How to Land a Mount Whitney Permit: The Highest Summit in the Lower 48 (2024)

Mount Whitney permits are required to summit the highest peak in the lower 48. Here’s how to (hopefully) secure yours.

In the southern range of the Sierra Mountains, Mount Whitney rises to 14,505 feet, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. A grueling, 11-mile hike climbs up 6,200 feet in elevation, putting you on a summit with expansive views of the Sierra Nevada and that deep sense of personal accomplishment that only comes from pushing your limits. But summiting Mount Whitney is no walk in the park. The 22-mile round-trip takes a high degree of physical fitness, knowledge of tree-line travel safety, and last but not least, a permit.

With thousands of climbers shooting for the summit of Mount Whitney every year, the Forest Service implemented a permit system to help keep the numbers in check. It’s a lottery system, similar to other camping destinations in California, that can be frustrating to navigate. But with a little planning, a little patience, and some sound advice, you can increase your chances of security Mount Whitney permits.

Since it’s a lottery system, securing Mount Whitney permits does involve some luck. In the 2019 drawing for Mount Whitney permits in late March, the Forest Service received more than 18,800 applications requesting spots for 84,000 people. Only 34 percent of applicants — 5,651 team leaders — received their preferred dates. In all, roughly two-thirds of applicants were unsuccessful, mostly because the dates they requested were very popular ones, though about 625 were disqualified.

Knowing that the chances are slim to begin with, it’s important to stack the deck in your favor by submitting the proper application for the right permit at the right time to gain one of these coveted spots.

Two Types of Mount Whitney Permits

How to Land a Mount Whitney Permit: The Highest Summit in the Lower 48 (2)

The main trail, the Mount Whitney Trail, provides the most direct route to the summit and, once the snow has melted, requires few technical skills. This trail begins at the Mount Whitney Portal in the Inyo National Forest. From there it covers 11 miles on its way up to the summit, gaining approximately 6,200 vertical feet, passing through the John Muir Wilderness and ending on the summit in Sequoia National Park. There are other trails, like the Mountaineers Route, that require rock climbing and mountaineering expertise, but those are not recommended for first-time Mount Whitney attempts. The permits discussed below are for the Mount Whitney Zone only.

Day Use Mount Whitney Permit

Day use permits include the time frame from midnight to midnight for hikers to complete the 22- mile round trip. Due to the variable weather and length of the trail, pre-dawn, alpine starts are strongly recommended for day use permit holders. Hikers need to be prepared to travel in the dark and must be prepared for the intensity of high-altitude travel lasting at least 12 hours. Day use permits can never be on consecutive calendar days, and users cannot plan for any overnight stay in the Mount Whitney Zone.

Overnight Mount Whitney Permit

Backpackers interested in summiting Mount Whitney must apply for an overnight permit, which allows the users to camp within the Mount Whitney Zone for one night. Popular backpacking camping areas are Lone Pine Lake (10,000 feet), Outpost Camp (10,500 feet), Consultation Lake (11,000 feet) or Trail Camp (12,000 feet). Many backpackers hike to one of these points with all their gear, set up a base camp and then do the summit attempt from there the next day, leaving the heavy gear with their tent. Even without summiting the actual peak, the hike and campout at these beautiful spots can be the overnight backpacking trip of a lifetime.

If you are concerned about your ability to hike quickly at high altitude, your best bet is to choose a backpacking permit. By establishing a basecamp closer to the summit, you will not need to push nearly as hard on the day you make your summit attempt.

How and When to Apply for Your Mount Whitney Permit

How to Land a Mount Whitney Permit: The Highest Summit in the Lower 48 (3)

The lottery for the 2019 season has already been completed, and unclaimed dates were posted on May 1. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to pick up a permit for this season, but you will have to be very flexible. As life happens, permits that were claimed can be dropped, or group sizes shrunk. As permits become available, they will be posted on, and you may see available dates by choosing which type of permit you want — day use or overnight — and entering the number of people in your party.

