Frequently Asked Questions #
What are my options if I can’t get the permit I want? #
With thousands of people wanting to start the trail every year, the most popular trips fill up quickly. You’ve got a few options:
- Choose a less popular time: start earlier or later in the year. Be careful though. Just because an early or late date is available, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to start on that date. Start too early in the year and you’ll be dealing with snow and ice on the trail. Start too late in the season and you’ll be faced with deadly hot conditions.
- Choose a less popular trip: find a less busy place on the trail! Consider starting your trip somewhere in the middle of the trail or going in the opposite direction. We have suggestions for some less-popular itineraries.
- Monitor the availability calendar for cancellations: we encourage people to cancel their permit if they’re not going to use it. You can check for openings here, or by using the buttons in the “How to apply for a Long-distance Permit” section. We can only process cancellations when we’re working, so dates will only open up during normal business hours. Have a backup plan if space on the date that you want does not become available, though. There are a lot of people who want long-distance permits for the most popular trips, and open dates are often picked up very quickly. There is no guarantee that you’ll get the permit you want, even if you check frequently.
I’m in the middle of a northbound trip, and I want to skip past the Sierra. What does that mean for my permit? #
The terms of the PCT Long-distance Permit allow you to skip past the Sierra without needing to update your permit. Your northbound permit will still be valid north of Sonora Pass even after you skip ahead. If you want to come back through the Southern Sierra later in the year, you’ll need to get local permits to do so, regardless of which direction you travel.
While your existing long-distance permit is still valid north of Sonora Pass, it does not allow for you to flip up to the Canadian border and head southbound. There are limits on southbound travel. If you would like to head up to Washington State, please consider heading to the Columbia River Gorge and going north across Washington instead.
Local permits heading north from Kennedy Meadows South are issued by Inyo National Forest.
Permits heading south from Sonora Pass are issued by Stanislaus National Forest. Then, you’ll need a permit from Yosemite National Park to head south from Tuolumne Meadows.
If you’re starting somewhere else in the Sierra, you’ll need to get a permit from whichever agency manages that trailhead. Many popular east-side trailheads such as Horseshoe Meadows and Onion Valley are also in Inyo National Forest.
I’m still planning. How far in advance should I apply? How far in advance am I able to apply? #
Commit to your trip before you apply for a permit. Once you’ve committed to doing the adventure, go ahead and apply.
Make sure that you’ve applied for your permit at least three weeks before the start of your hike. You won’t be able to select a start date less than three weeks in the future. It takes time for PCTA to review permit applications.
You should wait to have your permit application approved before you buy a plane ticket, quit your job or otherwise spend a lot of money. As there are a limited number of permits, there is no way to guarantee that you’ll get one.
We issue permits for one year at a time, and each year’s registration is separate. If you’re wanting to hike in future years, you’ll need to wait for that year’s applications to open.
On Permit Release Days, how can three or more people apply for the same start date? #
It’s only possible to link two people together so that they can be guaranteed the same itinerary. Getting permits for a larger group to start together at a popular location can be difficult.
Here are some ways to increase your chances of getting a permit on the same day as multiple other people:
Feel free to partner up into pairs to ensure that at least some of you are guaranteed the same start dates.
On Permit Release Days, have each person apply on a separate computer at the same time. Aim for a less popular day. Apply for permits while talking to each other so that you can be flexible in finding a date. On the permit application, during the step where you select a date, choose a date that has enough space for your entire group.
The most popular dates will fill up quickly. Make sure that you’re applying right at your application time.
Another way to ensure that you receive the same start date as someone else is to start somewhere less popular. Here are some recommendations for alternative trips that may be easier to get permits for.
Do I need to register again if I didn’t get a permit on the first Permit Release Day? #
Registration is done only once per permit-year. If you’ve already registered for this season, perhaps before the first Permit Release Day, you will automatically be sent a new appointment time to participate in the second release.
Remember, each year’s long-distance permit process is separate. If you registered during a previous season, you must register again if you would like to apply for the following season.
Someone wants to join me for a short section. What permits do they need? #
Head on over to our page about local permits. Broadly, it depends. They’ll usually need a permit if they’re hiking in a Wilderness area, National Park or California State Park. They’ll get permits like any other backpacker would. For much of the trail, they won’t need a permit.
Do I need a John Muir Trail permit for that section? #
If you have a PCT Long-distance Permit, you don’t need an additional permit to hike on the portion of the John Muir Trail that’s also the PCT.
- If you’re wanting to camp on the JMT between Crabtree Meadows and the summit of Mount Whitney, you’ll need an additional permit from Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.
- If you’re wanting to camp on the JMT between Agnew Meadow and Thousand Island Lake, you’ll need a permit from Inyo National Forest. You can do the JMT through this area as a day hike, or just stay on the PCT.
- If you’re wanting to hike the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, you’ll need a permit from Yosemite National Park.
- If you’re wanting to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, you’ll also need another permit.
Can I be placed on a waitlist? #
Sorry, waitlists are not available.
Where can I start in the Southern Sierra? #
We can only issue long-distance permits starting at a few specific trailheads in the Southern Sierra. They are:
- Kennedy Meadows South (Sherman Pass Road), mile ~702
- Road’s End via Bubbs Creek, mile 787
- Florence Lake and Muir Trail Ranch (Forest Road 07S001), mile 860
- Edison Lake and Vermilion Valley Resort (Forest Road 05S080), mile 875
- Tuolumne Meadows (CA SR 120), mile 943
- Leavitt Lake Trail (Forest Road 32077), mile 1009
- Sonora Pass (CA SR 108), mile 1017
If you’re hoping to start at a different trailhead, you’ll need to get a local permit instead from the agency that manages that trailhead. You can learn more about local permits.
What trailheads are in the permit system? #
For a full list of trailheads in the PCT Long-distance Permit system, please download this PDF.
I’ve reviewed everything here and still have questions! Who can I talk to? #
You can contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at 916-285-1846.