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.

The Pacific Crest Trail during the COVID-19 pandemic

Pandemic leaves 2021 Pacific Crest Trail season uncertain

We’re saddened to announce that applications for the 2021 PCT Long-distance Permit will not open as planned in October.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, we don’t know whether it’ll be safe to hike or ride long-distances next year. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we plan to update everyone about potential 2021 permits by January 15. Please read our blog post for more.

Hike locally and help limit COVID-19’s spread.

We support single-day hikes or horseback rides on the PCT and longer, self-supported trips that don’t require resupply if they are in your local area. If the trail and trailheads are open, if your state allows non-essential recreational travel and you observe physical distancing from anyone not in your household, getting exercise outdoors is a good thing. If you live far from the PCT, there are likely many great trails near you—so consider exploring these nearby open spaces and trails.

Read our COVID-19 statement.

Please read our main permit page for a running list of COVID-19 permit updates.

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.
  • Long-distance permits are only for hikers and horseback riders intending to travel 500 or more miles in a single, continuous trip. By using a PCT long-distance permit, you agree to abide by all terms of the permit, and all laws, rules, and regulations which apply to the areas that you pass through on the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • 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 near the Mexican border, 1400 permits for section hikers crossing the John Muir Trail overlap, 600 permits for trips starting in the Southern Sierra, and 15 permits per day for trips starting near the Canadian border.

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.

Apply for a long-distance permit

  1. We don’t know whether it’ll be safe to hike or ride long-distances in 2021. We will monitor the situation closely and we plan to update everyone about potential 2021 permits by January 15.
  2. 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.
  3. Apply for a long-distance permit.
    • 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.

When you visit the permit application on a permit release date, 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 permit release time on those dates, 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 early). Anyone who arrives after the opening will get a place at the back of the line. We encourage you to arrive a couple of minutes before opening time but there is no benefit to arriving much earlier than that.

  • You’ll get an email confirming receipt of your application within 24 hours. 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.
  • 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 print 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. 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.
  3. 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.

The Southern Sierra zone runs from Kennedy Meadows South (Sherman Pass Road) northbound to Kennedy Meadows North (CA SR 108 Sonora Pass).

  • Travel in the Southern Sierra must be continuous with no skips or changes in direction.
  • Travel in the Southern Sierra must be completed in no more than 35 days.
  • If permit holders skip any portion of the Southern Sierra and wish to return to travel through the area they must obtain new permits from the local land management agencies. PCT long-distance permits will no longer be valid for travel through the Southern Sierra as travel is no longer continuous. The permit remains valid elsewhere.

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 Mount Whitney Trail to Whitney Portal.

The Mount Whitney Trail is closed to all stock travel east of the base of the switchbacks one mile above Guitar Lake.

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.

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

Start dates and logistics for starting at the Northern Terminus.

Most people who start a trip at the Northern Terminus begin at Hart’s Pass and go north to the Canadian border before turning around and heading south. If that’s your plan, you should select “Canadian border” as your start location but your start date should be the date that you start your travel north from Hart’s Pass.

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, the Southern Sierra, and southbound from the Northern Terminus 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 trips fill up quickly. You’ve got a few options:

  • 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 trip: find a less busy place on the trail.
  • Monitor the permit application 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 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 the application opens 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.

Once we start issuing permits you’ll be able to log in to your Permit Management Portal using your Permit ID to 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’re starting at a trailhead with a quota, you are free to change your start date as long as there is space available.

If you’re aiming to start in a place where permits are limited, dates may 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.
  • Another way to ensure that you receive the same start date as someone else is to start somewhere less popular.

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 must start on the day and at the location listed on your permit. Failure to comply with all terms and conditions of your permit may result in your permit being invalidated and revoked.

↑ Back to top