Getting ready for the 2020 season, the application window for the permit lottery for Mount Whitney is open from February 1 to March 15 every year. You can enter your application at any point within that window. To make sure your application goes through, it is important to check off all the following steps:

  • If you do not already have one, create an account with, the only platform which issues these permits.
  • Submit only one application during this window with your preferred date and up to 15 alternate dates.
  • Choose your group size (new for 2020) up to 15 people.
  • Designate an alternate trip leader who will need to acknowledge their responsibility upon application.
  • Pay the $6 application fee to

To up your chances of winning your preferred date, follow these tips:

  • Pick a weekday (for obvious reasons)
  • Hike with a small group. There are only 160 people allowed on the trail every day, so smaller groups have a better chance of fitting into that quota. Also, hiking a challenging trail like this with a large group is incredibly difficult as every person travels at a slightly different pace and you must stick together.
  • Choose a date as late in the season as possible.

Mid-summer to early Fall is the most popular hiking window. Fall is really the only viable ‘shoulder season’ to hike Mount Whitney, as the Spring season would involve a more alpine-like ascent due to lingering snow and ice. If you love your ice ax and crampons, by all means, go for it, but many people are surprised and disappointed to discover that the upper portion of the trail is still covered in snow at the end of June. Snow in 2019 is predicted to linger as long as mid-July.

Keep in mind that these are for private use only. If any member of the group is considered a guide or is receiving any kind of compensation for the trip, they need to call the Inyo National Forest ranger station directly to ask about commercial use permits.

Claiming Your Permit

This is more complicated than in most other permitted areas, and if you want to be allowed on the trail, make sure you complete each step.

  • Check after March 24th to determine whether you were selected.
  • If you win, you must pay the $15 permit fee to Inyo National Forest no later than April 30, or you will lose your reservation.
  • If you didn’t win in the lottery, check back on May 1st, when unclaimed permits are posted. You may claim one of those permits and pay the $15 permit fee at that time.
  • One week before the trip, you must visit again to verify your group size. Due to the popular nature of this hike, it is important to claim an accurate group size in order to allow dropped hiking permits to be claimed by others.
  • You will need to pick up your physical permit by checking in at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Centerduring business hours.If you can’t make the stop during operational hours, call ahead of time to request that your permit be placed in the will-call box.
  • Plan for a little extra time to pick up your permit at the visitor center. It is a busy hub for many of California’s favorite destinations including Death Valley, and issues several other major permits. You will receive a WAG bag waste system here, and you can also rent bear canisters and talk with the ranger about current conditions.
  • Trip leaders must have their actual permit signed and on their person throughout the trip.

Other Permits for the Area

How to Land a Mount Whitney Permit: The Highest Summit in the Lower 48 (4)

Mount Whitney is the southernmost point of the Pacific Crest Trail, including the John Muir section. If you are thru-hiking over Mount Whitney, you will need to apply for an overnight permit through the Mount Whitney Zone in the standard lottery.

To extend your Mount Whitney overnight permit into these trails, indicate your exit point on your permit application. All of these trails travel through wilderness areas, and any time you exit the wilderness area, re-entry requires a new permit for that date. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has a thorough list of other permits you may need as you travel this beautiful trail through the gems of American public lands. Make sure to always adhere to wilderness travel Leave No Trace practices.

Whitney Portal Campground is an excellent basecamp for any of these mountain activities. It is also just a beautiful place to stay for those interested in soaking in the beauty of the highest point in the continental U.S. from slightly lower altitude.

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  • How to Land a Mount Whitney Permit: The Highest Summit in the Lower 48 (2024)


    Do you need a permit to summit Mount Whitney? ›

    Wilderness permits are required year-round for all day trips in the Mount Whitney Zone and all overnight trips in wilderness. May 1 through October 31, daily trailhead quotas limit the number of people who may enter the Mount Whitney Zone.

    What is the easiest route up Mount Whitney? ›

    One is the 22-mile long Mt. Whitney Trail that starts at Whitney Portal. This by far and away is the easiest and most popular method for bagging Mt. Whitney.

    Is Mt. Whitney the tallest mountain in the lower 48? ›

    Mount Whitney, highest peak (14,494 feet [4,418 metres] above sea level) in the 48 conterminous U.S. states. It is the culminating summit of the Sierra Nevada. In eastern California on the Inyo-Tulare county line, the peak is at the eastern border of Sequoia National Park, immediately west of the city of Lone Pine.

