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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.
The quota is created by the PCTA, a non-government, non-profit organization. Without a shred of publicly available data and without a period of public comment, the PCTA enacted quotas.
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
It's easy. The quotas extend up to and including Warner Springs, mile 107.
Get your permit with a start location past Warner Spring, ie, Idylwild 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.
PCT Mile 0 - 150 Permit Summary
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