Guide – how to choose the right hiking pass

Have you ever gotten to a trailhead and weren’t sure if you should put a Discover Pass, NW Forest Pass, or Sno-Park Pass on your dashboard?  Here’s your guide to recreation passes!


Where Washington State-owned land
For example: Lake Sammamish State Park, Lake Easton State Park, Tiger Mountain and Mt Si (owned by Washington Department of Natural Resources)

When Throughout the year

Price $10/day; $30/annual pass

Where to Buy REI, online, or when you renew your driver license/car tabs.  See full list of vendors.

What does it fund? Your passes help cover the cost of keeping our incredible state parks and natural lands open as well as trails and trailheads maintained and safe.

How do you know what is a state-owned trailhead or park? There will always be a sign at the trailhead (Washington State Parks, WA Department of Natural Resources, WA Fish and Wildlife).  Also check out a list of their parks and trails. If you use Green Trails Maps for your hike, they will always show land ownership, so you can tell if it is State-owned land.

How many cars? It can be used on up to two vehicles that are registered to the same household.  License plate numbers are written on the pass.

More Info


Where US Forest Service (USFS) land in Washington and Oregon where a day pass is required. For example: Granite Mountain, Rachel Lake, Denny Creek, Pacific Crest Trail, Salmon la Sac

When Any time of the year (if it becomes a Sno-Park parking lot in the winter, you’ll need the Sno-Park Pass instead—see below)

Price $5/day; $30/annual pass

Where to Buy REI, online, USFS ranger stations in North Bend, Snoqualmie Pass, Cle Elum

What does it fund? Your pass helps cover the cost of keeping these trailheads clean, safe, and maintained.  They also fund the construction and maintenance of the restrooms at the trailheads.

How do you know what is a federal-owned trailhead? There will always be a sign at the trailhead for the USFS.  Also check their website for a list of their trails.  If you use Green Trails maps for your hike, they will always show land ownership, so you can tell if it is USFS land.

How many cars? It is interchangeable between cars.

More Info


This is the pass that tends to confuse people the most—here’s the scoop on when you need this:

Where Any winter Sno-Park location.  Essentially any winter recreation site where the parking lot is plowed during the winter (it doesn’t matter if it is state or federal land—it just needs to be plowed for this to apply).  Here is a full list of locations.
For example: Gold Creek Pond Sno-Park, Hyak Sno-Park (although not the ski area parking lot), Crystal Springs Sno-Park

When Nov 1 through April 30

Price $20/day; $40/annual pass (plus $40 for Special Groomed Trails Permit—see below for details)

Where to Buy REI, Snoqualmie Pass Visitors Center, online

What does it fund? Your pass helps cover the cost of keeping the parking lots plowed (so you can park your cars after a snow storm) as well as keep trails groomed (where applicable—see below). They also make sure that there are porta potties at each Sno-Park.

How do you know where the pass is required? There will always be a sign at the parking lot that indicates that a Sno-Park pass is needed in the winter.  See a full list of sites. Green Trails maps currently doesn’t show where these are needed.

What is the Special Groomed Trails Permit and where do I need that? Some Sno-Parks not only have a plowed parking lot, but they also have a groomed trail system.  Essentially it costs even more for them to groom and plow (rather than just plowing), so they have a higher cost for the pass if you park there.
If you bought a day pass – it can be used for either groomed or un-groomed locations without any extra charge
If you bought an annual pass – you will need to buy a Special Groomed Trails Permit as well if you want to park here. See a list of the places that require this extra pass if you have an annual pass.

How many cars? This pass is non-transferable and can only be used on one vehicle.  The license plate numbers is written on the pass.

More Info


For more information about how to select the right pass, check out this overview by our friends at Washington Trails Association.