    How hard is summiting Mt. Whitney? ›

    If you want to hike Mt. Whitney, you should know that the Mt. Whitney trail is extremely difficult, especially if you try to do it in just one day (as many do). The trail is 20 miles long, with about 6,600 feet of total elevation gain, which is A LOT for most hikers if they haven't trained appropriately.

    How hard is it to get Whitney permits? ›

    Getting a permit for the Mount Whitney Trail is hard, and the whole process is highly competitive. From May 1st to November 1st, which is the peak season to climb Mt. Whitney, permits for the Mount Whitney Trail are restricted to 100 day hikers and 60 backpackers per day.

    What is the success rate for the Mount Whitney permit? ›

    Since there is only about a 35% success rate for the coveted Whitney permit, be open to hiking on a week day or hiking a little later in the season. It will be COLD, but you are more likely to get the permit. You can also try for a walk-in permit, but all the walk-in permits come from no-shows.

    Can you summit Mt. Whitney in one day? ›

    The route gains about 6,500 feet of elevation over 11 miles before reaching the summit. Doing Whitney in a day is a long but doable weekend adventure from San Francisco, at about a 7-hour drive, and more reasonable from LA, at about 4 hours.

    Can you climb Mt. Whitney without ropes? ›

    Although Mount Whitney is a very challenging climb, it need not be a technical one. You can climb all the way to the top of Mount Whitney and back in one day if you're in good shape and prepared properly for the journey. Very fit hikers can walk the trail to the top, even without ropes and carabiners.

    What class climb is Mt. Whitney? ›

    While it is rated Class 3, which is considered to be non-technical, the climb offers the challenge of both altitude and endurance. We use the same high camp as we do for the East Face and Buttress routes, first backpacking to picturesque Iceberg Lake which is surrounded by peaks over 14,000 feet.

    Which is taller Mt Rainier or Mt Whitney? ›

    Mount Rainier's prominence is greater than 13,000-feet. This is a full 3,000 feet more than the taller Mount Whitney.

    What is the highest drivable mountain in the United States? ›

    ColoradoMount Evans Scenic Byway

    The highest paved road in North America (and one of the highest in the world), the Mount Evans Scenic Byway was constructed for tourists and stretches from the Idaho Springs Visitor Center to the summit of Mount Evans.

    Why is Mt Whitney so special? ›

    Crowning those granite behemoths is Mount Whitney, the loftiest peak in the lower 48 states, which scrapes the sky at 14,505 feet. Besides its chart-topping height, what distinguishes Whitney from other California "fourteeners" is the world-famous hiking trail leading to its summit.

    Do you need a permit to summit Mt Whitney? ›

    A wilderness permit is required year-round to visit Mt. Whitney. Valid for one day only, midnight to midnight. Consecutive day use permits are not allowed.

    Can you camp on Mt Whitney summit? ›

    Permits are required for both day hikes beyond Lone Pine Lake and for all overnight camping on Mt Whitney. Demand is high during the summer months and the best way to secure a position on the mountain is to participate in the lottery that takes place in the month in February each year.

    How many calories do you burn climbing Mount Whitney? ›

    Only around 20-30% of applicants are successful so you may not get one on your first try ✨Bring lots of food! It's estimated that Mount Whitney hikers burn around 6000-10,000 calories on day hike!

    Can you summit Mt Whitney in one day? ›

    The route gains about 6,500 feet of elevation over 11 miles before reaching the summit. Doing Whitney in a day is a long but doable weekend adventure from San Francisco, at about a 7-hour drive, and more reasonable from LA, at about 4 hours.

    Can you drive up Mount Whitney? ›

    To get a closer look, let your car do some mountain climbing: Zigzag 13 miles up Whitney Portal Road, gaining nearly 5,000 feet to the pavement's end. The enormous granite cliffs surrounding Whitney Portal seem insurmountable, but this is where summit-bound hikers start their treks.

    Can you climb Mt Whitney without training? ›

    If you do the standard Mount Whitney Hike, it's a Class 1-2, non-technical hike. However, just because it's not technical does not mean it's not brutal. This means there are no dangerously exposed sections, nor do you need rope.

    What hikes in Arizona require permits? ›

    Saguaro National Park (Passage 9)

    Requires park entrance and camping permits for all hikers. Camping is only allowed in developed campgrounds (Grass Shack and Manning Camp). To learn more about backcountry camping at Saguaro visit their park website.


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