Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

PCT Long-distance Permit

Congratulations! You’re planning a trip of a lifetime!

Long-distance permits are only for people traveling 500 miles or more in a single trip.

 

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 an interagency PCT Long-distance Permit.

Key things to know about the PCT long-distance permit

  • Read this entire page, and do your research before you apply.
  • It is free.
  • Plan in advance to ensure that you get a permit.
  • Permit requests are reviewed and then permits are issued on a first come, first served basis.
  • It’s only for long-distance hikers and horseback riders intending to travel 500 or more miles.
  • Each adult must get their own permit. If you’re hiking with your children who are under 18 years old, they may be attached to your permit.

If you’re doing a series of short section hikes, you’ll need to apply for permits for those sections from the agencies that manage those sections of trail.

You’re probably going to need other permits in addition to the long-distance permit.

Long-distance permits are for the Pacific Crest Trail. It allows you to travel and camp on it. If you’re wishing to do extensive hiking or horseback riding on other trails in areas that require a permit, you’ll probably need to apply for those permits separately.

You can travel off the PCT to resupply or access trailheads within 15 trail miles of the PCT. 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.

You’re likely to visit places that require extra permits and fees. Campgrounds, park entrances, and other special use fees are not covered by this permit. Please pay the collecting agency directly.

Other permits that you’re likely to need

  1. The California Fire Permit – it doesn’t give you permission to have a campfire. You’ll still only be able to have campfires if and when they’re allowed. But the permit is required in most of California to cook on a camp stove. Oregon and Washington don’t require fire permits.
  2. If you’re camping in North Cascades National Park, you’ll need a permit from the park.
  3. If you’re camping in two small places in central Oregon, called the Obsidian Limited Entry Area and the Pamelia Limited Entry Area. You’ll probably decide to just not camp in these places.
  4. In Oregon and Washington, please also fill out permits when you pass by a permit box. This helps us understand how many people are using an area, which in turn, helps us better protect this fragile trail.
  5. If you’re entering Canada via the PCT, you’ll need a Canada PCT Entry Permit.

Opening dates for the 2018 PCT long-distance permit

The permit application will be available online beginning Nov. 1, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time. There is no need to constantly refresh your browser before it goes live. There is no way to pre-apply.

Starting at or near the Mexican border (both thru-hikers and section hikers)

These permits are limited to 50 people per day. We will release these permits in two phases, so if you miss getting a permit in the first phase, you’ll have the opportunity to try again.

  1. On Nov. 1 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, 35 permits per day will become available.
  2. On Jan. 17 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, the remaining 15 permits per day will become available.

Starting in the Southern Sierra or overlap on the JMT/PCT section

  1. We’ll start accepting permit applications on January 17 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time.

Over the last several years, there has been a significant increase in demand for permits to hike in the Sierra Nevada.

To protect access and preserve the quality of the experience, permits will be limited. For the 2018 season, PCTA issued permits in this region will be held at the 2017 levels. 1400 permits are available for section hikes passing through the JMT overlap section from Mt. Whitney to Tuolumne Meadows. 600 of those permits may start at trailheads within the Southern Sierra from Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass. Permits are first come, first served.

If you’re unable to get a PCTA issued permit, you’ll need to contact the local land management agency or plan a trip on another section of the PCT.

Starting elsewhere (Southbound thru-hikers and other section hike itineraries)

