PCT Permits Uncertain for 2021 Hiking Season; No October Applications

The application process for 2021 Pacific Crest Trail long-distance permits will not open as planned in October, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced on its website on Tuesday, August 25.

“Because of the ongoing pandemic, we don’t know whether it’ll be safe to hike or ride long distances next year,” the PCTA said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we plan to update everyone about potential 2021 permits by January 15.”

The PCTA said that as of August 20, there were 477,331 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all counties that the PCT crosses, and 14,005 people had died of the disease in California, Oregon, and Washington, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

“For these reasons and after consulting with our agency partners, we agreed that we can’t predict whether long-distance trips will be appropriate in 2021,” the PCTA said. “We will wait and see how the situation develops and will not accept permit requests until we’re certain we can fulfill them.”

The PCTA said that federal land management agencies decided not to provide priority access to 2020 PCT long-distance permit holders who canceled their trips.

“If the permit system opens for trips in 2021, it will be administered the same as in previous years: equal opportunity for all,” the PCTA said. “Everyone will have the same chance at getting a PCT long-distance permit in 2021.”

Beth Boyst, PCT administrator for the US Forest Service, said, “The COVID-19 virus has upended our lives and created so much uncertainty. As we manage for these unprecedented challenges, we concluded that the variable situations and actions hikers took in 2020 have created a complex situation where there is no clear fair strategy to award 2020 permit holders priority over others. Also, it is important that 2021 permit issuance be timed in a manner to ensure compliance with each state’s travel guidance.”

Last year the PCT permit season opened on October 29, 2019, for trips starting at the Mexican border, with 35 permits a day available. All other trip permits opened on January 14, with 15 permits a day available.

And for the first time starting in 2020, permits for SOBO hikers starting at the Northern Terminus were limited to 15 long-distance permits for thru- and section-hikers and horse riders starting their trips between June 15 and July 31. After that, 15 long-distance permits starting at the Northern Terminus area were available each day for section hikers and riders starting between August 1 and September 15.

Fifty permits a day were issued for long-distance permits for trips starting at the Southern Terminus between March 1 and May 31

The PCT thru-hiking season was thrown into turmoil in March when the PCTA asked all hikers to get off the trail because of COVID-19. That was followed by the PCTA asking hikers in June not to attempt a SOBO thru-hike.

The US Forest Service weighed in in late March, saying thru-hikers with long-distance permits “can no longer complete a thru-hike due to public land and facility closures.”

“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 could not 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.”
Despite the warnings, an undetermined number of thru-hikers continued their journeys.

Oregon is also implementing changes in 2021 in the Cascades wilderness area, but if PCT permits are issued thru-hikers will not be affected.

Some day hikers and all overnight backpackers and PCT section hikers will be required to obtain limited-entry permits for Oregon’s Central Cascades wilderness areas: Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson. PCT thru-hikers holding a long-distance permit are exempt from this requirement.

The permits are available through the recreation.gov website, and can be obtained in advance of trips. Similar to other limited-entry wilderness areas (Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest), hikers will need to identify their intended entry and exit dates and adhere to those on their hiking schedule.

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Comments 19

  • Fabi : Aug 26th

    What a bummer. But obviously the right decision.
    After all I don’t really believe that my plan, which I made for 2021, will work out. But let’s see.
    My heart goes out to all the others who had planned for 2020 and had to postpone to 2021.

    • Dillon : Aug 26th

      What? How is this the right decision? How is this even a consideration? I’m sorry, but I live in North Lake Tahoe. There a 10’s of thousands of tourists up here all the time. Everyone is still getting their groceries, starbucks and even exchanging their crv cans for their $ etc etc etc… but we cant hike? There are thouands of idiots protesting and marching w/o PPE but I can’t decide to “roll the dice” on my .0008% chance of dying from COVID lol? I’m more likely to die driving to the trailhead. You are more likely to get killed by me driving to the trailhead than ypu are to contract and then die from COVID. This pure alarmism and idiocy to the 10th degree. I mean theyre still issuing permits for sdesolation wilderness…which will see WAYYYYY more travelers than the PCT. Pathetic.

      • Don : Aug 26th

        You are absolutely correct on all points. I was in South Lake Tahoe in July and witnessed the same. PCT hikers are a much safer bunch to be around.

      • Sevn : Aug 28th

        I think it’s about overwhelming the towns we have to go into – it could cause problem for the residents who need to be protected! Not about we are safe out on the trail .

        • Dillon : Sep 12th

          Again… WHAT? You think that a few random, isolated hikers are going to have more of an impact than say…I don’t know…people from out of town stopping to get gas? But I doubt towns are restricting other forms of travel. Sorry, but that’s irrational at best.

