Wilderness Permits Frequently Asked Questions


Wilderness Trip Planning

What do I need a permit for?

If you are planning to:

Where can I camp?

The trailhead quota system limits use based on where you begin your hike, and in some cases, on where you camp the first night of your trip. After the first night, you may camp wherever you can hike to within the wilderness.

Since there are only a few designated campgrounds, you can camp anywhere you like, provided you follow all wilderness regulations. The exceptions are near the five High Sierra Camps and in the Little Yosemite Valley area, where you must you camp at the designated campgrounds.

Can I camp in the frontcountry the night before or after my backpacking trip?

Wilderness permit holders may spend one night prior to, and one night after, a backpacking trip in a backpackers campground (seasonally in Yosemite Valley, White Wolf, and Tuolumne Meadows; year-round at Hetch Hetchy).

Can a wilderness ranger plan this trip for me?

The Yosemite Wilderness has over 750 miles of trail to explore with a great range of elevation, ecological zones, and solitude. This backpacking trip, be it your first or fortieth, is a uniquely protected opportunity to provide maximum freedom to roam in wilderness. So, in planning a trip, it is important to find the right experience for your interests, timeframe, and abilities. A good planning process will enhance your understanding of the park and your safety. Therefore, as part of the wilderness experience, park rangers can provide general guidance but will not plan a wilderness trip for you; you must plan your own trip. Use our trailhead descriptions and other resources you've found on this site, look at maps, and get planning!

How can I talk to a wilderness ranger?

You can also speak to a wilderness ranger by calling 209/372-0826 (Monday through Friday, 9 am to noon and 1 to 4:30 pm, typically from late May through early October).

Wilderness Permits

How do I get a wilderness permit?

Wilderness permits are required all year.

A reservation is required from about late April through about mid-October.

From late-October through mid-April, self-registration wilderness permits are available from outside the nearest permit station to each trailhead. Permit stations are at the Valley Welcome Center, Big Oak Flat Information Station, Wawona Visitor Center, and Badger Pass Ranger Station.

Can I pick up a permit if I arrive after hours?

During summer, no. We only issue permits during permit station open hours so we can give the latest conditions updates.

How long is my permit valid?

When you apply for or pick up a wilderness permit, you can specify an exit date up to 14 days after your start date. (Thru hikers can specify a later exit date.)

Is my wilderness permit valid if I leave the wilderness?

Continuous travel is a condition of a wilderness itinerary in which the user travels from a Yosemite National Park entry trailhead to the exit trailhead during the dates specified in the permit. Exiting the wilderness at any time during a wilderness itinerary invalidates the wilderness permit. In order to continue backpacking, you would need a new wilderness permit. There are two exceptions:

  • Crossing a road by means of traditional wilderness travel (by foot or with stock) in continuation of a wilderness itinerary
  • A one-night stop in the Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers Campground (closed in 2024) as part of an ongoing and continuous long-distance hiking permit. With the Tuolumne Meadows Campground closure, thru hikers must camp at least four trail miles from Tuolumne Meadows. Travel by vehicle or bus at any time during a wilderness itinerary invalidates the wilderness permit. There is no such exception for Yosemite Valley; any travel through Yosemite Valley invalidates the permit.

I'm beginning my hike outside Yosemite, but will end my hike in Yosemite. How do I get a wilderness permit?

If you are starting a hike from a trailhead outside of Yosemite National Park, obtain your permit from the trailhead's managing agency, even if part of your trip is in Yosemite. You only need one permit. Even if you plan to spend every night of a wilderness trip inside Yosemite but your entry trailhead is outside Yosemite, you do not get the permit from Yosemite.

If your starting trailhead is outside Yosemite National Park, get your permit from the land agency that manages that trailhead. Common examples:

I'm beginning my hike outside Yosemite, but plan to exit the park over Donohue Pass (via the John Muir Trail). How do I get a wilderness permit?

Wilderness permits issued by Yosemite National Park are the only wilderness permits valid to exit Yosemite via Donohue Pass. If you are starting your trip outside of Yosemite to exit Yosemite via Donohue Pass, you'll need an additional wilderness permit issued by Yosemite National Park. The only two trailheads that allow a Donohue Pass exit are Happy Isles pass-through (Donohue Pass eligible) and Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible).

I'm beginning my hike in Yosemite, but plan to exit the park and continue hiking in the wilderness. How do I get a wilderness permit?

If you are starting at a trailhead in Yosemite and plan to camp outside of Yosemite during your wilderness trip, you will only need to get a single wilderness permit from Yosemite. If you are hiking the John Muir Trail or are planning to exit Yosemite over Donohue Pass, you will need a permit for Happy Isles pass-through (Donohue Pass eligible) or Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible).

How have first-come, first-served walk-up permits changed?

