PCT Long-distance Permit FAQ

For general information about permits on the Pacific Crest Trail, please visit our permit page.

Do I need to start on the day my PCT Long-distance Permit says? Will it be enforced at the southern terminus?

Yes, you need to start on the day and location that you are permitted for.

The PCT community and most thru-hikers really care about the PCT and the experience it provides. You understand that the best way to minimize the effect of your presence on the environment and other hikers is to voluntarily comply with all best practices, rules and regulations regarding the trail. Having 118 people start their long-distance trip on the same day – as it happened in 2014 – puts significant pressure upon fragile desert ecosystems and the very experience you are hoping to enjoy. The first principle of Leave No Trace is “Plan Ahead and Prepare” and picking a travel time that minimizes the concentration of people (all of who will camp, drink water and leave human waste) is a critical component of being a good steward of the land.

For those that need a little more incentive to “do the right thing”, the Cleveland National Forest, approximately 14 miles from the border, is the first place where travel permits are required. Crest Runners, who are Forest Service employees, will be out on trail making contact with PCT travelers and they will have access to law enforcement officers. Voluntary compliance is by far a better way to operate than a system of increasing regulations and enforcement. It frees up resources for making this experience better, rather than reacting to visitor use problems.

How many Long-distance Permits have been issued?

Permit numbers will be provided at the end of the year. It’s important to understand that the number of permits issued is not the actual number of people who end up starting their trip (or finishing). This year, the Crest Runners will be assisting with monitoring the attrition rate of PCT Long-distance Permit holders.

Thru-hikers sometimes start as late as August heading southbound and we continue to issue permits for the entire trail through June and July. Section-hike permits continue to be issued well into the fall for people hiking long sections in Southern California.

Please read our page on visitor use statistics for more information.

Trips starting in the Southern Sierra

The Sierra Nevada is home to some of the most beautiful and popular backpacking and horseback riding in the world. It’s been a famously wonderful place to explore for more than 150 years and it just keeps getting more popular. This is an area where the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail mostly overlap.

A working group of land managers from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, in consultation with the PCTA, is grappling with this increased visitor use. The federal land management agencies have directed that trips starting in the Southern Sierra and utilizing long-distance permits be limited for 2017 to better protect the wilderness land through which the trail passes.

For this purpose, we define the Southern Sierra region of the PCT as extending from Kennedy Meadows South (Sherman Pass Road) at PCT mile 702 to Sonora Pass (CA SR 108) near Kennedy Meadows North at PCT mile 1017.

Eligible trailheads in the Southern Sierra for section hikers

Permits in the Southern Sierra Segment of the PCT will be valid for 30 days from the trailhead start date Mile (Approximate) Agency Unit
Kennedy Meadows South (Sherman Pass Road) 702 Inyo National Forest
Road’s End via Bubbs Creek 787 Kings Canyon National Park
Florence Lake and Muir Trail Ranch (Forest Road 07S001) 860 Sierra National Forest
Edison Lake and Vermillion Valley Resort (Forest Road 05S080) 875 Sierra National Forest
Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park (CA SR 120) 943 Yosemite National Park
Leavitt Lake Trail (Forest Road 32077) 1009 Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: Bridgeport Ranger District
Kennedy Meadows North (CA SR 108 Sonora Pass) 1017 Humboldt-Toiyabe/Stanislaus NFs


What is the limit on section hike long-distance permits that start in the Southern Sierra?

In 2017, we’ll issue roughly the same number of permits as we did in 2016, which is 600 permits for trips starting in the Southern Sierra.

Beyond that number, agencies will continue to issue permits for these trailheads with the same limits that they have in the past.

What if I’d like to start at another trailhead?

If you’d like to start a backpacking trip at a trailhead other than those listed above, you’ll need to contact the agency that manages the trailhead for a permit. The Southern Sierra agencies include:

How long can I spend in the Southern Sierra as a holder of the PCT Long-distance permit?

PCT long-distance permits are valid for 30 days in the Southern Sierra from the permit start date. Please travel between Kennedy Meadows South and Sonora Pass within that timeframe.

What else is being done about increased visitor use and impacts in the Southern Sierra?

PCTA is working with our federal and state land management partners to develop a multi-faceted approach to address increasing visitor use impacts along the PCT corridor.

Researching the problem is an important component of any solution. The Aldo Leopold Research Institute is sponsoring scientists on the PCT and JMT corridor to help understand travel patterns, campsite impacts and other impacts.

In public land management circles, what we’re talking about is called visitor use management. It covers a wide range of potential solutions, from rehabilitating campsites and adapting user permit systems to educating people and working with government land managers. As with most things, we believe that working with partners makes the trail stronger. We know we can learn a lot from similar work being done on other trails.

If you’d be interested in doing some of the work that’s involved in creating a sustainable PCT, we are actively recruiting volunteers to help with the maintenance of the trail.

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Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton