Free wilderness permits are required year-round for backpacking or any other overnight stays in the Yosemite Wilderness. A wilderness permit is not required for day hikes (unless hiking to Half Dome) or for staying in lodging facilities and frontcountry campgrounds.
Wilderness permits are only issued to a limited number people for each trailhead in order to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude, as required by the Wilderness Act. Since many trails are very popular, reservations are recommended ($5 per confirmed reservation plus $5 per person). Of each daily quota for a trailhead, 60 percent can be reserved ahead of time while the remaining 40 percent is available on a first-come, first-served basis no earlier than 11 am the day before your hike begins as long as permits are available.
Some especially popular areas have additional application procedures:
- Half Dome: If you're planning to hike to the top of Half Dome, you need a Half Dome permit, which you can request on your wilderness permit application. (This is a different process than if you're planning to day-hike to Half Dome.)
- John Muir Trail: A Donohue Pass exit quota is in effect for John Muir Trail hikers exiting Yosemite over Donohue Pass. You can apply for this on your wilderness permit application. (This does not apply if you're hiking the John Muir Trail only within Yosemite.)
Follow these steps to get a wilderness permit:
1. Decide where you will begin your overnight hike.
Once you know where you want to begin your hike from, use the trailheads map [1.5 MB PDF] to determine the name of your trailhead. The trailhead information page has additional information, including quotas for each trailhead, parking information, and other details.
2. Check availability of reservations for the trailhead.
The full trailheads report shows which trailheads are full for certain dates (as of the last-updated date shown at the top of the page). If the date or trailhead isn't listed, space is available for at least one person (but not necessarily for your entire group).
3. Apply for a wilderness permit reservation.
Wilderness permit reservations are processed by lottery 24 weeks (168 days) in advance of the hiking start date from mid-November through October. Submit your application as early as possible: popular trailheads fill up on the first day reservations are available and many other trailheads fill up almost as quickly.
4. If you're unable to get a reservation, consider a first-come, first-served permit.
Wilderness permits are available during business hours at any permit issuing station beginning at 11 am the day before the beginning of your wilderness trip. Priority for permits for a particular trailhead is given to the closest permit issuing station. This means that the priority permit station will not allow other permit stations to issue a permit for its trailheads until its morning line is cleared. So, practically, it's not possible to get permits for popular trailheads except at the priority permit station. These trailheads include Lyell Canyon, Cathedral Lakes, Rafferty Creek, those leading to Little Yosemite Valley, and others.
First-Come, First-Served Procedure for all Wilderness Permit Stations
From approximately May through October, unreserved permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 11 am on the day before the intended hiking date. All reservations (same day and next day) and same-day unreserved permits may still be picked up when the wilderness center opens for the day.
Though popular trailheads may fill up, there is always space available on other trailheads in the park. From November through April, wilderness permits are available without a reservation.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. 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 the 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.
2. 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 (summer only). This service is especially helpful for those who have gotten a first-come, first-served permit the day before beginning their hike.
3. Do I need a wilderness permit during winter?
Wilderness permits are required in winter—but reservations aren't needed from 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 Visitor 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 Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass), which is typically mid-December through March (as long as there is enough snow for skiing). The cabin is closed at other times of the year.
4. I already have a reservation. Can I add another person?
You can add another person to your wilderness permit reservation for an additional fee as long as space is still available for that trailhead. If space is no longer available for that trailhead, you can try to change your reservation to another date or another trailhead (as long as space is available).
5. 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 located outside of Yosemite National Park, obtain your permit from the trailhead's managing agency, even if camping in Yosemite. Only one permit is required. 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 you are starting at a trailhead in Yosemite and wish to camp outside of Yosemite during your Wilderness trip, you will only need to get a single wilderness 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:
- Twin Lakes (Robinson Creek): Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
- Virginia Lakes: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
- Chiquito Pass: Sierra National Forest
- Quartz Mountain: Sierra National Forest
- Lake Eleanor: Stanislaus National Forest
- Cherry Lake: Stanislaus National Forest
- Saddlebag Lake: Inyo National Forest
6. How can I talk to a wilderness ranger?
Can't find your question here? We have more answers to frequently asked questions. 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, from March through early October).