      • FM : Aug 29th

        What you said sheds light on the PCTA’s motive–jumping on the ‘Nazi’ propaganda bandwagon. Fact is the death rate from Covid-19 is about 1/3 of what it was at the onset in the spring. This thing is clearly going away despite the widespread social and economic activity that is going on. The only thing delaying and/or restricting permits accomplishes is to support the lunacy of a failing political narrative designed to shut down and wreck our economy in order to oust the opposite party’s president.

      • Dave Bowen : Oct 10th

        I agree with you 1000 %

    • Eric Thompson : Aug 28th

      no one is checking permits with everything shut down.

  • Anonymous : Aug 27th

    Yeah, so as far as I’m aware, no PCT Hikers violated any trail closures and were able to complete a thru hike this year. The trail was open, despite the PCTA trying to make it sound like it wasn’t. The PCT even opened through Yosemite before the park did, specifically allowing thru hikers before anyone else. The only other closure, being Crater Lake NP, was also open before anyone made it that far North. In my opinion, if the PCTA doesn’t provide long distance permits, its going to be completely innundated with hikers. More so than any prior year. Everyone is going to think they can pull what hikers pulled this year, except as a free for all. No one is going to take the PCTA seriously anymore.

    • Vince : Aug 29th

      Sorry, but the PCTA, with it’s excessive fear mongering, has lost serious credibility. It’s reasonable to advise the use of common sense and all necessary safety precautions when interacting with others, but it’s only leverage is the ability to grant a combined permit. Having just hiked the Washington portion, I was greeted with open arms (with mask and 6 feet away) by all those I dealt with during resupplies. I used to agree with their position when information about covid was sketchy. Now, not so much.

  • FOREST BOLES : Aug 27th

    The pandemic is real. We should adhere to the guidelines of controlling health authorities. But, self-supported and limited-stop hikes are not significant threats to public health. The PCTA is not championing reasonable policies, and the USG should end its relationship with the organization.

  • Dave Whorrall : Aug 29th

    after the announcement by the PCTA about not issuing permits in Oct. 2021, I made a decision I’m hiking it whether long distance permits are available or not. Maybe it’s possible to get enough permits for areas requiring them or not, I’m doing it. As far as support by hiker towns or trail angels along the way, my wife is going to camp ahead at intervals averaging 10 days, depending on trail access (Sierras may vary quite a bit.).
    She will offer to aid those trail angels that do continue to help, and provide water and possibly food packs herself. I realize not many have this opportunity, but I’m 65 and can’t wait till the PCTA gets things figured out on their end. I realize they are understaffed and do an incredible job, but we can’t wait 1, 2, 3—who knows how many years. For those areas where permits are not available, I’m willing to pay the fines. I’ve been training for 2 years, and can’t afford to wait as old age may catch up.

    • Dave Bowen : Oct 10th

      Couldn’t agree with you more Dave. Turning 60 on trail next year. Didn’t go last year but it’s 2021 no matter what!!!!If someone wants to fine me$$. Have at it. Been saving my whole life. Chump change.

  • FM : Aug 29th

    Aren’t we all glad someone out there more noble and intelligent than all us fools is willing to hold our hand and tell us what we can and cannot do?

    Next up, No Big Gulps Allowed in Trail Towns. Big Gulps baaaaad.

  • Dave Whorrall : Sep 1st

    Dear PCTA – Of those that did thru hike the PCT last year, how many incidents relating to the virus situations happened? What was the percentage of incidents per number of people that thru-hiked, compared to pre-virus years.
    Please, give us reason, give us proof that hikers last year had issues greater than previous years. If not, ISSUE PERMITS-ITS THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE!!!
    Please, work with the hiker towns to offer carry-outs, or develop safe methods to distribute the needed supplies. Please PCTA, put ou requests, send out requests for people to help trail angles deliver food packs to hikers, and for volunteers to help the trail angels. I guarantee the hikers will gladly pay for and generously tip trail angels and those volunteers.
    I have called trail angels, and spoke to many people that would volunteers to help. Have you done this??

    • FM : Sep 1st

      Dave, tyrant wannabes have enjoyed your begging. The west coast just sank two more inches from the mammoth swelling of heads.

  • Robert Nickelson : Sep 30th

    I’ll be starting in early April 2021. As a famous Mexican bandit once said” permit? I don’t need no stinking permit. I like to play by the rules but I’ll be 60 yrs old and have been planning for 5 years, I’m going.

    • Dave Bowen : Oct 10th

      Agree with you 100%. See you on the trail in 2021. Also leaving mid April. Like to see some one stop me. Are they going to handcuff you and drag you out of the Desert??

  • Cynthia Selga : Jan 8th

    Here we go again. Hey, 2021. Remember to LNT. The PCT is getting over run with too many hikers. It’s not even about Covid, that you can spread up the trail. It’s the impact of too many tourists and hikers. Annoying.


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