A Complete List of Individual Permits Needed to Hike the PCT

Every (normal) year, prospective PCT thru-hikers queue up in an online waiting room to apply for a PCT Long-distance Permit. This interagency pass is aimed at trail users who plan to traverse 500 or more continuous miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s intended to replace dozens of individual permits that would otherwise be needed to cross the patchwork of state and federal lands that comprise the PCT.

Thousands of people apply for permits each year, so getting one, especially one with a start date and location that works for you, is increasingly difficult. Furthermore, in 2020 the PCTA discouraged thru-hikes and long-distance travel on the PCT during the COVID-19 pandemic and did not open the application portal for 2021 permits.

PCTA has not yet decided whether to issue permits for 2021, though the organization is expected to announce its official policy by January 15, 2021.

Although the Long-distance Permit system makes thru-hiking the PCT logistically easier, it’s still entirely legal to thru-hike the PCT using individual permits. If you’re interested in how the process would work, we’ve compiled a detailed list of all individual permits along the PCT. There are about 20 of them, so brace yourself for a few headaches if you choose to take on this daunting task.

This list is adapted from a recent article on Triple Crown Trail permitting by Clay Bonnyman Evans. Interested in learning more about the nitty-gritty of thru-hiking permits? Check out Uncertainty and Strife: Thru-Hiking Permits in the Time of COVID-19.

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Food for Thought

Soapbox time. Anyone planning to bypass the PCTA’s permit system and opt for individual permits should carefully consider the potential risks to themselves and fellow community members. We don’t yet know how the pandemic will shape up in 2021, but it’s increasingly clear that COVID-19 will continue to pose a significant threat for at least part of the year.

It’s also worth noting that, in shunning the Long-distance Permit, you’re opting out of a system that’s designed to reduce environmental degradation due to overcrowding. In 2021 and beyond, follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to minimize your impact on the trail (cue stern finger wag).

Complete List of Individual Permits for the PCT

Note: PCT miles are approximate.

California 

California Campfire Permit
  • Permit: To use a stove, lantern, or campfire outside developed campgrounds or recreation areas
  • PCT miles: All of California
  • How to get it: www.preventwildfireca.org/permits
  • Notes: Required even for those with PCT Long Distance Permit
Cleveland National Forest
  • Permit: Wilderness & Visitor Permit; required for dispersed camping (i.e., outside developed campgrounds).
  • PCT miles: 13.8-53.1
  • How to get it: www.fs.usda.gov/clevelandNotes: As of Oct. 9, 2020, all dispersed camping is prohibited in the CNF due to COVID-19.

 

  • Developed Camping Permit: Required for camping at Lake Morena (mile 20), Cibbets Flats (32.6), Boulder Oaks (26), and Burnt Rancheria
  • Fee: Free
  • Where to get it: CNF website
  • Notes: As of Dec. 3, campgrounds in CNF are closed.
Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness
  • Permit: Entry and camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 167.2-190.5; 193.5-205
  • How to get it: Available via self-service 24 hours a day at San Jacinto State Park headquarters in Idyllwild. Wilderness permit also available at San Bernardino National Forest website.
  • Notes: San Jacinto Wilderness (federal) and San Jacinto State Park (state) honor each other’s free day-use
    permit. Camping is free in San Jacinto Wilderness, $5 per night in San Jacinto State Park.

Camping near San Jacinto via Stef ‘Blaze’ Bolivar.

San Gorgonio Wilderness
  • Permit: Entry and camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1.8 miles in National Forest areas from 234.8-236.6 (Not required for Bureau of Land Management areas)
  • How to get it: San Gorgonio Wilderness Area website
Sierra Nevada, Inyo National Forest
  • Permit: Entry and camping in John Muir Wilderness, South Sierra Wilderness, Golden Trout Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park
  • Fee: Must apply to determine
  • PCT miles: 703.4-1016.9
  • How to get it: recreation.gov website. Walk-up permits available at Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine (currently closed)
  • Notes: Issued no more than five days in advance of travel. Must specify dates and locations of projected daily campsites. Entry/exit points for permit are Kennedy Meadows (south) and Sonora Pass (north). Quotas on permits for each entry point from May 1-Nov. 1.
  • Yogi’s advice: At recreation.gov, choose “Permits,” then “Inyo National Forest,” then “Explore Available Permits.” Permit type is “overnight,” and hikers must select the date they will leave Kennedy Meadows. Choose “Book Now,” then fill in personal information and choose “Sonora Pass” as exit. Hikers must then project daily campsites. If the date under Kennedy Meadows start date is “W” instead of a number, hiker must obtain “walk-up” permit in Lone Pine.
Hoover Wilderness
  • Permit: Camping; valid for a single continuous trip through the wilderness
  • PCT miles: 997.1-1010 (approximately; last
  • How to get it: through recreation.gov or at the Bridgeport USFS Ranger Station.
Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Mokelumne Wilderness, Stanislaus National Forest
  • Permit: Camping, April 1 to November 30
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1021-1041.7 (intermittent)
  • How to get it: Stanislaus National Forest website
Desolation Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest
  • Permit: Entry and camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1095.5-1117.2 (intermittent)
  • How to get it: Reservations available at least one day in advance at www.recreation.gov. Self-issue permits available at major trailheads in summer.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Permit: Camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1346.3-1365.5
  • How to get it: Park website
  • Notes: Not needed if camping at Warner Valley Campground or hiking through park.