  1. We’ll start accepting permit applications on January 17 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time.

How to apply for a long-distance permit

  1. Research where and when you want to go. Make sure that your trip is feasible. The PCT is covered in snow for much of the year and you’ll likely need to wait for summer before you can hike in most places. Southern California is both largely snow-covered during the winter and dangerously hot during the summer. The trail is also very popular during the peak season. Consider hiking at less popular times and locations.
  2. Apply for a long-distance permit (click this link to apply) Sorry, but we do not expedite permits. Long-distance trips require lots of advanced planning.
    • To fill out your application, you’ll need: your name and address, start location, end location, start date, end date, names and birthdays for your children if they’re hiking with you and a decision about whether you want to pay for the Mount Whitney permit.
    • Once you pick a start date on the application, you have that date locked for 13 minutes so that you can fill out the rest of the application. You’ll only be able to select a date if there is space. You’ll see an indicator on how much space is left each day.
    • Do not fill out the application more than once. Doing so may result in the cancellation of all your requests.
    • We’ll review your application. If it has errors, it may be canceled or delayed. Double check that all of your information is correct before you apply.
  3. After you have applied:
    • You’ll get an email confirming receipt of your application right away. Information in this email will give you access to your permit management area.
    • We’ll start reviewing and approving permits within 1-3 weeks of receiving an application. You can check the status of your permit in the permit management area. Look to see if it’s still pending review, approved, ready for download, or some other status.
    • All permits that are submitted between Nov. 1 and Jan. 16 will be reviewed quickly, but they won’t be issued until Jan. 18 at the earliest. You can check your permit status in your management area. If it’s marked “approved and pending delivery” you can feel comfortable that the permit is yours. Go ahead and begin planning for your hike, including making flight reservations.
    • We work as quickly as possible. Please feel free to check your permit’s status in your management area. Too many phone calls and emails checking on the status of permits will slow down the process for everyone but do feel free to call if weeks have gone by and you suspect something is wrong.
    • Once your permit application is processed, you will get an email telling you to go to the permit management area to download your permit. You must print it out and carry a physical, paper permit with you on the trail. Digital versions are not allowed.

Important information to know

Traveling southbound from Canada into the United States is illegal.

Because of U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations, no permits will be issued originating in Manning Provincial Park, BC, Canada. If you wish to start at the northern terminus, you will be issued a permit for the US/Canada border. You’ll need to start in the United States and hike north to the northern terminus of the PCT at the international border. Please read our page on entering the U.S. from Canada via the PCT.

Information for people under 18

Will you be under 18 at the start of your trip? If you’re going to be hiking with your parents, they can add you to their permit. You won’t need your own permit if you stay with them.

If you’re not traveling with your parents, you’ll need your own permit and you’ll need to send us a written and signed letter of consent from a parent or legal 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.

Individuals under the age of 13 must have their parents or guardian fill out their application. If you’re under 13, do not provide personal information to us through our website.

Traveling with animals

National parks, state parks, and wilderness areas have varied restrictions on pets, llamas and pack goats. These animals are not authorized through this long-distance permit. Additionally, there may be grazing and feed restrictions for stock. Please read our information about hiking with dogs.

Here’s what you need to know about Mount Whitney

Free day hike to summit and back

PCT long-distance permit holders will be allowed to day hike from the PCT to the summit of Mount Whitney and back to the PCT. There is no fee, nor any additional permits needed. Long-distance permit holders may not camp east of the Crabtree Ranger Station. Stock is not permitted beyond the base of the switchbacks on Mount Whitney.

$21 add-on permit to descend mountain eastbound

You can get a special add-on to your long-distance permit that will allow you to descend the mountain eastbound to Whitney Portal (and Lone Pine.) This access along the Whitney Trail crosses the Inyo National Forest. This special add-on (which is printed on your long-distance permit) is for people wanting to end their trip at Whitney Portal or those who wish to visit the area for resupply. It costs $21 and is non-refundable. Holders of the Whitney Zone permit should re-enter the wilderness within 48 hours of when they exit to resupply.

No PCT long-distance permits will be issued for trips originating from Whitney Portal.

Frequently asked questions about the Pacific Crest Trail long-distance permit

Am I guaranteed a permit?

To protect the fragile wild areas that you’re wanting to visit, and to protect your opportunity for solitude, there are limits to the number of available permits. If you’re wanting to hike or ride at the most popular times and locations, you might not be able to get a permit.

Southern California during the spring northbound season and the John Muir Trail are especially popular sections of trail. Both experiences have limits on the number of people who can head out during the peak season of use. If you couldn’t secure space, we encourage you to look for another place or time to hike. Consider hiking Southern California during the fall or going southbound instead of northbound. Choose a less crowded section of trail or any number of other variations.

A small percentage of permit requests are denied during the review process. This is generally due to applicant errors or an unrealistic itinerary. Make sure that your application reflects an honest itinerary and makes sense (eg. Don’t indicate that you’ll walk 200 miles per day).

What are my options if the date I want to start on is full?

