If You’ll Permit Me

The High Sierra Trail, like many places in the Sierra, requires a wilderness permit to hike. Some places I’ve backpacked in the Sierra have self-serve, unlimited permits: just fill out a form online, print the permit, and off you go. From late November through late May, the HST also has unlimited permits: they’re self-issued, at no charge, and with no daily quotas for entry. Just show up to a permit-issuing station, fill out a form, and voila.

Not so during the rest of the year. During peak season, daily entry to the High Sierra Trail is limited to 30 people per day. Of those 30 permits per day, 20 can be reserved ahead of time, with 10 held back for walk-ups. The permit reservations for a given entry day open six months in advance, at 7am Pacific time, and the 20 reservable permits disappear in a flash most days. As a die-hard “in no way, shape, or form a morning person,” I was very glad of the east coast-west coast time difference, meaning I could get up for 10am rather than 7am.


I only get up early for sunrise in the mountains • Sierra National Forest, 2017 • photo by me

Permits are issued through recreation.gov. From previous permit-gettings I already had an account, and from various research missions I knew exactly how to navigate to the page where I could view HST permit availability. Every time I casually checked in on that page, it was the same: walk-up permits only, for almost every quota-controlled entry date released so far. There were occasional exceptions, mostly at the very beginning of the quota season in late May and early June, but for the most part the permit reservations seemed to disappear as quickly as they were released.

Completing the online reservation process is just that, a reservation. The confirmation, while exciting, is not actually the permit itself; the actual permits still have to be retrieved in person before hitting the trail. In the case of the HST, permits are issued from the Lodgepole Visitor Center.


A Lodgepole is a type of pine, and so is this Ponderosa • Sierra National Forest, 2017 • photo by me

Fortunately, my dad and I are pretty flexible about what our entry date could be. If I missed the permits for a given day, it would have been fine to keep trying the next however many days until I managed to get them. We even could have tried our luck for walk-up permits, camping somewhere near Lodgepole and checking every morning until we got them.

I did get lucky, though, and snagged our permits the first day I tried for them. That day, I ended up completing the login and getting to the permit page at 10:01am Eastern time. Of the 20 permits for the six-months-ahead entry date, 16 had already been reserved — at one minute past the hour. By 10:03am, I had reserved two of the remaining four, and someone else had snatched up the final two.

My congratulations to the other 18 people who have successfully reserved permits for the same day as us, and good luck to those trying for the walk-up permits! I’m sure I’ll run into at least some of you out on the trail. We got this.

Feature image: Inyo National Forest, 2018 • photo by me

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