Peak and Volcano at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. Photo by Steen Jepsen via goodfreephotos.com.

Trinity Alps Wilderness
  • Permit: Camping
  • PCT miles: 1562.9-1580
  • Fee: Free
  • How to get it: Kiosks at Weaverville and Shasta Lake ranger stations. Weaverville Ranger Station: 530-623-2121

Oregon

The PCT Oregon website offers a wealth of information about the trail in Oregon, including permit information and specific strategies for hiking without a PCT Long Distance Permit.

Crater Lake National Park
  • Registration: Backcountry camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1814.7-1847.8
  • How to get it: Self-register upon entry. Thru-hikers do not need a permit.
Diamond Peak Wilderness
  • Permit: Hiking and camping from Memorial Day weekend until Oct. 31
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1890.7-1906.2
  • How to get it: Deschutes National Forest website
Deschutes National Forest
  • Permit: Entry
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 1907.9-1930.7
  • How to get it: Self-issue upon entry

Carl Stanfield walks above Crater Lake, Oregon during his 2020 PCT thru-hike. Via Carl Stanfield.

Central Cascades
  • Permit: Camping in Three Sisters, Mount Washington, and Mount Jefferson wilderness areas, May 28-Sept. 24, 2021
  • Fee: TBA
  • PCT miles: 1930.7-1997.1
  • How to get it: recreation.gov or at area ranger stations during regular operating hours. Permit reservation fees still apply for in-person permit requests. Available date TBD (April 20 in 2019).
Mount Hood Wilderness
  • Permit: Entry between May 15-Oct. 15
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 2087-2114.7
  • How to get it: Self-issue at trailheads
Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness
  • Permit: Wilderness entry between May 15-Oct. 15
  • PCT miles: 2129.1-2141.8
  • How to get it: Mount Hood National Forest website

Washington

Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Permit: Entry and camping in Indian Heaven and Mount Adams wilderness areas
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 2201-2214 (Indian Heaven); 2231.4-2250.3 (Mount Adams)
  • How to get it: Self-issue upon entry
Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest Wilderness Areas
  • Permit: Entry and camping in Goat Rocks, William O. Douglas, Norse Peak, Henry M. Jackson, Glacier Peak, Alpine Lakes, and Pasayten wilderness areas
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 2257.8-2653.1 (does not include North Cascades National Park)
  • How to get it: Self-service upon entry to each wilderness area
Mount Rainier Wilderness Area
  • Permit: Camping, May-September
  • Fee: $20
  • PCT miles: 2313.3-2324.1
  • How to get it: Mount Rainier National Park website. Reservations open March 15 for 2021 summer season.

Stiletto Lake in the North Cascades. Via Jessica Morris.

North Cascades National Park
  • Permit: Entry and camping
  • Fee: Free
  • PCT miles: 2570.3-2588.2
  • How to get it: Park website. Reservations can be made for first 60 percent of backcountry camp capacity; remaining 40 percent by walk-up at Golden West Visitor Center, Stehekin, Wash.
Canada Entry Permit
  • Permit: Entering Canada via the PCT
  • Fee: Free
  • How to get it: Clearly and legibly fill out this form and email it to PCTA at the address provided. You will need to provide a high-quality scan of your passport and another form of government ID along with the form. Allow at least eight to 10 weeks for your application to be processed.
  • Notes:
    • If you plan to enter Canada via the PCT, this permit is required even if you have a Long-distance Permit.
    • This permit allows you to enter Canada on foot via the PCT. It DOES NOT let you walk back across the border into the United States. To enter the United States from Canada, you must use an official border crossing and present your passport.
    • The PCT officially ends at the US-Canada border. The t nine miles of trail to Manning Park Resort are technically a spur trail. You don’t have to enter Canada or hike these miles to complete your thru-hike officially.
    • In 2020, the US-Canadian border closed due to COVID-19, and permit applications were suspended. It is not yet clear whether entry into Canada will even be legally possible in 2021.
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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    David Smith : Jan 5th

    Really helpful information and reflects a lot of work to compile this, so thanks.

    I had hoped to do the PCT in 2021. Because of COVID, I am opting for the AT as you really can do the entire thing without hitching or hostels and limit your activity to what you would do in “normal COVID life” at home – go to the store for food, get take out food, wear masks in public, and social distance. Following the CDC guidelines seem much more difficult on a trail that requires hitching. With that said, I am sure people can find ways to be compliant with CDC guidelines if they choose. It is just more work on the CDT than the AT. As a frontline health care work who came out of retirement to volunteer administering COVID vaccines, I will have had my two injections almost 2 months before I leave for the AT. I realize that most hikers do not have the opportunity. Since nobody understands if people who have received the vaccine can transmit COVID, I will certainly be doing all the precautions to the best of my ability which I have since March.

    Nice article.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Bob Sartini : Jan 6th

    I am happy that I ded the PCT before all these permits. I hate bureaucracy and I doubt I woud have bothered with getting permits.

    bamboo bo

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Bob Sartini : Jan 6th

    I am happy that I did the PCT before all these permits. I hate bureaucracy and I doubt I woud have bothered with getting permits.

    bamboo bob

    Reply

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