Required Hiking Permits: Should we pay to use popular hiking trails?

This article questions and debates the required hiking permits for using popular trails.

In most cases, permits for hiking trails will cost money. Some may cost a few dollars, while others could cost more. The idea behind permits is to control the number of hikers on a trail to promote trail health and conservation. But it’s also meant to raise money for the trail so that the agency managing it can maintain it with the influx of trail users, which made it popular, to begin with.

Undoubtedly, the outdoor and hiking spaces across the country are getting used more and more. While it’s good that people are getting out more of nature, it does not always result in positive endings.

Some areas get destroyed by an increase in human use. And after the pandemic, an increase in hiking also saw an increase in injuries obtained while on the trail.

Required hiking permits could help pay to repair areas with much human activity. They could also weed out the newbies more likely to become injured. It could help keep the area more natural so wildlife can depend on it.

But not everything about required permits is happy-go-lucky.

Permits also prevent people from enjoying trails on their own terms. Many permits have to use a lottery system which some people feel is unfair. The permit systems haven’t always been fair to every person. Sometimes, a permit may cost too much to a poorer person or family just trying to enjoy the outdoors.

This article will discuss the PROs and CONs of required hiking permits.

The PROs of Required Hiking Permits

There are some pros and advantages of having required hiking permits.


Better on the Environment

Permits for hiking could be beneficial to the environment. Many precious natural areas with high human use often have a high human impact. These areas are often victims of a failed Leave No Trace system and require annual restoration to save natural habitats. A permit system in place could prevent a higher impact by humans.


Safety and Emergency Response

Hiking permits can limit the number of users in areas where accidents and lost hiker reports typically occur. This will usually aid in better emergency response and less impact on emergency response personnel. There is also a record of what trail users are in the area, making recovering lost hikers easier than in an area where everyone can roam freely without permits.


Natural Resource Management

Required hiking permits can significantly decrease the need for natural resources management and additional personnel to manage it. Many parks, forests, and preserves have a limited budget and cannot afford the increase in personnel needs and resource management on top of everything else.


Trail and Facility Maintenance

More people means more trail and facility maintenance will be required. A permit system can help reduce the need for more trail and facility maintenance requirements. A large number of people on the trail often create significant erosion. The same goes for equine trails and off-road routes. By issuing permits, these trails will see less use and less erosion.


Improved Planning and Organization

Public land managers can better plan and organize their areas by limiting people on a hiking trail to those with permits. This is especially true in an age where public health emergencies could create a need for full or partial public lands and trail closures.


Education and Awareness

Better education and awareness can be presented to permit holders. Many kiosks, signage, and trailhead information booths often face damage from vandalism. A permit system may decrease the chances of an area being vandalized as agencies will know who exactly is using the area. Signs and information are often critical for educational and awareness material about the area.

Required Hiking Permits

The CONs of Require Hiking Permits

Not everything about required hiking permits is all fun and games. There are a few cons and disadvantages worth mentioning to using a permit system.


Restricted Access for Trail Users

A permit system will restrict access for trail users. Users of trails that require permits will have to plan around the permit system to visit the area. Users may be unable to bring everyone they want because of permit limitations. A permit system doesn’t exactly align with a public land system where everyone can visit freely.


Administrative Burden

A permit system can place a burden on administrative oversight. The administration of public land management units is responsible for creating, systemizing, implementing, and enforcing such permit systems. There could be a lot of political issues involved and a lot of taxpayer money spent to create a fair and proper system.


Cost Issues

Determining the cost of permits can also be a disadvantage. Some users have limited money and cannot afford to get a permit. This will create a discriminative nature against people who cannot afford the permits. These people are often minorities or single parents working multiple jobs to provide for their families.


Limited Flexibility

Most permit systems have very little flexibility. This means that if a family of five wants to use the trail but only four spots are available, the family will not be able to use the trail without leaving one person behind. If a person gets a permit one day but needs to change it to a different date, it will likely not be possible. This is especially true for a permit system that uses a lottery to select those who can use the trail.


Equity and Fairness

Required hiking permits are not always fair. They can also create a vision that an area is not for equity. There have always been issues with minorities and people in poorer economic classes being able to freely access public land. A permit system could effectively continue these issues and create an unfair system.


Enforcement Difficulties

The ability to enforce required hiking permits will be difficult. Many areas have limited personnel and law enforcement officers. These officials cannot always be on a trail to enforce the permit system, especially in areas where other trails and recreational areas are a part of the same parenting system, such as a National Forest or National Park.


Impacts on Local Users and Businesses

A permit system could be devastating to the local community and their economies. Permits restrict who can use an area. This means that local citizens who grew up in these areas will no longer be able to access them as they once could. This may also decrease the number of visitors to an area and impact the local economy of communities within those areas. For poorer areas and communities, the impact could be devastating.


How do you feel about Required Hiking Permits?

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of required hiking permits, it’s up to you to decide whether they are good or bad. Please comment on a required permit system for hiking trails and recreational areas with your thoughts, opinions, and final words. Think about a trail that you often go to. Would you mind if a permit system was placed on it?

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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