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Pacific Crest Trail Permits: Reality Check

This article is regarding normal circumstances and does not consider COVID-19 restrictions.

You DO NOT need a PCTA issued permit. If you're hiking less than 500 miles it's not even available to you. The PCTA issued permit is a convenience only. It can't be stated more clearly than that.

You can't get a permit for lands that have no permit requirements. This may seem obvious. Existing laws and regulations are contrary to the will of the PCTA. The PCTA's nuance is not a substitute for laws and regulations.

The southern 700 miles of trail has no permit requirements on hiking. Cleveland NF, mile 15 to 40, has restrictions on dispersed camping. Using a campground in that section exceeds the intent and spirit of permits/quotas and defeats restrictions.

As of January 5th 2021 the quota limit is 50 permits per day and extend to Sonora Pass. Quotas only apply March 1 - May 31.

Mountain/Sierra snow conditions and your ability to deal with those conditions should be your primary consideration when choosing a start date. The PCTA quota system will blithely force you into a start date that potentially puts you in danger, without regard for your skill-set.

Links to individual land agencies permit requirements (more aptly, lack of) can be found in this forum post.

Getting A Permit & Defeating Quotas

Can't get a permit for April 20th at the border? Fine. Get a permit with a start location of Mt Laguna on April 22nd. Or get a permit for Warner Springs on April 27th, or Idylwild on May 3rd or Big Bear on May 10th or Cajon Pass on May 13th or Wrightwood on May 15th. Or anywhere in between or after. You get the idea. Then, start at the border on April 20th since no permits are required the first 700 miles.

In fact, you can get your permit with a start location anywhere before Kennedy Meadows (south) and a start date for the date you expect to be there. Use the PCT Planner to determine a location and date that suits you. Start from the southern terminus and use campgrounds the 25 mile section in Cleveland NF.

That's it! You are legal and good to go.

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