The 40% of the trailhead quota that was available by walk-up are now released on a first-come, first-served basis on Recreation.gov seven days in advance at 7 am PDT. The fee is $10 per group (permit) and $5 per person during the reservation season. Any unreserved permits will be available in person at wilderness centers only on the start date of the trip. Few, if any, unused permits will be available on any given day. You must arrive at a wilderness center during business hours to get a permit. All wilderness centers operate from 8 am to 5 pm. After-hours permits are not available.

From approximately November through April each year, wilderness permits are available as usual, without reservations or fees, at permit stations.

Do I need a wilderness permit for overnight climbs?

A wilderness big wall climbing permit is required for overnight climbs in Yosemite. These permits are free and have no quota.

Wilderness Permit Reservations

How and when can I get a wilderness permit reservation?

You can get a wilderness permit or reservation during three different periods:

How does the reservation lottery work?

The lottery application period is seven days (Sunday through Saturday each week). You can specify up to eight options on each application, which can include any combination of dates (or valid date ranges), trailheads, and group sizes.

During the application period, you can apply any time from midnight Sunday to 11:59 pm Saturday Pacific time. When you apply during the application period has no effect on your chances of success.

Recreation.gov randomly selects applications and then runs through each option in the order they were added until the application is successful or until it has determined space is not available for any options. Yosemite Conservancy wilderness staff still reviews all permit applications to ensure the applicant is complying with wilderness regulations. Please pay close attention to your application status, as Yosemite Conservancy staff may contact you to fix errors on your application.

What are the fees for wilderness permit reservations?

The reservation fee is $10 per application. If you receive a wilderness permit, an additional fee of $5 per person applies. These fees are non-refundable.

Can I get a reservation after the lottery has run?

Yes, possibly. Any dates and trailheads that were not reserved in the lottery are available on Recreation.gov starting 12 days (second Friday) after the lottery application period starts and until three days before the start date. The remaining 40% of trailhead quotas are released on a first-come, first-served basis on Recreation.gov seven days in advance at 7 am PDT.

Can I be a trip leader and an alternate in the same weekly lottery?

No. Each trip may only have one applicant per group planning to travel together. Groups applying together will be removed from the lottery.

How many alternate trip leaders can I have?

You can include up to three alternate trip leaders when you make a reservation. If applying for a reservation through the lottery (24 weeks in advance), you must add your alternate trip leaders when you submit your lottery application. For all reservations, you must include your alternates before you make payment.

Reservations are non-transferable and it is not possible to add or change trip leader(s). The trip leader or one of the listed alternates must pick up the wilderness permit in person. Be sure to add other trip participants when you make the reservation in case the trip leader is not able to make the trip.

How do I maximize my chances of getting a reservation?

Reservations for many trailheads have typically been full the first day they have become available due to extremely high—and increasing—demand. If possible, consider midweek start dates and less-popular trailheads. Be sure to prioritize your application with the dates or trailheads that can work for you. If you are unsuccessful the first week, you can apply to the next lottery window.

If you are planning to hike the John Muir Trail, consider including both trailheads that allow for a Donohue Pass exit and all seven date options (or use the date range option) on your lottery application.

Is there a limit to how many wilderness permit reservations I can make?

You are limited to one application per weekly lottery window and six future (active) reservations at any time.

What information do I need when applying for a lottery reservation?

We collect trip leader information and entry trailhead information when you apply for the lottery. If you are awarded a reservation, we will then ask for your exit trailheads and dates and your intended camp locations for each night. You are not limited to these camp locations (except for those trailheads that have a required first-night camp location). You can view a map showing each of the itinerary locations to help you fill out the application.

Why does Yosemite have a permit review process?

The Yosemite wilderness permit system is complex. We are committed to providing excellent service, with Yosemite Conservancy continuing to review all reservations for accuracy and appropriateness, and answering emails and phone calls. If staff finds a discrepancy on your application, you will receive a call or email so that you have an opportunity to clarify your plans or edit your application. The review period is brief, so it’s important that you carefully research and plan a realistic trip before submitting your application. If you have trip ideas and want to clarify which trailheads to use on your application, you can contact the reservation help desk. (Please allow two days for a reply.)

Why was my reservation cancelled after I accepted?

Yosemite Conservancy reviewed your reservation, found issues with your itinerary, and attempted to contact you. Yosemite Conservancy was unable to reach you before the deadline or you didn’t correct the issues, so your reservation was canceled. Application and reservation fees are non-refundable.

Can I change a reservation?

Once your reservation is confirmed, you can change your exit date or exit trailhead (you can also change these when you pick up your permit). On a confirmed permit, you can change the group size or starting trailhead if space is available. You may not change the entry date, trip leader, or alternate trip leader. If you need to change trip leader or alternate, or your start date, you will need to create a new reservation if space is available. All fees are non-refundable.

Can I add another person once I've made a reservation?