With thousands of people wanting to start the trail every year, the most popular dates fill up quickly. You’ve got a few options:

  • Wait until the second permit release when more spaces become available: there is generally less demand during the second permit release. Another 15 spaces per day become available at the Mexican border.
  • Choose a less popular time: start earlier or later in the year. Be careful though. Just because an early or late date is available, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to start on that date. Start too early in the year and you’ll be dealing with extreme snow and ice on the trail. Start too late in the season and you’ll be faced with deadly hot conditions.
  • Choose a less popular location: consider starting at Walker Pass (or somewhere else near there) and hiking south to the Mexican border. After that, you’ll travel back to Walker Pass and head north. This way you’ll help limit the overcrowding on the southernmost portion of the PCT.
  • Monitor the permit calendar for cancellations: we strongly encourage people to cancel their permit if they’re not going to use it. Those cancellations will open spaces for others to start. You’ll need to check the calendar often. Have a backup plan if a space on the date that you want does not become available.

How do I increase my chances of getting the permit that I want?

Be flexible with your start date. Most years the dates that are in highest demand are the “obvious” dates. Instead of trying for May 1st, try for the 2nd. Instead of trying for a Saturday, try for a Monday. Avoid holidays, instead, think about starting on less obvious days.

Be prepared with the information that you’ll need. It’s a very basic application. You’ll need your name and address, a start and end location, a start and end date, the number of horses that you’re traveling with (if any), the names and birthdays of your kids if they’re under 18 and they are coming with you, and you should have decided whether you want to pay the $21 Whitney Fee.

How far in advance should I apply?

Commit to your trip before you apply for a permit. Once you’ve committed to doing the adventure, go ahead and apply.

Make sure that you’ve applied for your permit at least three weeks before the start of your hike. PCTA requires three weeks to review, approve and deliver your permit.

I need to plan far in advance because I’m quitting my job/moving/getting a visa. When can I apply?

Congratulations on planning in advance! That’s important. You’ve got a lot to do.

We’re opening the permit process on Nov. 1, 2017 for trips starting at the Mexican border. You’ll have to wait for Jan. 17, 2018 for trips starting elsewhere.

You should wait to have your permit date approved before you buy a plane ticket, quit your job or otherwise spend a lot of money. With only 50 people allowed to start at the Mexican border per day, there is no way to guarantee you a spot until you’ve secured that date in the permit process.

When will I know that I get my permit?

We’ll start reviewing and approving permit applications in early November, but you won’t be able to download and print your permit until after Jan. 18. You can check your permit management area to see if your permit has been reviewed, approved, issued, stalled, or denied. If it’s been reviewed and approved, you can feel certain that we’ll issue you a permit for that date. Do not make flight reservations or plan your trip until the status of your permit is reviewed and approved.

After the second release of permits on Jan. 17, we’ll be in the normal flow of permit processing. We’ll review, approve and issue permits within three weeks.

How are permits delivered?

Once we start issuing permits you’ll be able to log in to your permit management area to print your permit.

Can I apply for a permit for trips far in the future?

Like basically all permit systems, we issue permits for one year at a time. If you’re wanting to hike in future years, you’ll need to wait for that year’s applications to open.

How do I change my permit?

You can change most of your trip details in your permit management area up until your permit is issued. After your permit has been issued, all changes must be requested over the phone during normal business hours by calling 916-285-1846.

How many people can be on one permit?

Each adult needs their own permit. If you’re hiking with your kids, and they’re under 18 years old, you can have up to two of them attached to your permit.

How can I ensure that I can start on the same date as someone else?

If you’re aiming to start at the Mexican border in April or May, dates fill up very quickly. Each of you will need your own permit. Here are some ways to increase your chances of getting a permit on the same day as someone else:

  • During permit launch, have each person apply on a separate computer at the same time. Aim for a less popular day. Apply for permits while talking to each other so that you can be flexible in finding a date. On the permit application, during the step where you select a date, choose a date that has enough space for your entire group.
  • The most popular dates will fill up quickly. If you need multiple spots, make sure that you’re applying right when the application goes live.
  • Wait until the second permit release when more spaces become available. There is generally less demand during the second permit release. Another 15 spaces per day become available at the Mexican border.
  • Another way to ensure that you receive the same start date as someone else is to start somewhere besides the Mexican border area. By doing so, you won’t be constrained by the 50 people a day limit.

Someone wants to join me on a section. What permits do they need?

