2020 Backpacking Permit Deadlines for California and More

The latest version of this post for 2021 can be found here.

Getting permits and overnight reservations for the outdoor scene has gotten harder and harder over the years, with more people wanting to get out and hike while the quota restrictions remaining the same. I’ve compiled an updated helpful guide so you can follow local regulations and not miss an important date, and this year for 2020 I’ve included some additional parks that I personally have my eye on hiking and backpacking!

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! No one wants to hike or camp in a zoo, we’re all out there to enjoy the calm and peacefulness of the outdoors.

Updated: Jun 3, 2020 - See the 2021 version of this post here


The development of the novel COVID-19 virus has meant serious changes to recreation opportunities. Closures and permit cancellations are changing each week. Always check your destination for travel restrictions, as these can vary by county. Be considerate of emergency responders by limiting the risks you choose to take in the outdoors during these times.


Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Permit quota season: May 22 - roughly mid September
When you can book: Mar 1, 2020 at 12:01am
Wilderness permit instructions

The entire season opens up for reservations on one day, so be sure to have all your research done and pre-fill out all of your permit forms so you can email them in the moment it opens at midnight!

The challenge with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is you don’t get to see availability live, and you don’t know the status of your application until you get an email response back. You can see full trailheads at this page here.

Normally, the only exception to this is Pear Lake via the Lakes Trail, which has previously been walk up only. See update below for this year’s wilderness permit changes.

Update May 16, 2020: All permits have been cancelled up to May 31, 2020 per COVID19 CDC guidelines. The park has also announced that no walk up permits will be issued this season, which means the Lakes Trail will now be through reservation only. Always check the website for the most up to date information.

Sequoia/Kings Canyon backpacking trip ideas


Eastern Sierra

Permit quota season: May 1 - Nov 1
When you can book: Six months before your hike in date, beginning as early as November 1, 2019
Wilderness permit information
Wilderness permit office locations (or see map below)

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. Weekends for popular trailheads can book up right on release at 7am, so I like to set a calendar reminder for each permit I am trying to book.


Inyo National Forest allows you to cancel up to 22 days before your hike - you only forfeit the $6 non-refundable reservation fee.

This also means there will be cancellations, so keep an eye on the availability calendar! 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.

Don’t forget to do

Don’t forget to login 1-2 weeks before your trip to confirm your group size, otherwise they will cancel your permit! Also if you are driving in late, you can call to have your permit arranged for a night box pickup since the permit offices close early in the evening.

Walk up permits

Walk ups are also possible, but just know if you want to attempt for a walkup on a peak summer weekend, you likely won’t get your first couple choices, so come with an open mind and many backup options! Here is a PDF of trail quotas I like to use to determine my chances of getting a walk up permit based on my group size.

For maximum walk up success, you can come the day before at 11am for a permit for the next day.

Update June 1, 2020: Due to COVID-19, this season there will be no walk up permits. These will be released online at Recreation.gov 14 days before the start of your trip.

Eastern Sierra backpacking trip ideas


Mt. Whitney

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
Permit information

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). I personally would prefer the latter, as 6,200 feet of elevation is no joke, and it is very possible that someone in your group would experience altitude sickness.

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, 2020 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.

Update June 1, 2020: To allow for social distancing and to prevent rescues by first responders, Mt. Whitney is temporarily closed and permits will be cancelled.

Related trip reports


The latest version of this post for 2021 can be found here.

Desolation Wilderness

Permit quota season: May 22 - Sep 30
When you can book: Six months before your hike in date, available now
Book wilderness permits
Map of numbered permit zones
Wilderness office locations (or use the map below!)

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 do

Don’t forget to log in starting 7 days before your trip to print your permit to bring with you!

Walk up permits

If you’re trying to go for a walk up permit, get there before the office opens to get in line as summer weekends are getting popular.

Update June 1, 2020: No walk up permits this season. 100% of permits will be reservable online at Recreation.gov

Desolation backpacking trip ideas


Yosemite National Park backpacking

Permit quota season: May 1 - Oct 31
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 are booked online through a lottery on Yosemite Conservancy. Once 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’ll find out within 24 hours if you were successful, but 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, and road closing/opening dates can be unpredictable because they are weather dependent. 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 some permits.

My Yosemite Backpacking Trip Recommendation


Havasu Falls, AZ

Permit quota season: Year round
When you can book: Feb 1
Permit information here

If you’re planning a Havasu Falls trip, you’ll want to be on your toes and ready to book 8AM Arizona time, so 7AM Pacific time. You’ll need an online account, so be sure to make one beforehand on their website here. Also reservations are transferrable now. Click here for my more in depth blog post on how to get permits and what to expect for your Havasu trip.

Update May 29, 2020: Due to COVID-19 all Havasupai tourism is suspended until further notice


Grand Teton National Park, WY

Permit quota season: Year round
When you can book: Jan 8 - May 15
Permit information here

Backpacking permits for the Tetons are available online at Recreation.gov and are booked in real time, so be sure to set your alarm for 8AM Mountain Time, or 7AM Pacific on January 8th. After May 15th, any remaining permits will be available for walk up.

Subscribing to my Google Calendar below will keep you updated on these deadlines!


North Cascades National Park, WA

Advanced permits available for: May 15 - Sep 30
When you can book: Mar 15 - Apr 15
Permit information here

Starting midnight March 15 (Eastern time), you can attempt to book your permit via pay.gov. You’ll receive email confirmation, or rejection by May 15th. Note that after Apr 15, you’ll need to go to the office in person to compete for a walk up permit

Note there are no refunds!

Don’t forget to do

Pick up your permit before 11am of your trip start date, or you’ll lose your permit


Glacier National Park, MT

Advanced permits available for: Jun 15 - Sep 30
When you can book: Beginning Mar 15 (March 1 for groups of 9 or more)
Permit information here

On March 15, you can submit an online application paying via Pay.gov for groups of eight of less. No need to set an alarm, since any application received on this opening day’s will be processed as a lottery. Anything submitted March 16 or later will be in that order.

If you’re a group of nine or more, you’ll want to submit on March 1st for the highest chances of getting a backpacking permit for Glacier National Park.

A challenging thing about getting permits at Glacier is that you might not hear back about the results of your application for over a month. Also know that there are no refunds if you want to cancel your permit!


The Wave, AZ

Permit quota season: Year round
When you can book: Year round
Permit information here

The Wave, located in Coyote Buttes North in Arizona, requires permits just to day hike. There are no backpacking options, and only 10 people/8 groups are allowed per day. These permits are notoriously hard to get and have now updated to a lottery system via Recreation.gov.

You can enter the lottery four months before your target month, and you’ll have to pay a 9$ fee just to enter the lottery. To increase your chances of winning, pick three days, favor weekdays over weekends, and keep as small a group size as possible.

Calendar of important backcountry permit dates