Which Pass Do I Need?

Another year is coming to an end. This is a great time to start planning your RV outings for the New Year and make sure you have the right permits and passes for the places you plan to recreate and camp.

In Washington State, there are so many passes and permits available that it can be confusing for an active RVer to know what pass is required where.

Don't Let Having the Wrong Pass Keep You From Campsites Like This

Following is a list of State and Federal agencies that have jurisdiction over public land in the state and what passes are required by each. You may have never thought about some of these agencies even offering areas to camp, but they do.

First off, know that if you are going to camp at a developed campground on State or Federal Lands (excluding land under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service) that charge a fee, you typically will not need a special pass or permit to do so. In most cases, your fee serves as your pass to be in the campground and typically permits use of the improvements located within the campground like boat launches, dump stations, parking at trailheads, etc.


The following agencies are operated by the Federal Government located in “The other Washington” (District of Columbia):

- NPS (National Park Service) who also operates National Monuments and National Recreation Areas

- USFS (United States Forest Service) Oversees National Forests and National Grasslands

- BLM (Bureau of Land Management)

- COE (Corps of Engineers)

- USBR – (United States Bureau of Reclamation)

- NWR  (National Wildlife Refuge)

- DOD (Department of Defense) which controls each military branch, except for the Coast Guard, and the military installations / reservations they utilize

- BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the tribal lands they hold in trust

There are two passes you should consider for accessing Federal Land:

1. Northwest Forest Pass which provides the following benefits:

- Honored at all USFS operated recreation sites in Washington and Oregon where a day use fee is required.

- Allows the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private vehicle use of the recreation facilities at per vehicle sites like; trailheads, boat launch facilities, picnic grounds, etc.

Click here for information on how and where to purchase a Northwest Forest Pass for a day or a year.                          

Note: A Northwest Forest Pass is only valid on USFS land in Washington and Oregon

2. America the Beautiful Pass

The America the Beautiful Pass allows access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites at all the federal sites listed above with the exception of Tribal Lands and Military Reservations where permits vary by tribe and branch of the military.

A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas. Note: A senior pass typically provides a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming and boat launch.

Click here to learn more about various America the Beautiful Pass passes available and how to purchase one.

Note: With few exceptions, the America the Beautiful Pass will provide you access to the same places a Northwest Forest Service Pass will, so don’t make the mistake of buying an America the Beautiful Pass and a Northwest Forest Service Pass.


The following land agencies are operated by the State of Washington:

- WDFW  (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

- WDNR (Washington Department of Natural Resources)

- Washington State Parks 

- Washington State Winter Sno-Parks

Just like Federal Lands, you have several pass/permit options to choose from when buying passes to access state land:

Vehicle Access Pass is issued at no charge by WDFW with the purchase of any annual hunting, trapping or fishing license, excluding an annual razor clam or shellfish/seaweed license. A Vehicle Access Pass allows you to park at WDFW wildlife areas, boat launches and other water access sites many of which allow camping. A Vehicle Access Pass is transferable between two vehicles.

Vehicle Access Pass

Discover Pass is required on state recreation lands and water-access sites managed by Washington State Park and WDNR These lands include state parks, water-access points (not controlled by the WDFW), heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, WDNR campgrounds, trails and trailheads, and all DNR-managed uplands (natural areas and trustlands, but not aquatic lands). A Discover Pass also provides access to WDFW lands in lieu of a Vehicle Access Pass.

Click here for more information on Vehicle Access Passes and Discover Passes.   

Washington State Winter Sno-Park operated by Washington State Parks. Sno-Park  permits are required for parking at designated non-motorized and motorized Sno-Parks within the state.

Click here for more information on purchasing a Sno Park permit.

Hopefully the above information will assist you in understanding all the different land agencies managing public land in Washington State along with helping you to chose the correct pass or permit for the activities you plan to enjoy in the New Year.

As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, all of the above agencies offer some form of camping (much of it free with pass or permit) on the public land they oversee.

In the next article we will look at each of the agencies in more depth and what they offer adventurous RVers in the State of Washington and beyond.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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