You can add another person to your wilderness permit reservation for an additional fee if space is still available for that trailhead. To do this, log on to your Recreation.gov account and modify your reservation.

Can I change the trip leader once I’ve made a reservation?

No. Once you have submitted your lottery application or made your reservation, you may not change the trip leader or alternates. You can only add an alternate during the application process. Before submitting your application or making a reservation, please give careful consideration about whether you and your alternate trip leader(s) can commit to your trip. We strongly encourage you to list at least one alternate if you are hiking with someone else.

Can I get a refund?

No. Both application and reservation fees for wilderness permits are non-refundable.

I have a reservation! Now what?

Once you have accepted and paid for your reservation, you don’t need to do anything else other than pick up your wilderness permit in person at a wilderness center in Yosemite the day of or the day before your start date. If you will arrive later than 11 am on your start date, you must hold your permit for late arrival, or your reservation will be cancelled. To do this, log into your Recreation.gov account (not more than one week ahead), open the reservation, choose the option to modify the reservation, and select “Yes” for late arrival. (This option is not available until one week before the start date.) Then, you must pick up your permit in person during open hours at any Yosemite permit issuing station and begin hiking on the start date indicated on the permit.

Half Dome Permits

Can I hike Half Dome on a wilderness backpacking trip?

Yes. Wilderness permits starting from specified trailheads are eligible for Half Dome permits. This is the most popular wilderness trip in the park: permits are very difficult to get, so plan accordingly.

How do Half Dome permits for backpackers work?

If you want to hike to the top of Half Dome as part of your overnight wilderness trip, you can add Half Dome permits for all or some members of your group if your trip begins from the following trailheads:

  • Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley
  • Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley
  • Happy Isles past LYV (Donohue pass eligible)
  • Sunrise Lakes
  • Cathedral Lakes
  • Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang
  • Mono Meadow

You do not need to reserve this in advance; you can simply add it upon request when you pick up your wilderness permit if your permit is for one of these entry trailheads. The cost is an additional $10 per person (paid when you pick up your permits). These Half Dome permits are only available for overnight backpackers and are not valid for day hikers.

What if I want to hike Half Dome as part of a wilderness trip that doesn’t include one of the Half Dome-eligible trailheads?

You can apply for Half Dome permits using the lottery for day hikers. You may use a Half Dome permit for day hiking with any wilderness permit.

Can I hike to the top of Half Dome using a Pacific Crest Trail permit?

No. You must get a separate wilderness permit to deviate from the Pacific Crest Trail while in Yosemite. You can try for a combined wilderness and Half Dome permit from the Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Centers beginning at 11 am the day before you plan to depart from Tuolumne Meadows.

When and how do I apply for a permit to day-hike Half Dome?

Most Half Dome permits are available via a preseason lottery in March. If you do not obtain a permit through this preseason lottery, you can apply via the daily lottery two days before your intended hike while the cables are up (approximately late May to mid-October).

I have a day hiking permit for Half Dome and I want to camp partway up. How do I do that?

Little Yosemite Valley is a designated backpackers campground about 2,000 feet above Yosemite Valley's floor and just under four miles from the trailhead. You can get a wilderness permit that allows you to camp there. This is the most popular wilderness trip in the park: permits are difficult to get, so plan accordingly. If you do get a wilderness permit for a Half Dome-eligible trailhead, please cancel your Half Dome permit by logging on to Recreation.gov.

Wilderness Permits for the John Muir Trail

What permits do I need to hike the John Muir Trail?

If you plan to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) as a continuous hike, you only need one wilderness permit from Yosemite for the entire trip (you do not need a "Whitney stamp" or permits from other national forests or national parks). The only two trailheads that provide access to the full John Muir Trail beyond Yosemite are Happy Isles to Past LYV (Donohue Pass eligible) and Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible).

Due to extremely high demand, many John Muir Trail thru-hike permit applications are denied. For a typical summer day, the park receives at least 300 to 500 reservation requests. Of those requests, approximately 80% to 90% are for the John Muir Trail while the other 10% to 20% are for all other routes in the park. Because of this, up to 90% of JMT requests are denied on popular days..

How do I obtain a Donohue Pass-eligible permit if I plan to hike the John Muir Trail?

A wilderness permit is required for both thru-hiking the John Muir Trail and walking over Donohue Pass. Donohue Pass permits may be attached by reservation only to wilderness permits for the Happy Isles Past LYV (Donohue Pass eligible) or Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible) trailheads.

How does the Donohue Pass exit quota work?

An additional quota applies to backpackers exiting the park on the John Muir Trail over Donohue Pass. Permits with a Donohue Pass exit is only be available for those with a permit for Happy Isles past LYV (Donohue Pass eligible) or Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible). If you want to include Donohue Pass (or beyond) in your trip, your entry trailhead must be one of these two trailheads.

