Permits for travel along the Pacific Crest Trail are required in some but not all areas of the trail.
Some places on the Pacific Crest Trail require camping permits. Generally, an overnight permit is required in National Forest Wilderness Areas, National Parks and California State Parks. Many places on the Pacific Crest Trail do not require a permit. This is the case on non-Wilderness National Forest land and land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Always check the local agency’s website for their specific requirements. You should also know about recreation.gov – the portal for reserving space on much of our nation’s public lands.
In California, overnight permits are generally obtained from the agency that manages the trailhead that you’re starting at. Or, if that agency doesn’t require a permit – obtain it from the first agency that requires one on your itinerary. This permit will cover you for your entire trip, even if you cross management boundaries. Be sure to ask the local agency. Some trailheads have quotas – limits on the number of people per day – but many do not. High Sierra hikers can find further information on our John Muir Trail permit page.
In addition to an overnight permit, Desolation Wilderness requires permits for day trips. It is free, non-quota and self-issued at the trailhead.
In Oregon and Washington, you’ll generally obtain free, self-issue, non-quota overnight permits while already on the trail. As you pass by trailhead kiosks, look around. There may be a box with a permit to fill out. You’ll usually find permit boxes at National Forest Wilderness boundaries. In Oregon and Washington, fill out a permit every time you cross an agency boundary. The National Parks in these states are slightly different: both Crater Lake and North Cascades National Parks require permits that are issued at their visitor centers (PCT thru-travelers can pass through Crater Lake after signing the boundary trail register).
If you plan on hiking or horseback riding 500 or more continuous miles along the PCT, in a single trip, the Pacific Crest Trail Association can issue you a PCT Long Distance Permit. It is free. The PCTA issues permits with the authorization of federal land management agencies to simplify your planning and improve service and trail information. Permits for 2015 will be available in early February.
Long Distance Permits are for overnight use on the PCT corridor. Users wishing to travel off the PCT corridor must obtain separate permits as necessary. You may travel off the PCT to nearby trailheads for reasons of resupply and reaching or departing the trail. This travel must be done on the most direct trail between the PCT and the trailhead. Long distance permits do not allow for camping off the PCT corridor, even while traveling to and from trailheads.
Long distance travelers are likely to visit places that require extra fees. Campgrounds, park entrances and other special use fees are not covered by this permit. Please pay the collecting agency directly. Travelers holding Long Distance Permits must be flexible if the campsite they are occupying is already reserved by another group. No permits will be issued for trips starting at Whitney Portal.
Please completely fill out your permit application, with start and end locations being actual locations on the PCT. For instance, Seattle is not on the PCT and we cannot issue a permit for it. Similarly, “Sequoia National Park” is not specific enough of a start location. Actual dates must be included as well. It takes a minimum of two to three weeks to receive your permit.*
Requests for Long Distance Permits for an upcoming hiking/riding season will be processed starting early February of the same year. Permits should be mailed or faxed and will be returned to you by mail. You must carry your physical, paper permit with you on the trail. Digital versions are not allowed. Apply for a Long Distance Permit.
Southbound travel from Canada: Because of U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations, no permits will be issued originating in Manning Provincial Park, BC, Canada. People wishing to start at the northern terminus will be issued a permit for the US/Canada border and should reach it from a southern trailhead, typically Harts Pass. Travel north to the international border and then back south to your destination. Please read our page on entering the U.S. from Canada via the PCT.
Group size: Long Distance Permits are valid only for the individual who’s name appears on the permit. In other words, one person per permit.
Minimum age: Will you be under 18 at the start of your trip? You’ll need to include a written and signed letter of consent from your parent or guardian. The letter must state the dates and location of your proposed trip. You must carry this letter at all times while you’re on the PCT. Permit applications for unaccompanied minors under 16 years old will be reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Animals: National Parks, State Parks and Wilderness Areas have varied restrictions on pets and pack goats. These animals are not authorized through this Long Distance Permit. Llamas also have special restrictions. Write email@example.com for more information.
* Sorry, but we do not expedite permits. Please plan ahead and prepare.
There is a $15-per-person fee to enter the Whitney Zone in Inyo National Forest. The Whitney Zone stretches from the summit eastward. If you plan to visit Whitney Portal or Lone Pine, CA from the summit of Mount Whitney, you’ll need to pay the Mt. Whitney fee. Holders of the Whitney Zone Permit should re-enter the wilderness within 48 hours of when they exit to resupply. No permits will be issued for trips originating from Whitney Portal.
For additional information regarding the reservation requirements contact the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Reservation Office, 351 Pacu Lane, Ste 200, Bishop, CA 93514 or (760) 873-2483. Permit information can also be found at www.fs.usda.gov/inyo.
Hikers and equestrians who plan on entering Canada via the PCT must obtain permission from the Canada Border Services Agency. Carry your approved “Application for Entry into Canada via the Pacific Crest Trail” form with you at all times while in Canada.
Please fill out the application form completely. No sooner than three months before the start of your trip, print the application, sign and submit it to the address on the form. It is preferred that you type your application with the online fillable form. Otherwise, please print clearly in block letters.
Questions? Call the Canada Border Services Agency at 1-866-496-3987, Press “0”, then ask for the Pacific Crest Trail Coordinator.
Please note that there is currently no legal way to enter the U.S. from Canada (Manning Park) on the PCT.
You must have a California Campfire Permit to use a stove, lantern, or campfire outside a developed campground or recreation area. The permit is your agreement to follow the campfire restrictions and regulations in effect. Campfires are not allowed and are not appropriate on much of the PCT. Please read our page on fire information for details.
The PCTA strongly urges all hikers using the California backcountry to obtain a California fire permit. They are free and valid for one calendar year. These permits should be acquired before the start of your hike or ride. Permits can be obtained at any California U.S. Forest Service, BLM, or California Division of Forestry office. Ranger Stations and Visitor’s Centers are convenient places to obtain them in person, or you may take a simple quiz and print one off the internet.
If you are creating photographs or videos with the purpose of generating income, you may need a special permit. Please visit the websites below for information. To obtain these permits, or find answers to your questions about special use permits, we recommend asking the agencies directly.
- U.S. Forest Service film and photography guidelines
- National Parks Service film and photography guidelines
- Bureau of Land Mangement film and photography guidelines
- California State Parks film and photography guidelines
International visitors and U.S. visas
PCTA is not an official source for information about visas. We recommend reading usvisas.state.gov and that you consult a visa adviser. Long distance hikers and riders may find useful information on our page about B-2 visas.