Wilderness Permits for John Muir Trail Hikers


Over the last several years, Yosemite National Park has noted a significant increase in demand for permits to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT). From 2011 to 2015, there was a 100% increase in JMT permits requested. The trail’s rising popularity has strained the traditional methods that hikers use to access the JMT. The increased number of JMT hikers made it difficult for non-JMT hikers to get wilderness permits for other trails within Yosemite National Park. Also during this same time, the NPS has noted an increase in the number of resource related impacts within the Sunrise Creek and Lyell Canyon areas. Finally, some wilderness campsites along the JMT in Yosemite have seen a sharp increase in overnight users, which negatively impacts the quality of the visitor experience.

To protect access for other hikers and preserve the quality of the JMT experience, Yosemite National Park implemented an exit quota in 2015. The exit quota helps the park address access and resource concerns until a comprehensive approach can be developed through the wilderness stewardship planning process. The quota limits the number of hikers exiting the Yosemite Wilderness over Donohue Pass to 45 per day.

Wilderness trailhead quotas have not being reduced. The exit quota helps restore traditional wilderness use patterns, balance access for JMT hikers with non-JMT hikers in the Yosemite Wilderness, and reduce physical and social impacts. Additionally, the quota allows Yosemite National Park to collect visitor use and impact data along the JMT.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the park doing about the increased demand for JMT permits?

The park is implementing an interim management solution to address increased demand for JMT permits until a more holistic and comprehensive approach can be developed through a larger planning effort.

The goal of the interim solution is to

  • balance the number of permits issued to Yosemite through-hikers and within-park hikers,

  • maintain a quality visitor experience for Yosemite’s wilderness users, and

  • reduce resource impacts to the Sunrise Creek area (along the JMT near Little Yosemite Valley) and Lyell Canyon (along the JMT near Tuolumne Meadows)

What are some of the impacts along the JMT?

The increased levels of use have led to significant social and physical impacts along the trail. Impacts include

  • inability of Yosemite visitors to obtain wilderness permits for hiking within the park;

  • numerous new campsites being created along the trail corridor in Sunrise Creek and Lyell Canyon;

  • more groups, resulting in many people (as many as 60) being within sight and sound of each other; and

  • thirty-one of 35 reported wilderness bear incidents in 2014 occurred along the JMT.

Why is it a problem if people use other trailheads to access the JMT?

Traditionally, JMT hikers have started their trips at either the Happy Isles or Lyell Canyon trailheads. The overwhelming demand for JMT permits has led to hikers starting their trips at other trailheads. As JMT hikers use a greater percentage of the available spaces for trailheads throughout the park, including trailheads not traditionally associated with the JMT, many non-JMT hikers are unable to get wilderness permits to hike to other areas of the park. The result is much higher use along the JMT, and much lower use elsewhere in the park, than the existing trailhead quota system intended.

What actions is the park taking?

The park is implementing an exit quota over Donohue Pass as an interim solution. The goal of the exit quota is to restore traditional wilderness use patterns, balance access for JMT hikers with access for non-JMT hikers in the Yosemite Wilderness, and reduce physical and social impacts. Additionally, the interim exit quota allows the park to collect more data to inform future planning efforts.

Where does authority come from to utilize quotas as a management tool?

The park’s current wilderness management plan allows for the use of quotas as a management tool. The plan allows the park to use quotas and adjust them in order to meet management objectives.

Are these quotas new?

No. Yosemite’s current management plan has been in place for more than 25 years. This plan allows for the use of quotas as a tool to manage wilderness zone capacities. Yosemite has adjusted its quotas in the past to address previous issues (e.g., resource concerns, safety, visitor access) but has not previously used an exit quota. However, existing trailhead quotas limit the number of people who start an overnight hike from each trailhead.

What is the actual exit quota over Donohue Pass?

The exit quota limits the total number of hikers exiting Yosemite Wilderness over Donohue Pass to 45 hikers per day.

Which trailheads does this quota apply to? Will permits be available on a first-come, first-served basis?

In order to receive a permit with Donohue Pass as your exit point from Yosemite, you must start at Lyell Canyon or Happy Isles pass-through. These permits are valid for Donohue exits but are not limited to people exiting over Donohue Pass.

Lyell Canyon trailhead: Permits for 30 people (18 by reservation, 12 first-come, first-served one day in advance).

Happy Isles pass-through: Permits for 15 people (9 by reservation, 6 first-come, first served one day in advance).

How will the Mono/Parker Pass trailhead be affected by this exit quota?

Trails providing access to national forest lands through day-use-only areas of Yosemite, including Mono/Parker Pass, are not considered valid trailheads for overnight wilderness trips in Yosemite. Those beginning a long-distance trip at Mono/Parker Pass trail may do so, but must camp in the national forest and head south of Yosemite via Koip Peak Pass. The daily trailhead quota for Mono/Parker Pass is 15.

How will I know if my permit is valid to hike the John Muir Trail over Donohue Pass?

Printed permits will state “Donohue Pass Exit” on them.

What has been the total reduction in trailhead permits due to the exit quota at Donohue Pass?

There is no reduction in the total number of trailhead permits available for hikers visiting the Yosemite Wilderness.

What are the reported use levels of the JMT?

Graph showing increase in JMT use since 1998.
2002-2006: average number of people using the JMT was about 1,000 per year
2006-2009: number of people nearly doubled to almost 2,000 per year
2009-2014: number of people increased to 3,500 per year
2015-2016: number of people leveled out just above 3,500 per year
Graph showing increasing use of JMT, comparing 1998-2001, 2002-2006, 2009-2010, 2012-2014

Reservation data as of January 9, 2015 shows an approximate year-to-date increase of 242% as compared to last year for JMT permits and an overall increase in permit requests of approximately 165%

How does the park’s wilderness permit system work?

Our website has more information about wilderness permits and wilderness permit reservations.

Doesn’t the park want people to experience Yosemite Wilderness?

Yes, the park wants visitors to experience Yosemite Wilderness. This change will increase the number of people hiking within Yosemite Wilderness. Spaces in the permit system freed up by this exit quota will be available for hikers wishing to stay within or closer to Yosemite. Visitor use will be more evenly distributed throughout the wilderness and provide better access to, and a better experience in, Yosemite.

Last updated: September 15, 2021

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