Permits for the John Muir Trail — Backcountry Emily (2024)

Written By Emily Schrick

Updated for the new 2022 system.

John Muir Trail permits are pretty hard to come by. You probably know this, since you’re researching how to get JMT permits. I failed on my first lottery attempts in 2017. In 2020, somehow I won the lottery for a permit from Happy Isles (after not winning for 7 weeks straight), but ended up using some other methods to get a more desirable start date. In this how-to, I’ll go through the numerous ways to get a permit for the Northbound (NOBO) and Southbound (SOBO) directions, and how you can improve your odds of getting a permit!

And don’t forget, you still need a separate California Fire Permit if you plan on operating a stove or having a fire in the backcountry!

Note: Included in this blog post are links to the Outdoor Status permit notification website. These are affiliate links, and I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you choose to participate in permit availability notifications. Thank you so much if you do use this service!

Permits for the John Muir Trail — Backcountry Emily (1)

Why Go Southbound (SOBO)?

The Southbound direction is popular for many reasons:

  1. Start off with the “easiest” and lowest elevation terrain first.

  2. More resupply options earlier on, while still getting your trail legs. There are 4 resupply options by the halfway point of the trail going in this direction.

  3. More opportunities to bail if you were to get hurt or you weren’t enjoying yourself.

  4. The scenery builds up and gets more stunning the further south you go.

  5. Finishing your hike on the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, is pretty awesome!

  6. Possibly more comforting, logistics-wise, to start in a National Park with many resources.

Southbound Trailheads:

  1. Happy Isles past Little Yosemite Valley (LYV) (Donohue Pass eligible) - 9 reservable permits, 6 walk-up permits

  2. Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne Meadows) (Donohue Pass eligible) - 18 reservable permits, 12 walk-up permits

Of these two trailheads, Happy Isles is the most popular, since it allows you to hike the full length of the JMT. However, both trailheads are incredibly popular and difficult to obtain permits for.

NEW for 2022: There is no JMT permit that allows you to camp in Little Yosemite Valley. You must plan to make it past the Half Dome Trail/ JMT junction if you start from Happy Isles, putting your first day at a minimum of 6.5 miles and over 3,000 ft of climbing.

First, let’s talk about how to get permits in advance.

Option #1: Weekly Lottery

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This is the most straightforward, and also the most passive, way to acquire a JMT permit from Yosemite National Park. By “winning the lottery” and getting this permit, you have won the Golden Ticket of permits, and will be allowed to travel the JMT from the trailhead you were awarded in Yosemite National Park to Mt. Whitney. No need to get any other type of permit. In 2020, I was finally awarded a permit via the lottery on my third round of applications. So, after getting a daily denial e-mail for approximately 7 weeks, I finally got the good one! Now, the permit system has slightly changed for 2022 and beyond, moving to, so read on for more info!

How do you enter the weekly lottery?

All you need to do is click here and follow the directions. For a quick summary: You fill out one application that is good for one week in the lottery. You can submit the application approximately 24 weeks in advance of the day you want to start your hike. There are seven dates options (one for every day of the week you are applying in), so be sure to fill them all out to increase your chances of getting a permit.

How many times can I enter the lottery?

Essentially, an endless number of times, but your name can only be in a weekly lottery once at a time - and you can’t be named as an alternate on any other lottery applications for the week. You can only have 6 reservations at any given time.

How does the weekly lottery work?

Like any lottery, all applications are presumably pooled together, separated by date and trailhead, and the chosen ones are given their permit! The new system is more straightforward than the older system since there is no longer a separate JMT lottery.

Does it cost money to enter?

Yes. It costs $10 per weekly application plus $5/ each person on the permit.

Option #2: Picking Up Leftover Permits

No more calling the wilderness permit office. Everything runs on now! Any dates and trailheads not claimed will be available for reserving starting 12 days after the lottery application period starts and until 7 days before the start date.

Can You Get Walk-Up Permits for the JMT Southbound?

Sort of.

Currently, Yosemite National Park releases 40% of the permits set aside for “walk-ups” on exactly 7 days in advance at 7 am PT. You are able to reserve permits for the JMT this way.


There are 6 permits for Happy Isles and 10 permits available every day for walk-ups out of Lyell Canyon. To acquire one of these permits, you should arrive in the park 2 days before you want to start hiking. The day before you want to start, you need to line up very early in the morning in front of either the Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center. You want to be one of the first in line. Even if you are 4th or 5th, you may not get a permit depending on how many people are in the party of the individual(s) ahead of you. The wilderness office starts processing walk-up permits at 11 AM every day. But, you’ll probably want to get in line by 6 am, at the latest.

