PCT Long-distance Permit

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

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.
  • Permits are 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.
  • Permits are only for long-distance hikers and horseback riders intending to travel 500 or more miles in a single, continuous trip.
  • 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.
  • The U.S. Forest Service authorizes PCTA to issue 50 permits per day for trips starting at the Mexican border, 1400 permits for section hikers crossing the John Muir Trail overlap and 600 permits for trips starting in the Southern Sierra.

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.

Opening dates for the 2020 PCT long-distance permit

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 October 29 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, 35 permits per day will become available.
  2. On January 14 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the remaining 15 permits per day will become available.

We’ll start accepting permit applications on January 14 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time.

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 if you’re aiming to hike, rather than ski or mountaineer, you’ll likely need to wait for summer before you can go most places.
  2. Apply for a long-distance permit (click this link to apply). Sorry, but we do not expedite permits.
    • 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.
    • You’ll be able to select a date if there is space. Once you pick a start date, you have that date locked for 20 minutes so that you can fill out the rest of the application.
    • 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, delayed or denied.

On permit launch days, October 29 and January 14, you’ll see a waiting room system on our website. It’s there to improve the experience for everyone.

When you visit the permit application on one of those days, you’ll be automatically assigned a place in line. You’ll see how many people are in front of you and how long the expected wait time will be. When it’s your turn, you’ll have 10 minutes to enter the permit application and start applying. Then, you’ll have 20 minutes to fill out the application, and it typically takes less than 8 minutes.

Be advised that due to the high interest in these permits, it may take up to 3 hours for applicants to navigate the queue. Plan on that when scheduling your day.

Prior to 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time on October 29, the permit application will not be available. If you arrive early, you will be assigned a random place in line (alongside everyone else who also arrives before 10:30 a.m.). Anyone who arrives after 10:30 a.m. will get a place at the back of the line. We encourage you to arrive a couple of minutes before 10:30 a.m. but there is no benefit to arriving much earlier than that.

If you are not applying for a permit for a trip starting at the Mexican border, we request that you do not visit the permit application on October 29 to reduce the number of people attempting to access it at the same time.

  • You’ll get an email confirming receipt of your application within 15 minutes. Your unique Permit ID number will give you access to your Permit Management Portal.
  • We’ll start reviewing permits within 1-3 weeks of receiving an application. You can check the status of your permit in your Permit Management Portal. If it’s marked “approved” you can feel comfortable that the permit is yours. Go ahead and begin planning for your hike, including making flight reservations.
  • All permits that are submitted between Oct. 29 and Jan. 14 will be reviewed quickly, but they won’t be issued until Jan. 15 at the earliest.
  • We work as quickly as possible. 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 Portal 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

  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.

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.

The long-distance permit is 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 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.

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.

PCT long-distance permit holders must travel between Crabtree Meadows near Mount Whitney and Tuolumne Meadows in 30 days.

PCT long-distance permit holders are allowed to day hike from the PCT to the summit of Mt. Whitney and back to the PCT.

Due to high alpine camping impact concerns, PCT long-distance permit holders are NOT allowed to camp east of the Crabtree Ranger Station – that includes no camping at Guitar Lake or on the mountain itself. Nor are you allowed to descend the east side of the mountain via the Whitney Trail to Whitney Portal.

Horses, mules and other stock are not permitted beyond the base of the switchbacks on Mt. Whitney.

No PCT long-distance permits will be issued for trips starting, ending or resupplying at Whitney Portal. To hike that section, you will need to get a permit from a local land management agency.

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 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.

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 traveling with equine animals or hiking with dogs.

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. Please read our page on entering the U.S. from Canada via the PCT.

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

To protect the fragile wild areas that you’re wanting to visit, and to protect your opportunity for solitude, the U.S. Forest Service has limited 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 experiences. There are limits on the number of people who can head out during the peak season.

Limiting the number of permits per day helps spread people out throughout the season and reduces the impact on the trail. Learn more about addressing increased use on the PCT.

The PCTA issues the interagency PCT long-distance permit under direction from the U.S. Forest Service 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.

If you can’t secure a PCT long-distance permit, we encourage you to look for another place or time to hike. You are also welcome to contact the local land management agencies to obtain local permits.

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 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 space on the date that you want does not become available.

Be flexible with your desired start date when applying. Apply on the first date that permits are available. We encourage you to arrive a couple of minutes before 10:30 a.m. on those days but there is no benefit to arriving much earlier than that.

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.

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

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. As there is a limited number of permits, there is no way to guarantee you a spot.

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. 15. You can check on your permit in the Permit Management Portal. If it’s been approved, you can feel certain that we’ll issue your permit. Do not make flight reservations or plan your trip until the status of your permit is approved.

After the second release of permits on Jan. 14, we’ll be in the normal flow of permit processing. We’ll review, approve and issue permits within three weeks.

Once we start issuing permits you’ll be able to log in to your Permit Management Portal, using your Permit ID to download and print your permit.

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.

You can change most of your trip details in your permit management portal 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 or by email at [email protected]

If you are starting your trip at the Mexican border you are free to change your start date as long as there is space available. During the second release, everyone is in the same waiting room regardless of whether they are applying for a new permit or trying to change their date. You will be able to log into your permit management portal when you get to the front of the line. As a holder of an existing permit, please modify your permit. Do not submit a second application because duplicate applications may be denied and if you cancel your existing application there is no guarantee you will get another one.

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.

Head on over to our page about short distance permits. 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.

Please give us a call at 916-285-1846.

Six hundred long-distance section hikers can start each year from trailheads in the Southern Sierra zone from Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass.

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 if I’d like to start at another trailhead?

If you’d like to start a 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 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. If you’re wanting to hike the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, you’ll need a permit from Yosemite National Park. If you’re wanting to hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, you’ll also need another permit.

Sorry, waitlists are not available.

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.

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