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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. Further, you can't get a permit for lands that have no permit requirements. It can't be stated more clearly than that.

The southern 700 miles of trail has very limited permit requirements on hiking.

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.

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. Start at the border on April 20th avoiding dispersed camping. Get a self issued permit for San Jacinto.

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.

Permit Requirements
(Start/End mile are the first/last encounters, every mile is not necessarily on permit required land)
StartMile (km) EndMile (km) Public Lands Notes
13.41 (21.58) 122.09 (196.48) Cleveland National Forest - USFS Restrictions on dispersed camping only, not hiking, mile 13 to 52, mile 110 to 122. Legal dispersed camping without permit can be found at mile 25.8, near I-8 and mile 36.7, northeast of Long Cyn ford and mile 40.7, Burnt Rancheria, east side of trail.
18.86 (30.35) 23.33 (37.55) Lake Morena County Park - CNTY No overnight camping without a permit.
164.39 (264.56) 203.14 (326.92) San Jacinto Wilderness - USFS Self issue. State park and Feds honor each others permit.
178.67 (287.54) 186.81 (300.64) Mount San Jacinto State Park - SPR Self issue. State park and Feds honor each others permit.
699.31 (1125.43) 719.43 (1157.81) South Sierra Wilderness - USFS
719.44 (1157.82) 748.37 (1204.38) Golden Trout Wilderness - USFS
748.37 (1204.38) 852.37 (1371.75) Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness - NPS
852.37 (1371.75) 902.38 (1452.24) John Muir Wilderness - USFS
901.89 (1451.45) 928.89 (1494.90) Ansel Adams Wilderness - USFS
928.89 (1494.90) 996.60 (1603.87) Yosemite Wilderness - NPS
996.60 (1603.87) 1008.34 (1622.76) Hoover Wilderness - USFS
1008.34 (1622.76) 1014.16 (1632.13) Emigrant Wilderness - USFS
1020.61 (1642.51) 1040.78 (1674.97) Carson-Iceberg Wilderness - USFS
1049.32 (1688.71) 1074.61 (1729.41) Mokelumne Wilderness - USFS
1094.29 (1761.08) 1115.94 (1795.93) Desolation Wilderness - USFS
1348.52 (2170.23) 1362.56 (2192.82) Lassen Volcanic Wilderness - NPS
1567.34 (2522.38) 1584.48 (2549.97) Trinity Alps Wilderness - USFS
1822.86 (2933.60) 1854.42 (2984.39) Crater Lake Proposed or Recommended Wilderness Area - NPS
1857.55 (2989.43) 1883.01 (3030.40) Mount Thielsen Wilderness - USFS
1899.81 (3057.44) 1915.10 (3082.05) Diamond Peak Wilderness - USFS
1939.93 (3122.01) 1993.32 (3207.93) Three Sisters Wilderness - USFS
1993.40 (3208.06) 2006.67 (3229.41) Mount Washington Wilderness - USFS
2010.97 (3236.33) 2048.73 (3297.10) Mount Jefferson Wilderness - USFS
2096.76 (3374.40) 2123.93 (3418.13) Mount Hood Wilderness - USFS
2136.24 (3437.94) 2153.20 (3465.23) Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness - USFS
2211.95 (3559.78) 2225.04 (3580.85) Indian Heaven Wilderness - USFS
2242.70 (3609.27) 2261.77 (3639.96) Mount Adams Wilderness - USFS
2269.48 (3652.36) 2305.80 (3710.82) Goat Rocks Wilderness - USFS
2308.25 (3714.76) 2335.05 (3757.89) William O. Douglas Wilderness - USFS
2345.28 (3774.35) 2358.42 (3795.50) Norse Peak Wilderness - USFS
2406.98 (3873.65) 2475.80 (3984.40) Alpine Lakes Wilderness - USFS
2573.89 (4142.26) 2591.11 (4169.98) Stephen Mather Wilderness - NPS
2626.51 (4226.95) 2650.00 (4264.75) Pasayten Wilderness - USFS

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