Walk-up permits are no longer free, they will also cost $10/permit, plus $5/ person on the permit.

Be sure to read through Yosemite National Park’s permit FAQ before applying!

Why Go Northbound (NOBO)?

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The Northbound direction is not as popular as southbound, but there are some good reasons to think about going this direction.

  1. Slightly easier to get permits for, as long as you’re not set on hiking from Whitney Portal.

  2. Get the hardest terrain “out of the way” first.

  3. Have your mind blown by the most beautiful terrain right off the bat.

  4. Have more resupply options at the end, where you can alter your resupply if you suddenly get “hiker hunger”.

  5. Go the same direction as most Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

  6. Northbound was the “original” direction.

  7. See some other beautiful places, like Chicken Spring Lake.

Northbound Trailheads

Note: Some of these trailheads will significantly lengthen your JMT hike.

  1. Whitney Portal

  2. Cottonwood Pass (join PCT at Cottonwood Pass)

  3. Cottonwood Lakes (join PCT at Rock Creek)

  4. Non-Quota Trailheads: call Inyo National Forest at (760) 873-2483 for information regarding these trailheads

    1. Kennedy Meadows South

    2. Olancha Pass

All of these trailheads have their own intricacies. Let’s start from the top and flesh out all of the options. Because they are so varied, I am going to discuss both reservation options and walk-up options under each heading.

Option #1: Whitney Portal

Think of entering the JMT at Whitney Portal in a similar vein to acquiring Happy Isles permits. It’s going to be the most difficult permit to get, going NOBO. It’s also one of the most straightforward ones.

Advance Reservations:

To start the JMT from Whitney Portal, you will need an overnight Mt. Whitney Trail permit. The only way to get one of these in advance is to apply for the lottery via The lottery is available for entry from February 1 - March 15 each year, and the results are published on March 24. There are 60 people allowed in each day for overnight permits, with a group limit of 15. There is only 1 application allowed per group. You are allowed to list 15 possible entry dates on your application. When you get the results, it will be for one date, and you must start your trip on that date. You have until April 30 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time to pay for the reservation to claim it.

If you are unsuccessful in the lottery, or missed the lottery period, beginning on April 1st at 7:00 am Pacific Time, any immediately cancelled (by lottery winners) permits will be available. This is your chance to immediately get a permit reservation. You must use to get a permit. You cannot call the wilderness office. After 7:00 am on April 1st, the calendar is live for the remainder of the season. It is not updated once daily like Yosemite’s permit process. People may surrender their permits, so you should keep checking the site for any availability. Sometimes, people will post on social media pages related to the trail that they are about to forfeit their permits, so check those places too! On May 1, at 7:00 am Pacific Time, any unclaimed/ unpaid reservations will go live, so this is another important date, and one where there will probably be a larger number of permits available.

Each reservation is subject to the $6 non-refundable processing fee, plus $15/person for winning permits. Reservations are non-refundable or transferrable.

When you are applying for the lottery, or purchasing a forfeited reservation, you will still need to enter your planned backpacking itinerary in the fields provided. If you need help figuring out an itinerary, keep reading.

Walk-Up Permits:

According to Inyo National Forest, there are no walk-up permits available for Whitney Portal. I would call the wilderness office at (760) 876-6200 to learn about potential walk-up permits for same-day no-shows. I have no personal experience with this, but it is my understanding that if there are any same-day no-shows, the reservation will show up on This is not very helpful if you live far away or have an inflexible schedule, but if you live in the Eastern Sierra corridor, or maybe you’ve decided to “camp out” in Mammoth Lakes/ Bishop/ Lone Pine for a while in anticipation of getting a permit, this would work for you. But, you’d probably have better luck just getting a walk-up permit for one of the Cottonwood Trailheads, which I’ll talk about below.

Click here for more information from the Forest Service about Mt. Whitney.

Option #2: Cottonwood Pass/ Lakes - Inyo National Forest

Cottonwood Pass and Lakes trailheads are two separate trails that give you the option of accessing the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) south of the Mt. Whitney area. You will travel the respective trails, and then head north on the PCT until you reach Crabtree Meadow, where you can pick up the JMT. From here, you can set up a base camp at Crabtree Meadows, or higher up near Guitar Lake, then tag the Whitney summit, and continue your hike north on the JMT! Both of these trails will add approximately 20 miles to your hike. Let’s talk about how to get permits:

Advance Reservations:

Inyo National Forest also uses for their wilderness permit reservation system. This is a real-time reservation system. No lotteries or waiting to hear back about a permit here. You can make your reservation up to 6 months in advance, to the day. For example, if you want to start hiking on July 27th, you can make a reservation beginning January 27th, at exactly 7:00 AM Pacific Time. There are two quota periods for Inyo National Forest. The first is the “general quota period”, which is from May 1 - November 1. The second is specifically for the Cottonwood Pass trailhead - where they again limit numbers because of how popular it has become as an access trailhead for the JMT. This special quota is in effect from June 26 - September 15. There are 36 permits available for reservation daily for Cottonwood Lakes, and 24 for Cottonwood Pass.

