If you’re hiking along the PCT overnight for any length of time there are several permit considerations. This page has all the information you need about permits if you’re hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail.
PCT Permit Information
Permit Information for Thru-Hikers
If you’re planning a thru-hike of the PCT you will be crossing through land that is regulated by local, state, federal, and other independent agencies and organizations all with their own regulations and permit requirements. Luckily there is a Long-Distance Permit available to hikers that are planning to do over 500 continuous miles on the trail either by foot or by horseback. A long-distance permit is not the only permit you need if you are attempting a thru-hike. Here’s everything you need to know about the long-distance permit that can be issued by the PCTA.
What is a Long-Distance PCT Permit?
A long-distance PCT permit is a single permit that is issued by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) that is valid for overnight camping and hiking along the entire PCT. A long-distance PCT permit will be valid along the entire PCT and recognized by the National Parks Service, State Parks, BLM, and US Forest Service. PCT hikers with this permit will not have to obtain separate overnight permits from any of these organizations unless you plan on leaving the trail for whatever reason, as many hikers do.
How much does it cost?
PCT long-distance permits that are issued by the PCTA are free. This would be a good time to mention that we do recommend donating to the PCTA. These permits are a great example of something that would not be possible without them.
How many do I need?
A long-distance permit is good for one person. If there are multiple people in your group you will each need a separate long-distance PCT permit. If someone hiking will be under the age of 18 at the beginning of the trip there needs to be parental consent.
Can I go up Mt. Whitney?
If you want to take a day hike up Mt. Whitney from the west side then return immediately to the PCT, a long-distance PCT permit will be valid. There are camping and animal restrictions though.
A long-distance PCT permit is not universally valid to summit Whitney from Whitney Portal. For an additional fee you can get access to the National Forest Whitney Zone to hike Whitney and go to the east side. This can be printed on your long-distance permit for an additional fee when you apply.
There are a maximum number of long-distance permits the PCTA can issue per starting date. This quota differs depending on the trailhead you start at. These quotas have only been around for a few years and were instituted by the US Forest Service largely because of the recent over-use of the trail and the impacts on the environment surrounding the trail.
Hiking more than 500 miles, starting at the Mexican Border
Northbound hikers starting at the Mexican border that are planning on hiking more than 500 miles can obtain a long-distance permit through the PCTA.
Only 50 permits per start date are available for hikers starting at the Mexican Border. On your permit you must list the date that you will be starting your hike and your entry date onto the trail is non-negotiable once the permit has been issued. Expect mid-march through the end of April to fill up quickly. If you’re wanting to start you hike on one of these dates make sure you get your permit in as soon as the PCTA begins accepting them.
Permits are issued by the PCTA on a first-come first-served basis. The PCTA will make 35 of the 50 daily permits available to applications submitted starting on February 1st. On February 16th, the remaining 15 daily permits will become available to applicants.
Hiking more than 500 miles, starting at the Canadian Border
Southbound hikers starting at the Canadian border that are planning on hiking more than 500 miles can obtain a long-distance permit through the PCTA.
The PCTA does not limit the number of long-distance permits distributed to southbound hikers. This is because southbound hikers make up less than 10% of PCT thru-hikers so there is less concern about degradation to the trail because of trail overuse.
A long-distance permit does not give hikers the ability to legally enter the United States from Canada via the PCT. There is no way to legally do so. A southbound long-distance PCT permit typically originates from Harts Pass, which you should include as the trailhead for your southbound hike.
Hiking more than 500 miles, starting somewhere else
Hikers that are going to be hiking more than 500 miles of the trail but starting at a trailhead that is neither the southern nor northern terminus of the PCT can receive a long-distance hiking permit through the PCTA.
The PCTA does not limit the number of long-distance permits distributed for this purpose. Section hikers can apply for their permits beginning in February of the year of their trip. It’s important that hikers list the exact trailhead that they will begin their hike at and that trailhead must be along the PCT. If the trailhead where hikers begin their trip is not along the PCT then the PCTA cannot issue a permit.
A long-distance permit cannot be issued if a hiker is starting their hike from Whitney Portal. The PCTA requires you list a specific trailhead, not just a generalized area.