Changes to the 2020 PCT Long-distance Permit to protect the experience

Are you planning a long-distance hike or horseback ride on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020? Good for you!

The PCT Long-distance Permit is an interagency permit, for trips of 500 or more continuous miles, that allows you to travel through areas where local wilderness permits would otherwise be required. The PCTA issues this government permit on behalf of our partner federal and state land management agencies.

Photo by Justin “2taps” Helmkamp

The 2020 permit season opens on Oct. 29, 2019, for trips starting at the Mexican border. All other itineraries will open on Jan. 14, 2020.

By spreading out the numbers of people who start each day from specific areas, the long-distance permit system helps protect fragile wild areas along the trail, including wetland habitats, which you will need for your drinking water. It also protects your opportunity for solitude. A limited number of permits are available each day, which helps spread people throughout the season and reduces our collective impacts on the trail and surrounding landscapes. It’s important that you begin your hike on your permit start date.  

This is what sustainability on the PCT looks like. Learn more about our work to address increased use on the PCT.

New this year: Changes to southbound permits starting near the Northern Terminus

Southbound thru-hikes are becoming more popular. By spreading out southbounders starting at or near the PCT Northern Terminus, the goal is to disperse people more evenly in this fragile area throughout the short hiking and riding season.

Permit numbers for 2019 show why this is necessary. On July 1, 2019, over 160 people were permitted for trips at the Northern Terminus, while June 29 had only 13 people. Having 160 people traveling through fragile alpine areas at the same time means our collective impact on the landscape is greater. Where will all these people camp without degrading the landscape? How will the people’s trail experience be affected when there are over 100 other people camping and traveling in the same area?

These potential impacts can be reduced. If we work together to spread our footprint, we can sustain the trail experience for the generations to come.

In 2020, 15 long-distance permits will be available each day for southbound thru- and section-hikers and riders starting in the PCT Northern Terminus area (Canada through Stehekin). These permits will be available for trips starting between June 15 and July 31. After that, 15 long-distance permits starting in the Northern Terminus area will be available each day for section hikers and riders starting between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15.

New this year: northbound season tweaks

Long-distance permits for trips starting at the Southern Terminus will be issued for trips starting between March 1 and May 31. Learn about when to hike the PCT.

As in prior years, 50 permits are available for each day.

New this year: changes in the Southern Sierra to reduce crowding

This section has been updated. Please read more about continuous travel through the Southern Sierra.

Skipping the Sierra Nevada can make a lot of sense, especially in early season when snow makes traveling difficult.

However, PCT long-distance permits are for a specific itinerary and permit holders are expected to pass through the Southern Sierra (Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass) during the specific timeframe of their permit. In order to protect the area during the middle of summer, when many people head into the mountains, the U.S. Forest Service has instituted some changes for PCT long-distance travelers.

Travel in the Southern Sierra must be continuous with no skips or changes in direction and must be completed in no more than 35 days. If permit holders skip any portion of the Southern Sierra and wish to return to travel through the area they must obtain new permits from the local land management agencies. PCT long-distance permits will no longer be valid for travel through the Southern Sierra as travel is no longer continuous. The permit remains valid elsewhere.

Please respect the trail

If we all work together, with an eye on walking softly through these special places, we can ensure that they will be there in all their glory for those who will come after us.

Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.