45.7089° N, 121.5123° W
FINDING THE RIGHT PARK PASS FOR EXPLORING THE PNW CAN BE TOUGH. LUCKILY, I HAVE BROKEN IT DOWN INTO AN EASY TO FOLLOW GUIDE. EXPLORE IT BELOW.
The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is full of so many amazing adventure destinations. From the jagged peaks of North Cascades National Park to the rugged beaches of the Oregon coast to the hundreds of lakes and waterfalls dotted around the dense, mossy forests, there is so much to explore. But one thing you quickly realize is that many of the more well-known destinations require a pass of some sort. The only issue? There are so many to choose from that it can sometimes be overwhelming to know which one you actually need.
I dealt with this issue numerous times and heard many similar grumbles of confusion from my outdoor-loving friends. Which is where the idea of this little guide came about. Below you will find a breakdown of all of the major park passes offered throughout the PNW, including how much each costs, where to buy one and what the major requirements and perks of each one are.
Let's get exploring!
\\ State Park Passes
💸COST: 12 months for $30, 24 months for $50 (permit is transferable between cars)
➳ Learn more about the Oregon State Park Pass here.
If you live in or are planning a trip around the beautiful and diverse state of Oregon, then you may want to invest in its state park pass - especially if you are looking to visit some of the more popular spots, like Rooster Rock SP (located near Portland).
One important thing to note about this pass - and Oregon state parks in general - is that only 25 of the 371 state parks require a parking or entry fee. So, if you plan accordingly you can likely get away with not needing this pass at all. If you are looking to buy the pass (which costs $30 for a year or $5 per day) you can do so at each individual state park, online, or at numerous shops around Oregon.
❔GOOD TO KNOW: there is also an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport, which specifically covers the entry or day use fees at dozens of federally-run fee sites. This includes destinations overseen by the Forest Service, National Parks Service, and the Bureau of Land Management) as well as Oregon State Park sites situated along Highway 101. This passport costs $35 per year or $10 for 5 days. Learn more here.
💸COST: $30 per year or $10 per day
➳ Learn more about the Washington State Park Pass/Discover Pass here.
Washington is home to 140 state parks (SPs), including such well-known places as Cape Disappointment SP and Fort Townsend Historical SP. In order to visit these scenic destinations you will need a Washington state park pass, also known as the Discover Pass.
The pass, which can be used for multiple cars (just not at one time) costs either $30 per year or $10 a day. Do note that a park pass is not needed if you are staying the night at one of the state parks (there is another fee for this) and it does NOT work at Sno-Parks (learn more about that specific pass below).
\\ Northwest Forest Pass
💸COST: $30 per year
➳ Learn more about the Northwest Forest Pass here.
Okay not to be confusing or anything, but besides the two state park passes above (one for each state) there is also a super handy pass called the Northwest Forest Pass. This pass covers dozens of sites spread across the 19 national forests that are dotted around both Washington and Oregon. This includes popular destinations in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (i.e. the Enchantments), the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (home to tons of waterfalls and lakes) and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (which is chock full of hiking trails).
This pass is also interchangeable between vehicles and does NOT cover Sno-Parks.
💬INSIDER TIP: I would say that if there was one pass to purchase for exploring the PNW this one would be it. I found that a majority of the places I explored accepted this pass. Plus, it is not very expensive and it is easy to buy (in person and online).
\\ America the Beautiful Pass (aka the National Parks Pass)
💸COST: $80 per year
➳ Learn more about the America the Beautiful Pass here.
This annual pass is not just good to have for exploring the Pacific Northwest, but also if you are someone looking to plan adventures across the whole United States. Covering entrance fees at all lands managed by the National Park Service (as well as sites overseen by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers), the America the Beautiful Pass is super handy to have if you are looking to check out numerous national parks, national monuments and/or national historic sites (there are 400+ options).
You can buy the America the Beautiful Pass online (here) or at any national park.
\\ Sno-Park Passes
One key thing to remember is that if you are planning to do some winter adventuring in either Oregon or Washington, you will likely need to purchase a sno-park pass ahead of time. A sno-park is just a cleared parking area in close proximity to prime winter adventures, including cross country ski trails, backcountry ski trails, snowmobiling and dog sledding routes and even sledding hills. There are dozens of awesome sno-parks spread around both states, including many near such popular towns as Bend and Hood River in Oregon and Leavenworth and Winthrop in Washington.
💸COST: $25 per year, $9 for 3 days, and $4 for 1 day
➳ Learn more about the Oregon Sno-Park pass, including how to buy one, here.
Planning to explore some of Oregon's numerous landscapes during the winter time? Then you will very likely need to purchase an Oregon Sno-Park Pass (all other passes mentioned above do NOT give you access). This pass/permit is required between November 1st and April 30th. One cool thing about this pass is that it can also be used for all sno-parks in California and Idaho (and vice-versa), but not in Washington (bummmmer).
Find a map of all Oregon sno-parks and what each offers here.
💸COST: $25 per day, $50 annual
➳ Learn more about the Washington Sno-Park Pass here.
Similar to the Oregon Sno-Park pass, the Washington Sno-Park pass grants you access to over 120 winter recreation sites across the state and is needed between November 1st and April 30th. This pass can be transferred between vehicles but can NOT be used in Oregon (or California or Idaho). This is a great pass to have if you are planning to do a lot of cross country or backcountry skiing, snowmobiling or sledding.
Buy your annual sno-park pass here.
\\ Day Passes
Besides the passes outlined above, and sometimes in conjunction with them, there is also the possibility of needing a specific day pass - especially for more popular outdoor destinations like The Enchantments in Washington and the Three Sisters area in Oregon.
Most day passes can be found and reserved/bought at recreation.gov. I would highly suggest looking into whether you need a specific day pass for an adventure well ahead of time for some of the really popular places do fill up fast. Likewise, you can also make reservations for things like fire tower rentals or state park tours at the aforementioned website.
The Pacific Northwest is full of truly astounding scenery and epic adventures. But for many destinations (especially the more well-known and popular ones) you may find that you need to do a bit of planning to make sure you are showing up with the right park pass (or otherwise be prepared to get a ticket).
Hopefully, this guide to all the major PNW passes helps you figure out which ones you need for your next adventure!