Head on over to our page about short distance permits for detailed information. Broadly, it depends. They’ll usually need a permit if they’re hiking in a Wilderness area, National Park or California State Park. They’ll get permits like any other backpacker would. For much of the trail, they won’t need a permit. The John Muir Trail is one of the highest demand sections and if they’re wanting to join you there, be sure to plan far in advance. They might have a hard time getting a permit from the local land agency.

How do I apply for a permit with an unusual itinerary?

If you’re wanting to do a planned flip-flop or a yo-yo or some other itinerary, go ahead and fill out a permit application for the first leg of your trip, then give us a call (916-285-1846) to have the permit reflect your actual itinerary.

Why is there a limit of 50 people per day at the Mexican border?

The Pacific Crest Trail is famous for very good reasons. It makes “best hike” lists all the time, in part because it crosses many amazing ecosystems and landscapes, offering visitors the opportunity to see, smell and feel the wild in many ways.

To protect the sensitive ecosystems that the trail passes through and your experience, the U.S. Forest Service has decided that 50 long-distance hikers per day can start at the Mexican border. This helps spread people out throughout the season and reduces the physical impacts on the landscapes along the trail.

How many permits are available for people in the Sierra Nevada?

The Sierra Nevada is exceptionally popular. It’s stunning. To protect it from overuse, 1,400 long-distance section hike permits can be issued each year for trips touching any portion of the John Muir Trail overlap. That’s Mount Whitney to Tuolumne Meadows. Only 600 long-distance section hikers can start each year from trailheads in the Southern Sierra zone from Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass.

Eligible trailheads in the Southern Sierra for section hikers

Permits in the John Muir Trail overlap 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:

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.

How long can I spend on the John Muir Trail overlap segment as a holder of the PCT long-distance permit?

PCT long-distance permit holders must travel between Crabtree Meadows near Mount Whitney and Tuolumne Meadows in 30 days. This is a very high use area and this requirement is in place to minimize the amount of impact to this beautiful and fragile place.

Are there limits on the number of permits if I’m not starting at the Mexican border?

Yes, long-distance permits are limited near for trips starting near the Mexican border and in the Southern Sierra Nevada.

Do I need to get other permits?

Yes! We talked about the permits that you’ll need toward the top of this page. Did you miss it?

Do I need a John Muir Trail permit for that section?

If you have a PCT long-distance permit, you don’t need an additional permit to hike on the portion of the John Muir Trail that’s also the PCT. If you’re wanting to camp on the JMT between Crabtree Meadows and the summit of Mount Whitney, you’ll need an additional permit from Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. If you’re wanting to camp on the JMT route between Agnew Meadow and Thousand Island Lake, you’ll need a permit from Inyo National Forest. You can do the JMT route through this area as a day hike, or just stay on the PCT route. If you’re wanting to hike the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, you’ll need a permit from Yosemite National Park.

Can I hike on trails other than the PCT with this permit?

The PCT long-distance permit is for the Pacific Crest Trail. You can travel off the PCT to resupply or access trailheads within 15 trail miles of the PCT. 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.

If you’re in an area that requires a permit, and you’re wanting to do a large alternate trail, you’ll need to inquire locally about whether you need another permit. For instance, the PCT long-distance permit does not cover you for extensive alternate routes off the PCT in the Sierra Nevada.

What does the PCT long-distance permit cost?

It’s free. If you’d like to add on the Inyo National Forest Mount Whitney Zone permit, there will be a $21 fee.

Do I have to apply for this permit online?

Yes.

Can I be placed on a waitlist?

Sorry, waitlists are not available.

Should I apply for a Whitney permit and pay the $21?

The $21 Mount Whitney fee is for people wanting to descend the east side of the mountain to reach Whitney Portal. If you’re wanting to resupply in the area, most people will find it to be less effort to leave the PCT via Horseshoe Meadows or Kearsarge Pass as they have less elevation gain and loss. If you do resupply via Mount Whitney, you’ll be faced with hiking back up with a very heavy pack.

How many long-distance permits have been issued?

Permit numbers will be provided at the end of the year.

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

Do I need to start on the day printed on my permit? 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 crucial component of being a good steward of the land.

For those who 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 on trail contacting 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.

What’s the story behind PCTA issuing a backpacking permit?

The PCTA issues interagency permits with the authorization of state and federal land management agencies to simplify your planning, provide for long-distance travel and improve information about the trail.

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Photo by: Henrik Frederiksen