Getting permits for California Sierra backpacking trips has gotten harder over the years, with more people wanting to get out and hike while the quota restrictions remaining the same. Here is a list of the quota seasons for all the main permitted parks and regions in the Sierra and when you should book your reservation.
If you don’t get your desired trail or hike dates, don’t worry, the mountains aren’t going anywhere! Try to be more flexible and opt for shoulder season, mid-week hikes, or smaller groups. And don’t forget that these permit restrictions are actually a good thing - limiting the number of hikers on the trails keeps the impact of human activity to a minimum in an attempt to keep these areas as pristine as possible!
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Permit quota season: May 24 - Sep 21
When you can book: Mar 1, 2019 at 12:01am
Wilderness permit instructions
The entire season opens up for reservations on the evening of Feb 28, so be sure to have all your research done and fill out all of your permit forms so you can email them in the moment it opens!
The only exception to this is Pear Lake via the Lakes Trail. If you want to backpack this popular trail, permits during the quota season are only available first come first serve beginning at 1pm the day before your hike.
Backpacking trip ideas
The Eastern Sierra offers the most trailheads and variety of trips in all of California!
When to book
Reservations will become available exactly six months before your hike in date. Popular trailheads can book up just after midnight, so I like to set a calendar reminder for each permit I am trying to book.
I usually will book several different options throughout the season, since Inyo National Forest allows you to cancel up to 22 days before your hike - you only forfeit the $6 non-refundable reservation fee. One thing you can change online after you book is the group size, given availability.
Listing trip alternates
Since these reservations are non-transferrable, you’ll probably want to at least put down one alternate trip leader - these are people that can be issued the permit if you can’t go.
As of 2019, Recreation.gov now also requires the email of each alternate trip leader, as well as requiring each person to log in and confirm their status as an alternate. Because of this cancellation policy, keep checking Recreation.gov throughout the season for any last minute permits.
Things you need to remember to do
Don’t forget to login 1-2 weeks before your trip to confirm your group size, otherwise they will cancel your permit!
Backpacking trip ideas
Permit quota season: May 1 - Nov 1
When you can enter the lottery: Feb 1 - Mar 15
Second chance to snag unclaimed permits: Apr 1
Updated February 2019!
Due to the government shutdown, the lottery will not be open for entry until February 22nd. The calendar at the bottom of this post has been updated to reflect that change.
Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous US, is such a highly-sought after hike that it gets its own special lottery and permit system! You can do this as a long 22 mile day hike (100 spots per day) or as an overnight backpacking trip (60 spots per day).
You can submit to enter the lottery anytime between Feb 1 and Mar 15, but no need to rush as these are processed at random, so entering first doesn’t improve your chances of being drawn. To maximize your chances, I recommend picking hiking dates in the middle of the week and going with smaller groups
You’ll find out on March 24th if you won a permit or not. If you didn’t win, don’t despair, as the unclaimed permits are put back up for grabs online on April 1st.
Related trip reports
Desolation Wilderness has quickly become a popular destination being so close to urban areas like the Bay Area and Sacramento, offering a quick escape into the wilderness. It’s also become an area that I can’t wait to explore more of.
Cancellation policies are lenient - you can cancel up to 8 days before your trip for a refund minus the $6 non-refundable reservation fee. I also love that you can select to print your permit at home instead of having to factor in logistics to stop by the permit office before your hike in.
Don’t forget to log in starting 7 days before your trip to print your permit to bring with you!
Backpacking trip ideas
Yosemite National Park
Permit quota season: May 1 - Oct 20
When you can book: 168 days before your hike in date, beginning as early as Nov 13, 2018
Wilderness permit information
How to book
Overnight wilderness permits can now be booked online through Yosemite Conservancy. No longer do you have to fax your forms in! When you know your hiking dates, you should submit your reservation online exactly 168 days (use this site to determine the exact day to submit) ahead. You can keep applying week after week if your reservation isn’t accepted.
Things to keep in mind
Don’t forget that some trailheads will be inaccessible or do not allow overnight parking in the colder months. For example, Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road do not allow any sort of overnight parking from October 15th till when the roads open in the spring. Click here for current road conditions.
Improve your chances
Yosemite permits are difficult to get, but don’t forget to look into one-way trips utilizing any available shuttles, or setup your own. For example you could take a shuttle from the valley to Tenaya Lake on the Highway 120 and hike down into the valley where your car is. Keep trying for permits - I’ve submitted permits every week for two months straight in an attempt to land a Friday Clouds Rest permit.
My Yosemite Backpacking Trip Recommendation
Yosemite High Sierra Camps
A lesser known fact - Yosemite has several camps in the backcountry that provide housing and gloriously-cooked food. This means that you can still experience the wilderness of the backcountry without having to carry in full packs!
Since space is very limited, you can enter the lottery between October 1 - October 31, 2018. The remaining availability will be reservable starting March 1, 2019 by calling 888.413.8869 and select option 4. Click here for more lottery information