This sounds pretty easy and relatively stress-free, right? Well, Inyo and have their own set of intricacies, so let’s talk about the “weird stuff”.

First, you need to make sure you are applying for the correct permit. In the top left corner, you should be applying for an “Overnight” permit, NOT “Overnight Exiting Mt. Whitney”. Even though you intend on tagging the Whitney summit on your hike, you will not be hiking on the Eastern Side of the mountain, so you don’t need this extra condition.

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Once you’ve selected the trailhead and date you want, you’ll go to the next screen, where you can start entering the specifics about your trip, including Exit Trailhead (Yosemite Valley), group size, # of nights of your trip, all of the campsite locations of your trip, and so on. You only have 15 minutes to fill out this form. I have some tips for you to make the most of your time (and have less stress) while filling out this timed part of the reservation.

  1. Confirm Date & Trailhead: Make sure you are 100% sure of your entry trailhead and start date, as you cannot change those after making the reservation.

  2. Additional Permit Holders: If you are hiking with others, make sure you put their names into the “Additional Permit Holders” field. You can add up to 3 additional permit holders. You cannot add or change people after making the reservation. By adding people into this slot, they are able to pick up the permit as well - not just you. I’d highly recommend putting people down in this field in case something happens to you: if you get injured or sick and cannot go on the hike, at least the rest of your group can.

  3. Stay on the safe side with group size: If you may be hiking with more people than yourself, reserve for the maximum amount of people you may be hiking with. You can go into your reservation and decrease the amount of people on a reservation and get the $5/person refund (up to 22 days before your trip), but you cannot add people without making another reservation (and paying another $6 non-refundable reservation fee). And if you wait to add people, there might not be enough permits left.

  4. Work the Time Limit: This is going to sound crazy, but in order to save time, only reserve your permit for a 2-3 nighter. Choose the Cottonwood trailhead for entry, but list another northern trailhead (not Whitney Portal) as your exit, so you only have to fill out 2-3 camp spots while you are making your reservation. I’d suggest using the Shepherd Pass trailhead as your exit point. Why do this? Because you can go back and edit some key fields in your reservation later: your exit date and your exit trailhead. Trust me, if you are stressed by the time limit, this will make your life easier.

After the campsites, continue filling out all of the fields. For the Issuing Station field, you’ll probably want to choose “Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center” in Lone Pine as it is the closest town to the Cottonwood Trailheads. Once you finish the fields, make sure you read and check the “Need to Know” information & box. All you need to do after that is pay, and the reservation is yours! Congrats!

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Now, once you are in a less stressed state of mind, you can go into your reservation and click “modify”. Go ahead and change your exit point to “Happy Isles - Yosemite Valley”, and change the number of days to your preferred itinerary. You’ve probably noticed that there are select campsites you have to choose from. You can’t type in overly specific areas or make up your own campsite. Don’t worry too much about that - the campsites are non-binding. You just have to put something down. But, it does give you a good opportunity to do trip planning, so I’d take it moderately seriously.

Use this chart to help you find the correct campsite names for the reservation.

Here are two sample itineraries starting from the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead:

Sample Itinerary - 14 days - FAST

  1. SEKI - Rock Creek (84)

  2. SEKI - Crabtree (83)

  3. SEKI - Tyndall Creek (80)

  4. SEKI - Center Basin - Vidette (65)

  5. SEKI - Charlotte Lake (63)

  6. SEKI - Twin Lakes (56)

  7. SEKI - Le Conte Canyon (39)

  8. SEKI - McClure Meadow (33)

  9. Sallie Keyes Lakes JMT Near Florence Lake

  10. Quail Meadows JMT-Mono Creek (Lake Edison)

  11. Crater Meadow - Upper (JMT South of Devil’s Postpile)

  12. Island Pass JMT - Thousand Island Lake

  13. Yosemite - Cathedral Lakes

    *Assumes a resupply/visits at Kearsarge Pass (day 5), VVR (Day 9-10) & Red’s Meadow (Day 11) in this plan

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Sample Itinerary - 22 days - MODERATE

