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Mount Rainier visitors react to new timed entrance reservation policy

caption: Leo Yang (center right) and his extended family at Mount Rainier National Park, April 9, 2024
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Leo Yang (center right) and his extended family at Mount Rainier National Park, April 9, 2024

Summer visitors to Washington state's Mount Rainier must get timed entry reservations, so they won't be turned away at the entrance gate. People are beginning to snap up available slots. So the earlier you can plan your summer visit, the better.

During warm summer weekends at Mount Rainier, lines at the entrance gate can approach three hours long. Then, like dinner passing through a python, that bolus of cars snakes its way to the overfilled parking lot at Paradise, where trails get crowded and fragile plants get trampled.

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Visitors have told the park service they're fed up with the overcrowding. The new timed-entry policy is meant to space people out more.

Leo Yang is visiting Rainier from Sammamish with his extended family. He sees both sides of the issue.

"National parks should be accessible for a lot of people," he said. "So instead of people just having to make a reservation like you do at like a restaurant ... they should be able to just drive in and be able to explore."

But on the other hand, he understands that the system will help protect wildlife and reduce long entrance lines to get into the park.

"It's probably a good thing just so that we could preserve this place a little longer."

RELATED: How should park officials deal with traffic/visitors on Mount Rainier?

Michelle Thomas, who traveled with Sean Pank from Oregon, says she's cool with it.

"I'm glad we know, because I'll plan ahead, but I like planning ahead, so I'll do that," Pank said, adding that that they tend to choose unpopulated places to hike anyway, so are unlikely to be affected.

But Agnes Jurkowski from Chicago is skeptical. She says it's "not the best idea for me because I like to go with the flow, day by day. [I'm] not a really huge planner."

To help people who live spontaneously, Mount Rainier will hold back some reservation slots and release them at 7 p.m. the night before. And you can still get in without a reservation before 7 a.m. and after 3 p.m.

The park's less popular entrances will not require timed entry.

People will need to download their proof of reservation before they reach the gates, because cell service is unreliable at the mountain.

The first trial period for the new system is 2024. Parks staff say they'll make adjustments in response to visitor comments.

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For more on this topic, listen to the next episode of KUOW's economy podcast, Booming, out 4/15/24.

You can learn more about the new policy at Mount Rainier National Park and make reservations here.

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