As an example, The Enchantments area in Washington is open to an unlimited number of day trippers for hiking. But any overnight stays require a pass which is hard to win in a lottery. What is the logic behind restricting overnight stays? Some arguments I can think of:

  1. More bathroom stops. Could be true indeed as personally I never go “number two” while on a day hike but is this the only issue?
  2. Trampling of plants. Seems about the same whether hiking or camping.
  3. Noise during the night. Are animals more sensitive to it?
  4. Camp fires. Those are banned at all times in the Enchantments so this doesn’t apply.

I understand that these restrictions have a rationale but is there an official explanation somewhere I could read?

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    FWIW, BC has, Covid oblige, brought in day-use restrictions on a number of our more popular parks. While I support most covid restrictions, I can't help but think that looks a bit like security theater, considering evidence of outdoor covid transmission has been extremely elusive to date. I suspect a good deal of it was due to April-May 2020 outrage at pictures of large crowds on local beaches or viewpoints and no one wants to take the political risk to dial it back. Jul 1, 2021 at 20:00
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    Like I said, I support most covid restrictions... the ones on non-group outdoor activities however seem irrational. Jul 1, 2021 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


It's a range of factors, closely related to what you've said, but about various pressures on the land.

One factor is that with one or more overnight stops you can penetrate far further into a protected area - day trippers are limited to a few hours' hike from the road; one night's camping doubles that. This means that if the area serves as a wilderness refuge for wildlife the daytime disturbance from overnight stays is far more significant. People are also more tolerant of other people during the day, so unrestricted will disperse at night, spreading their effect on the wildlife and ground. If you can only camp at certain locations, these will only be big enough for a certain number of tents, so how would you handle the situation where 10 tents turn up late at night for 5 spaces without a form of prebooking?

Overnight disturbance of wildlife is a further factor. Noise travels further at night, people use lights, they cook (and presumably need to protect their food from bears in your example location).

Trampling is probably not a big factor, but is quite different between hiking and pitching a tent. Humans are generally likely to leave far more of a trace if staying overnight: even people who are being careful are more likely to drop something in the dark, there's the need for the toilet as you say (and note that people camped near water may be unlikely to go far enough from camp in the dark to avoid polluting it).

Requiring a pass restricts access to those who plan in advance, and have, at some point, been presented with a list of rules that they have to agree to. This should correlate to some extent with those who are prepared to behave well.

In parts of the Scotland where roadside camping in motorhomes is allowed, some areas have had to bring in a permit system because of overcrowding causing erosion etc.; this also applies to tent camping (coincidentally I'm planning a cycling/wild-camping trip passing through this area).

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    I think in general the impact of a day hiker vs an overnight stay is very different. People staying overnight are more likely to use water to wash things, go to the bathroom, use water from various water sources, etc. I think you covered a lot of the important ones, but I think in general the impact is very different between the 2 types of users.
    – tsturzl
    Jul 7, 2021 at 19:55

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