A little sticker for the windshield, a hanger for the rearview mirror, a card that lives in the glove compartment and gets placed on the dashboard a few times a year—these might not be the most exciting gifts to unwrap. But think of all the worry, planning headaches, last-minute scrambles for exact change, and arguments over the ethics of paying to access public land (not to mention citations and punitive fees) the recipient will be spared when you give them the perfect annual outdoors parking pass.
While some hardy travelers would get plenty of use out of possessing all of the regional passes, a frugal gift-giver might want to zero in on particular interests. Do they love taking out-of-towners to Astoria, hitting Goonies sites and the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens? Get ’em an Astoria Column pass for 2021 and an Oregon State Parks pass they can use at Fort Stevens and Ecola in Cannon Beach, too. Are they hooked on the ’mook? Tillamook County has increased its boat launch and day-use fees for 2021, and added to the list of places that require payment, so an annual pass would be even more appreciated. Are they all about hot springs and hiking? Go for the Northwest Forest Pass for trailheads galore in Mount Hood and other National Forests. Is their favorite secret swimming spot near a heavily patrolled parking lot on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge? Brighten their day with a Discover Pass. Is sledding, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing more their jam? Sno-park, it is, then.
Here’s how to snag some of the major passes a Portlander might need. Order online or by phone/mail (a lot can’t be printed, so plan ahead for shipping), or pick up an annual pass for a friend while you’re off on your own adventures.
Needed at high-elevation maintained lots, including Timberline Lodge, November 1 through April 30. These can move from one car to another, so you aren’t locking anyone in to always being the driver.
Cost: $25/year (vs. $4/day, $9/three days). Vendors may charge an additional service fee.
Get it: Online or at DMV offices, resorts, outdoors stores, and other retail outlets. (Oregon annual sno-park passes are good in California and Idaho, and vice-versa, but following the end of a 35-year agreement in 2013 Washington has its own system with different prices.)
Northwest Forest Pass
For US Forest Service–operated sites with day-use fees in Oregon and Washington, including numerous Mount Hood trailheads and the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center
Cost: $30/year (vs. $5/day)
Get it: Online, at ranger stations, sporting goods and outdoors stores, Bi-Mart, or on-site.
America the Beautiful National Parks Pass
All the benefits of a Northwest Forest Pass, plus other federally managed recreation sites in all 50 states, including National Parks. Ages 62 and up can get a lifetime pass for the same price, plus a $10 processing fee if ordering by mail.
Get it: Online or in person at many BLM or National Forest offices and visitor centers (Call ahead for possible COVID closures.)
Wildlife Area Permit
Needed at 15 sites operated by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, including much of northern Sauvie Island
Cost: $30/year or free with an annual Oregon hunting license (vs. $10/day)
Get it: Online, at select ODFW offices, Cracker Barrel Store and Reeder Beach RV Country Store on Sauvie Island, outdoors stores, Bi-Mart, some Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart locations
Oregon State Parks Pass
For the two dozen or so state parks that charge day-use fees, including Silver Falls and several in the Columbia River Gorge
Cost: $30/year, $50/two years (vs. $5/day when buying on-site)
Get it: Buy year or two-year passes online, by calling 800-551-6949, or at various retail outlets.
Washington Discover Pass
Needed at many state-managed recreation sites in Washington, including parks, beaches, water access points, ferry lots, and trailheads
Cost: $30/year (vs. $10/day) Vendors can charge a processing fee of $1.50 for a day pass, $5 for an annual pass; these fees also apply to an online advance purchase.
Get it: Online, at some park pay stations, anywhere hunting licenses are sold, some Washington Safeways, or by calling 866-320-9933.
Oregon Pacific Coast Passport
Multiagency pass honored at 16 state and federally managed spots along US 101, including Fort Stevens, Cape Lookout, Yaquina Head, and Shore Acres
Cost: $35/year (vs. $10/five days)
Get it: At state parks and Forest Service offices on the coast, or by calling 800-551-6949.
Astoria Column Pass
Needed to park at Astoria’s 125-foot hilltop tower
Cost: $5, good for the calendar year, so be sure to get a 2021 pass.
Get it: On-site, and buy a balsa-wood airplane to throw from the top, too, when the column reopens for climbing the stairs.
Tillamook County Annual Parking Access Pass
Newly required for 2021 at several popular destinations, including Cape Kiwanda and the Pacific City Turnaround lot
Cost: $55, $45 for disabled veterans, seniors age 65 and over, and Oregon Trail card member (vs. $10/day); good for the calendar year, so be sure to get a 2021 pass.
Get it: From set locations in Tillamook and Rockaway Beach, or by calling 503-322-3522 ext. 1.