Deschutes National Forest spokeswoman Jean Nelson-Dean said the agency is “seriously considering” a permit system for the increasingly crowded lakes nestled between South Sister and Broken Top.
The Green Lakes are reached with a four-mile hike that begins 26 miles west of Bend on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway.
Nelson-Dean said the Forest Service was in the early stages of planning, and didn’t specify the type of permit system being considered.
“Once have a framework around how we will proceed … we will actively engage the public in the discussion and our planning,” she said in an email.
Limited entry permits already exist on the west side of the Three Sisters. In the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, near McKenzie Pass, a total of 30 hikers and 40 overnight visitors are permitted into the area each day. Permits cost $6.
A similar permit system was considered for the Green Lakes as far back as the 1990s, according to Chris Sabo, wilderness trails coordinator for Deschutes National Forest. However, it never happened.
The growing size of the crowds in the Green Lakes, and adjacent South Sister and Moraine Lake areas, prompted officials to take another look.
“I don't even consider it a wilderness experience,” Sabo said in a 2013 interview with the Statesman Journal about the area’s crowds. “It's almost more of an urban park. The use is very high, really beyond what this area can accommodate.”
Large crowds at Green Lakes have already brought some regulations. Backpackers are required to camp at one of the 28 designated campsites. Campfires are strictly prohibited, and the fine for breaking that rule can reach $5,000. Pets are not allowed.
Other wilderness areas that have a permit system include Pamelia Lake and Hunt’s Cove, and Jefferson Park, in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for eight years. He is the author of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Zach Urness or @ZachsORoutdoors on Twitter.