIP
Lewis Butte, DP
Riser Lake, DP, VA
Twin Lakes, free
Patterson Mountain, free*
Patterson Lake, boat launch: DP or VA; other areas: free
Sun Mountain trails, free
Methow Wildlife Area (Bear Creek), free*
Falls Creek Falls, NW, IA
Buck Lake, NW, IA
Copper Glance, free
Andrews Creek, NW, IA

Mazama, Harts Pass
Big Valley, free*
Goat Peak, free
West Fork Methow, free
Monument Creek, NW, IA
Robinson Pass, NW, IA
Grasshopper Pass, NW, IA
Windy Pass, NW, IA
Pacific Crest Trail (north & south), NW, IA
Harts Pass recreation area, NW, IA

N. Cascades Highway (east of the crest)
Cedar Creek, NW, IA
Driveway Butte, NW, IA
Cutthroat Lake/Pass, NW, IA
Washington Pass overlook, free
Pacific Crest Trail (north & south), NW, IA
Blue Lake, NW, IA
Rainy Lake, NW, IA
Lake Ann/Maple Pass, NW, IA

Boulder Creek
Tiffany Mountain/Freezeout Ridge, NW, IA

Bear Creek, East Valley, Loup Loup
Cougar Lake, free*
Campbell Lake, free*
Pipestone Canyon, free*
Loup Loup State Forest, DP

* DP required if parking on state land

Discover Pass
Federal Interagency Passes (includes
 America the Beautiful pass)
Natural Investment Permit
Northwest Forest Pass
Vehicle-acess permit for those with 
hunting and fishing licences

Discover Pass
• Bryan’s Clothing & Sporting Goods Station, Twisp
• Pardners Mini Market, Winthrop
• Valley Hardware Do it Center, Twisp
all three charge vendor fees
• Alta Lake State Park rangers (when available)
• Pearrygin Lake State Park rangers (when available)
Northwest Forest Pass
• Methow Cycle & Sport (annual and day passes), Winthrop
• Winthrop Mountain Sports (annual pass only), Winthrop
• Mazama Country Inn (day pass only), Mazama
no extra fees at any of these vendors

Discover Pass: or (866) 320-9933
NW Forest Pass and Federal Interagency passes: U.S. Geological Survey store at, (888) 275-8747 (store) or (888) 627-3325
U.S. Forest Service:
General pass and permit information: Washington Trails Association website at
Outdoor Recreation Information Center: (206) 470-4060 or (800) 270-7504
Nature of the Northwest website at

Photo by Sue Misao

Aug. 10, 2011

Date: 08-10-2011  |  Volume: 109  |  Issue: 13