Are the more than 750 miles of wilderness trails in Yosemite calling you? For many, nothing refreshes the soul like striding off into the mountains for a few days of uninterrupted nature with everything you need tucked neatly into a pack on your back.
In order to make sure your solitude isn’t overrun with hordes of other backpackers, Yosemite National Park has a wilderness permit reservation system that limits how many people can enter the wilderness from a given trailhead on a given day.
You need a wilderness permit to spend the night in Yosemite all year round. However, reservations are only available from May through October.
During this peak season 60% of the daily trailhead quotas for the wilderness permits are available in advance, while the remaining 40% become available on a walk-up basis starting the day before the intended start date.
During the off-season, roughly November through April, you can get a wilderness permit without reservations or fees at self-registration or permit issuing stations.
Just to be clear – the wilderness permits are for backpacking into the Yosemite wilderness only. You do not need a wilderness permit to go for a day-hike. Also, there are other reservation systems if you:
There are three different time periods to apply for a Yosemite wilderness permit.
In each case, the trip leader will still need to pick up your permit in person the day before your reservation or before 10 am the day of. This gives wilderness staff a chance to ensure that you know how to help take care of Yosemite’s wilderness environment, and answer any questions you might have. If you don’t pick the permit up before 10 am on the day of your trip, your reservation will be canceled with no refund.
Good news for those of you who have tried to get a campground reservation by hovering over your computer/phone at exactly 7am! There is a lottery system for wilderness permits, so you can relax, sleep in, and stop worrying about whether someone else has a faster trigger finger (or internet connection) than you do.
The wilderness permit lottery for each week (Sunday through Saturday) starts 24 weeks ahead of time.
Here’s an example timeline: Let’s say you want to start a backpacking trip on June 15. Calculate back by 24 weeks, or simply use the timeline reference table created by the National Park Service to see exactly when you need to apply in December. The lottery window opens Sunday at 12:01 am PT and stays open until the following Saturday at 11:59 pm PT each week. Submit your application anytime during that period. You’ll find out if your application was accepted or not on the Monday after the window closes. Keep your eyes open for this notification! You have until Thursday of that week to accept and pay. Otherwise, your spots will be released with all the others the next morning (Friday) at 9:00 am PT for first-come, first-served online reservations also on recreation.gov.
It costs $10/ group application to enter the lottery, plus $5/person once the permit is secured. These costs are non-refundable and non-transferable.
With sunsets like this, it’s no surprise that Cathedral Lakes is one of the popular trailheads for backpackers in Yosemite’s wilderness. Learn how to increase your chances of getting the permit you want.
Submit exactly one application. There are no bonus points for making the nice people at the Yosemite Conservancy sort through multiple permit applications.
Plan up to 8 possible itineraries per application.
Watch your email inbox
Once the initial flurry over the most popular trailheads is over, you can still reserve one of the remaining permits online. Just go to recreation.gov.
The online reservation option ends seven (7) days before the trip start date.
Walk-up permits become available at 11 am the day before the intended hiking date. This includes the 40% of permits that are held for walk-ups, as well as any permits remaining from the advance reservation process. Though popular trailheads fill quickly, you’ll rarely come across a situation where no permits are available.
The fee for walk-up permits is also $10/group plus an additional $5/person during the reservation season.
Whether you’re planning to enter the lottery, reserve post-lottery, or get a walk-up permit, you need to know where you can go to get your permits in person prior to your trip. There are a few convenient options depending on what is most convenient for you:
For more information on what times each of these stations are open, see the NPS permit station page.
In the past there have been separate quota systems for backpackers that wanted to include a Half Dome summit as part of their itinerary, or wanted to exit the park on the John Muir Trail (JMT) over Donohue Pass.
To simplify the process and close loopholes, those “extra” quotas have been eliminated. Instead, there are now just a limited number of trailheads which are eligible for those destinations.
For example, if you want to exit the park over Donohue Pass, you must now start at either the Lyell Canyon trailhead, or begin at Happy Isles and go past Little Yosemite Valley.
Similarly, if you want to include a Half Dome summit in your itinerary, there are only 7 eligible trailheads. These are the trailheads that are most commonly used when people want to summit Half Dome.
If you are awarded a wilderness permit for one of the eligible trailheads, all you need to do is request the addition when you pick up your permits. The Half Dome permit addition costs an additional $10/person. You’ll pay when you pick up the permits and make the request.
Be sure to check out the official National Park Service Page on wilderness permits.