Why Do I Need a Permit?
A permit is required to visit many of the Sierra Nevada’s wilderness areas, and some popular areas have quotas (a limit on the number of visitors). These permit systems exist to:
-Preserve the Wilderness Experience: We go to wilderness areas partly for “outstanding opportunities for solitude,” as outlined in the Wilderness Act of 1964. To ensure this solitude, quotas and permits limit the number of visitors allowed in certain areas. Though frustrating at times, these limits ensure that our wilderness experiences will be as wild as possible.
-Protect the Wilderness Area: According to the Wilderness Act these areas must be “affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.” To this end, permits and quotas limit the number of people impacting an area at one time.
-Educate the Wilderness User: Required permits enable land managers to educate visitors before they enter a protected area. Not everyone takes time to plan and do research before their trip like you did (thanks for reading this). Permits guarantee that each visitor gets important basic education before their wilderness trip.
Depending on an area’s popularity and fragility, some require permits for any visit, some only for overnight trips, and some not at all. Always check before your trip whether a permit is required, or you may be stuck at the trailhead all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Tips for Getting the Permit you Want
Do Your Research: Each area’s permit process is different, and some wilderness areas are managed by more than one agency. Use the Wilderness Pages on this site to read up on the regulations for specific areas, or go straight to the agency pages in the sidebar on this page.
Plan Ahead: You might be up against a hard spot for your trip this weekend, but plan ahead for next time. Reserve a permit now for next season.
Avoid More Crowded Trails on Busy Weekends: Some of the most spectacular Sierra Wilderness is off the beaten track. Have alternate trailheads in mind when reserving a permit (by phone, over the internet, or in person) and avoid building your trip around one mega-popular summit on the most crowdest weekend of the year.
Worth a Shot: Most wilderness areas that have quotas hold at least some of their permit spaces for “first-come, first-served” visitors arriving without a reservation. Arriving early on the day you’d like to hike (or the day before, depending on the area) can increase your chances of getting a space, but reserving a space ahead of time is always a better bet.
Plan for Flexibility: If your heart is set on that one trail, plan some flexibilty into your time schedule. Perhaps you can’t get a slot on that specific day, but you might be able to enjoy a great day hike in the area and pick up a permit early the next morning. Keep an open mind so that a change in schedule or route doesn’t ruin your trip.