The Three Sisters

With the newly minted Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, Oregon now has 48 designated wilderness areas—the federal government’s highest level of protection for public lands. Enjoy your unfettered access while you can; come summer 2020, three of these areas will likely be curbing trail access for human visitors.

Why? According to the U.S. Forest Service, over-visitation. The agency reports that from 2011 to 2016, the number of groups entering the Three Sisters increased by 331 percent; Mt. Washington, 314 percent; Diamond Peak, 165 percent; and Mt. Jefferson, 68 percent. All those nature lovers, the agency says, have contributed to increased vandalism, overcrowding, unsafe parking conditions, wildlife displacement, de-vegetation, and eroded trails.

The solution, it hopes, is establishing quotas—both for overnight group permits and individual day hikers—at a grand total of 80 Oregon trailheads. The tentative list of impacted trails (see our list below) is expected to be finalized by the agency this April. Once the list is nailed down, quotas are scheduled to go into effect in May 2020.

In Oregon, the trails named in the draft list cover about 13 percent, total, of the Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, and Three Sisters wilderness areas within the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests. Some trails, like Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters, already have a history of limited entry, established specifically for restoration. Since the mid 1990s, the Obsidian Trail has limited day hikers to a maximum 30 permitted into the area each day, and overnight visitors to 40, with a maximum of three groups of 12. (The proposed 2020 quotas will likely shift that overnight number down to 13 total; the number of day hikers will remain the same.)

Not everyone is happy about the new strategy. Outdoor recreation advocates like the Eugene-based Wilderness Report (a nonprofit organization that focuses on disseminating information about area wilderness management practices) have argued that limiting access all but defeats the purpose of having a wilderness area.

“The Agency needs to slow things down!" Wilderness Report director Arthur Pope wrote in a December 2018 letter to the Forest Service. “There is no need to restrict public access so broadly across the landscape. The adaptive management process would work equally well if restrictions were implemented slowly, over time, only when clearly needed."

That debate—whether a balance can be found between loving the outdoors to death and preserving wilderness character—is something to think about this summer. (Perhaps while hiking some of the trails, listed below, that will be trickier to visit come Summer 2020.)

DRAFT LIST OF OREGON TRAILS CONSIDERED TO SUMMER 2020 QUOTAS: 

Three Sisters Trailhead—permit quotas tentative list

  1. Scott Trailhead: 13 overnight group permits / 12 day use individual permits
  2. Obsidian: 13 overnight group permits / 30 day use individual permits
  3. Linton Lake: 2 overnight group permits / 24 day use individual permits
  4. Proxy Falls: No permit required.
  5. Foley: 7 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  6. Separation: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  7. Rainbow: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  8. Horse Creek: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  9. Upper French Pete/Pat Saddle: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  10. Upper Lowder: 3 overnight group permits  / no permit required for day use
  11. Upper East Fork: 3 overnight group permits  / no permit required for day use
  12. Lower East Fork: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  13. Lower Lowder: Closed / Closed
  14. French Pete: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  15. Rebel: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  16. Olallie: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  17. Elk Creek: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  18. South Fork: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  19. Crossing Way: 7 overnight group permits/ no permit required for day use
  20. Box Canyon: 7 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  21. Skookum: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  22. Taylor Burn: 6 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  23. Helen Lake: 6 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  24. Jack Pine: 6 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  25. Irish Taylor: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  26. Many Lakes: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  27. Deep Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  28. Winopee/Corral Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  29. Corral Swamp: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  30. Lucky Lake: 3 overnight group permits / 30 day use individual permits
  31. Six Lakes: 8 overnight group permits / 60 day use individual permits
  32. Elk Lake: 4 overnight group permits / 24 day use individual permits
  33. Quinn Meadow: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  34. Sisters Mirror: 4 overnight group permits / 16 day use individual permits
  35. Devils Lake/Wickiup (South Sister climbers TH): 16 overnight group permits / 100 day use individual permits
  36. Green Lakes / Soda Creek: 14 overnight group permits / 80 day use individual permits
  37. Todd Lake: 3 overnight group permits / 12 day use individual permits
  38. Crater Ditch: 4 overnight group permits / 16 day use individual permits
  39. Broken Top: 4 overnight group permits / 40 day use individual permits
  40. Tam McArthur Rim: 5 overnight group permits / 80 day use individual permits
  41. Three Creek Meadow: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  42. Park Meadow: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  43. Chush Falls: 3 overnight group permits / 20 day use individual permits
  44. Pole Creek: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  45. Scott Pass: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  46. Millican: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  47. Black Crater: 4 overnight group permits / 24 day use individual permits
  48. Lava Camp: 7 overnight group permits / 40 day use individual permits

Mount Jefferson Wilderness Trailhead—permit quotas tentative list

  1. Roaring Creek: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  2. Crown Lake: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  3. Pacific Crest Trail Breitenbush: 4 overnight group permits / 14 day use individual permits
  4. Breitenbush: 5 overnight group permits / 12 day use individual permits
  5. Triangulation: 5 overnight group permits / 16 day use individual permits
  6. Cheat Creek: 5 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  7. Whitewater: 8 overnight group permits / 30 day use individual permits
  8. Woodpecker: 3 overnight group permits / 12 day use individual permits
  9. Pamelia Lake: 11 overnight group permits / 24 day use individual permits
  10. Minto Mountain: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  11. Bingham Ridge: 4 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  12. Marion Lake: 10 overnight group permits / 40 day use individual permits
  13. Jefferson Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  14. Pine Ridge: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  15. Big Meadows Horse Camp: 13 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  16. Duffy Lake: 13 overnight group permits / 30 day use individual permits
  17. Maxwell Butte: 13 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  18. Cabot Lake: 5 overnight group permits / 14 day use individual permits
  19. Bear Valley: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  20. PCT Santiam: 10 overnight group permits / 50 day use individual permits
  21. Jack Lake: 5 overnight group permits / 60 day use individual permits
  22. Round Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use

Mount Washington Wilderness—permit quotas tentative list

  1. Patjens: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  2. PCT Big Lake: 2 overnight group permits / 20 day use individual permits
  3. Hortense Lake - Access Point: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  4. Dry Creek - Access Point: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  5. PCT McKenzie Pass: 6 overnight group permits / 24 day use individual permits
  6. Hand Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  7. Benson/Tenas: 8 overnight group permits / 30 day use individual permits
  8. Fingerboard Prairie: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  9. Tenas Lakes: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use
  10. Robinson Lake: 3 overnight group permits / no permit required for day use 

Skyline - Pacific Crest Trail—permit quotas tentative list

  1. Daily launches: 2 overnight group permits / N/A 
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