Forest Service Says PCT Permit Holders Can no Longer Complete Thru-Hike on Public Lands

(Updated 12:30 p.m. MT, April 1)

Director of Communications and Marketing for the PCTA, Scott Wilkinson has stated:

“What we’re now telling the hiking community is to stay off the PCT—period. Furthermore, we’ve taken down some key web pages on our site such as information about trail closures and conditions, because we want to make it crystal-clear that we’re in no way supportive of anyone being on the trail for any reason other than a one-hour nature walk (if you live near the trail, drive straight to the trail, take a walk, get back in your car and drive straight home).

We understand that some hikers on the trail may believe they have no place to go except the trail, but we assume every hiker has a plan for what they’ll do when they finish their hikes—now is the time to implement that plan. It’s also worth mentioning that hiking the PCT is costly—no long-distance hiker should be on the trail without some cash reserves (presumably because they’d never be able to complete their hikes without spending at least several thousand dollars). We suggest hikers use those cash reserves now to get someplace where they can stay put.

Because of the USFS statement, it’s now impossible to complete a thru-hike of the PCT, and remains that way indefinitely. The permits themselves have not been invalidated, but at the moment, they’re useless.”

Regarding 2021 Permits:

No decisions have been made regarding permits (for example, whether new permits will be issued later this season, whether 2020 permits will be honored or transferred to 2021, whether 2020 permit holders will be given “first dibs” on 2021 permits, etc…. and there won’t be any permit decisions made for at least another month or two (and possibly longer).
(The PCTA) wants to remind people that permits exist in the first place as a way of protecting the PCT. In a normal year, parts of the trail (specifically the Southern California region) are getting hammered by the impacts of large numbers of hikers on the trail at once. The permit system isn’t just needless administration, but a way to spread out and lessen that impact by limiting hiker starts to 50 per day at the Southern Terminus. 
Another key area of concern… is the John Muir Trail overlap—for 170 miles the PCT and JMT share the same path. Because the JMT’s peak season is later in the summer, allowing a huge number of previously-delayed PCT thru-hikers to pass through the Sierras at the same time as JMT hikers represents enormous impact on the trail in ecologically sensitive areas. 
We get that people are frustrated by having to cancel or postpone their hikes, but the trail’s capacity is finite.Scott Wilkinson

Thru-hikers with long-distance permits “can no longer complete a thru-hike due to public land and facility closures,” the US Forest Service said Tuesday, March 31.

“Be advised that your PCT long-distance permit is valid only on public lands that are open for travel,” the Forest Service said in a statement.

The Forest Service also said that hikers with a permit after April 1 cannot change their start date.

“As you are likely aware, the terms of your PCT long-distance permit require you to start at the permitted location on the permitted start date and comply with local regulations,” the Forest Service said. “Permit holders must comply with all terms and conditions of the permit or the permit may be invalidated and revoked.”

At the same time, the Pacific Crest Trail Association again asked thru-hikers already on trail to go home, and asks those waiting to start to postpone their thru-hikes.

“On March 19, the PCTA asked all those who are already on the trail—as well as those waiting to start—to cancel or postpone your journeys,” the PCTA said in a statement. “Unfortunately, not everyone observed this request.”

“Many sections along the PCT as well as facilities are closed—with more closing each day. We are no longer providing information about what sections of the PCT are closed or open as the situation is rapidly changing, and we’ve asked long-distance users to cancel or postpone journeys.”

Yosemite National Park, which the PCT passes through, announced Friday, March 20, that the park will be closed to all visitors until further notice.

“This closure will be enforced 24-hours a day/7-days a week and there will be no access permitted to Yosemite National Park,” the park said on its website.

Additionally, the US Forest Service on Wednesday, March 25, ordered all Forest Service developed recreation sites in California closed. That includes campgrounds, day use areas, and picnic sites. Trails through Forest Service lands will remain open.

The Forest Service has also limited use in the following areas:

Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California announced Friday, March 27, that it will be closed to all park visitors until further notice.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will close trailheads, campgrounds, and day use areas until Sept. 30.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has closed campgrounds, snow parks, restroom facilities, day use areas, recreation rental facilities including cabins and fire lookouts, and trailheads.