The quota for Donohue Pass exits is 45 people:

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

  • Happy Isles past LYV (Donohue Pass eligible): Permits for 15 people (9 by reservation, 6 first-come, first served one day in advance).

These are the only two trailheads that provide access to the full John Muir Trail beyond Yosemite.

Wilderness in Winter

Do I need a wilderness permit during winter?

Wilderness permits are required in winter—but reservations aren't needed from approximately November through April. You must pick up a wilderness permit at the permit station closest to your starting point (when these permit stations are closed for the season, permits are available on a self-registration basis). Trailhead quotas are in effect during winter.

Additionally, due to increased popularity of the Snow Creek Cabin, a quota (six people per night) is in effect. This limit on the number of people staying at the cabin provides for visitor safety and preserves natural, cultural, and wilderness values. You must go to the Valley Welcome Center to pick up a wilderness permit (if available) and current combination for the cabin's lock. Permits are available one day in advance of your trip. Reservations are not available. The cabin is generally open during the same time as the Badger Pass Ski Area, which is typically mid-December through March (if there is enough snow for skiing). The cabin is closed at other times of the year.

How do I get a winter wilderness permit?

Wilderness permits, which are required for all overnight wilderness trips in Yosemite, are available at the Big Oak Flat Information Station (front porch), Valley Welcome Center (south end of the Village Store complex), Badger Pass Ranger Station (self-registration, unstaffed); approximately mid-December through March), Wawona Visitor Center (front porch), Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station, and Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center (front porch). You must register at the station closest to your starting point.

What trails are closed in winter?

The Four Mile Trail, and sections of the John Muir and Mist Trails, are normally the only trails closed during winter (portions of the John Muir and Mist Trails remain open, so it's still possible to hike to the tops of Vernal and Nevada Falls and to Little Yosemite Valley, though these trails are often snowy or icy). Additionally, the Half Dome cables are down from approximately mid-October to late May.

Trails in Yosemite may be closed when there are hidden hazards or when they are impassable due to rock fall, snow, ice, or fire. Open trails aren't necessarily free of hazards—by entering the wilderness, you assume responsibility for your safety and must use good judgment.

Check for winter trail closures before your trip.

What are the current snow and avalanche conditions?

Whenever you enter a wilderness area, you are responsible for your own safety and should be prepared and experienced for the conditions you will encounter. Yosemite does not provide avalanche conditions. For snowpack information, see the California Cooperative Snow Survey page. The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, operating out of Mammoth Lakes, can provide general avalanche risk for the area.

Where can I wilderness camp in winter?

In general, winter backpackers must camp at least one mile from a plowed road. Camping is not allowed within 1½ miles of the Badger Pass Ski Area boundary. Camping is also not allowed at Summit Meadow, Dewey Point, or Glacier Point (camping is permitted near both points, but not at the points themselves).

Camping is not allowed in the Tuolumne and Merced Groves. Camping is allowed in the Mariposa Grove when the Mariposa Grove Road is closed for the winter, and only above the Clothespin Tree. (A wilderness permit is required.)

Are wilderness regulations any different in winter?

Wilderness regulations are the same throughout the year, with the limited exception of the food storage regulations noted below.

Am I required to use a bear canister in the winter in Yosemite?

Bear canisters are required all year, but there is a limited exception in the winter. If you're skiing or snowshoeing above 7,200 feet or above 6,800 feet and within a ½ mile of a marked ski trail, between December 15 and March 30, you're not required to use a bear canister. During this time, it's still strongly recommended that you store your food in a bear canister, as some bears remain active all winter. Bear canisters are available for rent at the Valley Welcome Center. If you don't use a bear canister, you are required to hang your food at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet horizontally from a tree trunk.

Where can I rent a bear canister in winter?

Bear canisters are available for rent at the Yosemite Valley Welcome Center (open 9 am to 5 pm).

Where can I return my rented bear canister?

If you rent a bear canister from the Valley Welcome Center, we encourage you to return it there between 9 am and 5 pm. Otherwise, 24-hour drop bins are available at the Valley Wilderness Center (also in Yosemite Village), Wawona Visitor Center, Big Oak Flat Information Station, and Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station.

If you leave the park with a bear canister, mail it to Yosemite Conservancy, PO Box 545, Yosemite, CA 95389. You can place the mailing label directly on the side of the canister (not the top or bottom).

How do I stay at Ostrander Ski Hut?

The Ostrander Ski Hut is operated by Yosemite Conservancy and is limited to 25 people per night. Reservations are required and fees range from $50 per person per night. Ostrander Ski Hut is not recommended for novice skiers.

I have a reservation to stay at Ostrander Ski Hut and want to leave early in the morning. How do I get a permit if I arrive before the Badger Pass Ranger Station is open?

You can self-register for a permit on the front porch of the ranger station at any time.

Last updated: January 9, 2024

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