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. Keep in mind that if you’re section hiking OR thru-hiking there are likely multiple types of permits you’ll need to obtain from multiple agencies. Also beware that permit rules change every year and there is lots of outdated information out there.
PCT Permit Information
Permit Information for long-distance 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.
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. For 2018 the PCTA will make 35 of the 50 daily permits available to applications submitted starting on November 1st, 2017 10:30 am Pacific Time. On January 17th, 2018, the remaining 15 daily permits will become available to applicants at 10:30 Pacific Time. Keep in mind, this is only true for northbound hikers starting at the Mexican Border hiking longer than 500 continuous miles. If you’re hiking southbound, or starting somewhere else keep reading below…
There are legal ways to enter Canada from the United States. You must obtain and carry a Canada PCT Entry Permit with you while in Canada. Check out this page on the PCTA’s website about how to apply for the Canada PCT Entry Permit.
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 overcrowding.
For 2018 southbound PCT hikers starting at the Canadian border hiking more than 500 continuous miles can obtain their long-distance hiking permits starting January 17th, 2018, at 10:30 am Pacific Time.
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. If you want some additional information about entering the US from Canada check out the PCTA’s page on the topic.
Hiking more than 500 miles, starting somewhere else
Hikers that are going to be hiking more than 500 continuous 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. 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. If you’re starting at a trailhead in the central/southern Sierra Nevada’s then see the next section. A long-distance permit cannot be issued if a hiker is starting their hike from Whitney Portal.
Section hikers doing a 500 + continuous section of the trail can submit their applications on January 17th, 2018, at 10:30 am.
Hiking more than 500 mile section of JMT/PCT overlap
The John Muir Trail is one of the most popular sections of the PCT. It’s very difficult to obtain a JMT permit through the National Parks Service for the JMT. Many hikers plan 500+ mile PCT section hikes to overlap the JMT. The PCTA can issue you a long-distance hiking permit for this area but there are restrictions.
It’s important to know if you’re just planning on hiking the 210 mile section of the PCT that overlaps with the JMT you cannot obtain a long-distance hiking permit since you do not reach the 500 mile minimum. If you’re just hiking the JMT check out this page of our website on how to obtain a JMT permit.
There are 600 long-distance hiking permits reserved for hikers starting at trailheads between Kennedy Meadows and Sonora Pass. Hikers starting at one of these trailheads hiking more than 500 continuous miles of the trail can apply for a permit on January 17th, 2018 and 10:30 am pacific time.
California Campfire Permit
If you’re hiking along any portion of the PCT in California, you’ll need a California Campfire Permit. The purpose of the permits is not to limit the number of campfires but rather to educated hikers on how to safely have a fire and put it out when they’re done. There’s some important things for you to know about this permit.
Who needs it: Anyone on public lands in California that is going to have a campfire, stove or lantern.
Having a California Campfire Permit DOES NOT MEAN that you can have a campfire anywhere in California. There’s many areas along the PCT where campfires or stoves are banned, especially in dry or hot years. A California Campfire Permit does not give you the ability to have a stove or campfire in those areas. A California Campfire Permit only gives you the ability to have a campfire, stove or lantern in the areas of California where that is permitted.
Click Here to apply for a California Campfire Permit. It’s free and easy to obtain and is a way to educate hikers and prevent devastating wildfires.
How much does a long-distance permit cost?
PCT long-distance permits that are issued by the PCTA are free. You’ll see that there is a $21 option on the permit for Mount Whitney. Keep reading below to see if you need to pay that.
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 long-distance permits 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 summit Mount Whitney?
If you have a long-distance hiking permit you can hike to the top of Mt. Whitney from the PCT and return without any additional permits.
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. You must pay this fee if your hike ends at Whitney Portal or if you plan to go there to resupply. If you exit here to resupply you must return to the designated wilderness area within 2 days of your exit.
This is a high traffic area by many different wilderness users, not just PCT hikers. It is highly regulated so make sure you make and follow your plan for Whitney.
What happens after I apply?
After you apply for a long-distance permit the PCTA will email you to confirm that your application has been received. According to the PCTA If you’re applying between November 1st 2017 and January 16th 2018 your permit will be processed quickly but will not be issued until January 18th, 2018 at the earliest. Once your permit has been processed you will be able to see if you were approved or denied. If approved then you will be able to download your permit in early 2018.
How do I check the status of my PCT long-distance permit?
There is a permit management tool on the PCTA’s website that you can login to and check on the status of your permit. Hopefully a few weeks after you submit your permit you will see that it has been approved and then you will be able to go in after mid January to print your permit.