California announced Sunday, March 29, that all state parks are temporarily closed to the public.

The PCTA’s message Thursday night, March 19, asking thru-hikers to get off trail came as California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order for the state’s almost 40 million residents to stay home except for essential trips. The order took affect March 19.

In the PCTA’s message on its website, the organization said: “The PCTA asks all those who are already on the trail—as well as those waiting to start—to cancel or postpone your journeys.”

“The choice is no longer only personal, but one of social responsibility,” the PCTA said. “We all must do everything we can to get beyond this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

“Primary administrative authority for the PCT lies with the U.S. Forest Service and not with the PCTA, so to be clear, the trail is open and if you have received a long-distance permit it is still valid at this time, but PCTA requests that you postpone or cancel your plans.”

The PCTA issued the following information on its website. The guidelines come from the US Forest Service, which oversees most of the PCT.

  • All canceled PCT long-distance permits, regardless of direction and starting location, will not be reissued for others to use.
  • New or pending PCT long-distance permits requests are not being accepted or approved. See CDC and state guidelines for local travel on the PCT. Contact local US Forest Service or National Park Service offices regarding local permits.
  • There has been no decision made on whether to re-open the permit process later this year.
  • There has been no decision made on transferring canceled permits from 2020 to 2021.
  • We hope to announce when you can apply for 2021 permits sometime in August; this is tentative. We hope to address canceled 2020 permits at that time.
  • Cleveland National Forest campgrounds and picnic areas are closed and they are no longer issuing PCT Developed Camping Permits. Previously issued PCT Developed Camping Permits for future dates during peak season (now through May 31, 2020) are also no longer valid. All section hikers must either start farther north along the PCT (past mile 54) or postpone their section hike that goes through the  District.
  • California State Park campgrounds are closed.
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are closed.
  • Crater Lake National Park is closed.

On March 16, the PCTA sent a message to all PCT long-distance permit holders that said although the organization could not give a definitive answer as to whether to cancel or postpone a thru-hike, they are urging hikers to “exercise personal responsibility in (their) decisions.”

According to the CDC, COVID-19 has a longer-than-normal incubation period. Since an undetermined number of people can be carrying the virus without showing symptoms, they have the potential to come in contact with the virus without knowing it. As of now, the leading method to limit the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, which includes avoiding nonessential travel.

Please think of the impact your choices have on others, and consider whether traveling during an unprecedented global health pandemic is the right choice. -PCTA


Read the PCTA and USFS’s full COVID-19 message and permit info here.

In addition, on March 17 Inyo County, CA has asked hikers to stay home. Inyo County is located in eastern California, along the Sierra Nevada and includes PCT popular resupply locations like Lone Pine, Independence, and Bishop. Their Facebook post elaborates:

“Your adventure can wait. We want to extend our thoughts and concern to everyone during this time of adjustment and remind you that your next adventure to our backyard can wait! We don’t want to get sick nor do we want to get anyone else sick. The consequences of a contagion like COVID-19 taking hold in a small town like Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Tecopa, or Bishop, with our limited resources and substantial elderly population, could be devastating. The mountains will still be there when this storm passes. So stay home for now and we’ll keep you updated with how things are playing out on the East Side.”

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Comments 6

  • Miro Torg : Mar 26th


  • Bob : Apr 1st

    To be clear, the quote from the USFS is based on closures in place currently for some parts of the trail (Ex; Sequoia National Park). This doesn’t mean they won’t reopen or that your unable to complete the other sections not currently closed. Understanding the PCTA is recommending hikes be postponed, the USFS (official owners/regulators of the trail) has not said you can not continue to hike those sections currently open

  • Michelle Olson : Apr 2nd

    The U.S. Forest Service needs to close all hiking trails in addition to closing campgrounds, visitor centers and restrooms. I live in Mt. Baldy. People are leaving trash everywhere. Icehouse Canyon trail is full of litter and human excrement because there are no restrooms open. It is disgusting and poses a new public health issue. I have contacted the Forest Service to voice my complaint. I was told that they are working on enforcing closures but they are held up by all the bureaucratic red tape imposed.

    Congress needs to step up and addess this problem before it gets worse. I have repeatedly tried to contact my congressman but he has been slow to answer. We need to put pressure on congress to get something done.


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