Permit changes for overnight travel on the southern Pacific Crest Trail

To better protect the southernmost section of the Pacific Crest Trail during the busiest time of year, the Cleveland National Forest’s Descanso Ranger District is restricting overnight camping this spring.

Chaparral in the Cleveland National Forest. Photo by Jennifer Smart.

The Descanso Ranger District recently announced changes to its overnight permit system for 2020 affecting the southern 53 miles of the trail. Forest Order No. 02-20-02 prohibits camping outside of developed campgrounds within one-half mile of the PCT for hikers and horseback riders who do not have a PCT Long-distance Permit. This prohibition on camping is valid from March 1 through May 31, 2020.

Hikers and horseback riders who do not have a PCT Long-distance Permit but would still like to travel along the PCT through the Descanso Ranger District during this timeframe can apply for the new PCT Developed Camping Permit. Permit holders must carry their permit and provide documentation of their developed camping reservations/receipts as they progress through the Descanso Ranger District.

PCT Developed Camping Permit

  • For trips under 500 miles
  • Must camp in a developed campground
  • No dispersed camping (in the backcountry)

The PCT Long-distance Permit

  • For trips 500 miles or more
  • Allows for camping both in developed campgrounds and the backcountry

Each year, more people are looking to hike or horseback ride along the PCT during spring and summer. But overcrowding is damaging fragile backcountry campsites and natural landscapes. Too many people on the PCT at the same time also degrades the trail experience for everyone.

Cactus in The Cleveland National Forest. Photo by Jennifer Smart.

These public lands are a protected place, as is the entire Pacific Crest Trail. To minimize the human footprint, a balance must be found between having people enjoy the trail and protecting fragile habitat and water sources. Read more about the reasons for this particular change in the Cleveland National Forest Supervisor’s letter here.

A limited number of PCT long-distance permits are available annually through the PCTA website, though for 2020, most permits have already been issued.

If you are interested in obtaining a PCT Developed Camping Permit for a shorter trip in the Descanso Ranger District, visit the Cleveland National Forest website. Questions? Contact the Descanso Ranger District Office at (619) 445-6235.

Author: Justin Kooyman

Justin Kooyman is PCTA’s Associate Director of Trail Operations. He works on trail protection and management projects out of our Northern Sierra regional office in Portola, CA. When not working, Justin can be found exploring the Northern Sierra, especially looking for uncommon birds in Plumas County.