Returning to the Sierra: local permits and being prepared

The Sierra Nevada puts everything into perspective. Photo by Jennifer Holle.

What a year it’s been! Last winter’s record snowpack lingers in the highest reaches of the Sierra Nevada.

Get the right local permits.

Many northbound thru-hikers made the choice to skip and bypass the Sierra due to the record snow year. Are you looking to come back to hike the Sierra this fall? If so, the information below will ensure you have the right permits for your trip.

  1. The terms of the PCT Long-distance Permit allow you to skip past the Sierra without needing to update the itinerary on your permit.
  2. A northbound permit is still valid north of Sonora Pass even after you’ve skipped ahead, but…
  3. By skipping you have triggered one of the terms of the Long-distance permit, in the Southern Sierra Zone section within the “Areas with Special Terms”. You can read the full terms here.
  4. 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.

Please remember that these permit systems are in place to help protect the fragile ecological areas that the PCT passes through; so, please take the time to get your local permits.

More details…

Local permits heading north from Kennedy Meadows South are issued by Inyo National Forest. Many popular east-side trailheads, such as Horseshoe Meadows and Onion Valley, are under quota restrictions and require a local permit from the Inyo National Forest.

Permits heading south from Sonora Pass are issued by Stanislaus National Forest. They are valid until Tuolumne Meadows. 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 the trailhead from which you wish to enter.

Prepare carefully for fall in the Sierra.

In the past, season-ending snowfall has come as early as the last week of September. So, while the fall can be spectacular, it is very important to keep an eye on the weather forecast and to be thoroughly prepared. It’s usually not shorts and t-shirt weather anymore.

Once the season wraps up in late summer, you’re even more on your own. While you should always be self-reliant on a wilderness trip, know that local agency staff have largely gone home. Resupply businesses may be closed. Roads may be closed. Trailheads may be empty of cars. The staff at National Parks and Forests, often seasonal employees, are off to their next assignment.

Don’t expect that there will be people around to help you out during the cold months of fall and winter. Since this is the time of year when southbound thru-hikers normally go through the Sierra, our southbound thru-hike guide has some general information on what you can expect.

We hope you’re having a great season out on the PCT!

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.