  1. Chicken Spring Lake (PCT - Cottonwood Pass)

  2. SEKI - Crabtree (83)

  3. SEKI - Crabtree (83)

  4. SEKI - Tyndall Creek (80)

  5. SEKI - Center Basin - Vidette (65)

  6. SEKI - Charlotte Lake (63)

  7. SEKI - Charlotte Lake (63)

  8. SEKI - Rae Lakes (62)

  9. SEKI - Upper Basin (46)

  10. SEKI - Palisade Basin (45)

  11. SEKI - Le Conte Canyon (39)

  12. SEKI - McClure Meadow (33)

  13. San Joaquin - JMT PiuteCreek

  14. Heart Lake JMT - Sallie Keyes near Florence Lake

  15. Silver Pass Lake JMT - north of Lake Edison

  16. Virginia, Lake JMT (Duck Pass)

  17. Crater Meadow - Upper (JMT South of Devil’s Postpile)

  18. Garnet Lake - JMT Thousand Island Lake

  19. Yosemite - Tuolumne Meadows/ Lyell Canyon

  20. Yosemite - Cathedral Lakes

  21. Yosemite - John Muir Trail - Little Yosemite

    *Assumes a full day for Mt. Whitney, and resupply/ visits at Kearsarge Pass (Day 6-7), MTR (Day 13-14), Red’s Meadow (Day 17), and Tuolumne Meadows (Day 20).

Picking Up Your Permit:

Permits can now be printed from the online portal one week before your reservation start date. However, requesting a permit for pick-up in person will enable you to check in with rangers, rent a bear canister from them, look over maps with them, etc.

Walk-Up Permits:

Currently, “walk-ups” are being released 2 weeks prior to the trip entry date on, at 7 am PT.

Walk-up permits are available for both of the Cottonwood Trailheads. There are 24 available each day from Cottonwood Lakes, and 16 from Cottonwood Pass. Walk-up permits can be obtained for free from any of the Inyo National Forest Ranger Stations, but the USFS recommends going to the ranger station closest to your trailhead. For the Cottonwood trailheads, that is the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Center in Lone Pine.

At 8:00 AM each morning, the station opens up. At this time, you can put your name on the list for the 11:00 AM “next-day permit line”. I would definitely recommend getting there at 8:00 AM or earlier. Do not arrive at 11:00 AM and expect to be first in line for the permits. At 8:00 AM, you can attempt to get a same-day permit, if there are any spots left. However, I would not expect there to be any unclaimed permits from the previous day for these two trailheads.

Click here for more information on permit pick-up and walk-up permits.

Option #3: Non-Quota Trailheads - Inyo National Forest

A non-quota trailhead is one that doesn’t have a limit to how many people can start from there each day. If you remember from above, all of the other trailheads I’ve talked about have some sort of daily quota for how many people can start their hike from that trailhead. The two non-quota trailheads that allow northbound travel on the Pacific Crest Trail (that will then link up to the John Muir Trail at Crabtree Meadows) are Kennedy Meadows South and Olancha Pass. Starting from either of these trailheads will add approximately 60 and 50 miles, respectively, to your trip.

Choosing one of these trailheads to begin from does not mean you don’t need a permit. You still need a permit, and will need to call Inyo National Forest about procuring one. Call (760) 873-2483 for more information.

There are many pros & cons to using these trailheads as your starting point for the JMT.


  • Adding 50-60 extra miles to an already long and challenging trip

  • Views and terrain are not the classic High Sierra experience until you get closer to Mt. Whitney

  • Will be necessary to work in an extra resupply stop

  • Both of these trailheads are remote and difficult to access, with no public transportation nearby


  • Start date flexibility/ no permit stress: if there’s a high or low snow year, you could delay or move up your date without worry

  • Milder terrain to get started as opposed to starting at Mt. Whitney or the Cottonwood Trailheads

  • See some Sierra foothills terrain and watch the landscape change

  • Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail

Questions about acquiring JMT permits? Let me know below!

Emily Schrick

Permits for the John Muir Trail — Backcountry Emily (2024)


What are the odds of getting a permit for the John Muir Trail? ›

A permit for the entire John Muir Trail or “Golden Ticket” is highly coveted and extremely hard to obtain through the advanced lottery system with less than a 2% success rate of actually getting one.

Can I hike the JMT without a permit? ›

A wilderness permit is required for both thru-hiking the John Muir Trail and walking over Donohue Pass. Donohue Pass permits may be attached by reservation only to wilderness permits for the Happy Isles Past LYV (Donohue Pass eligible) or Lyell Canyon (Donohue Pass eligible) trailheads.

What is the success rate of the JMT permit? ›

Whitney, the southern terminus, last year saw a 11% success rate for overnight permits (which are necessary for continuing onto the John Muir Trail). In Yosemite National Park, the northern terminus, the stats are a little brighter, with about a 1 in 4 chance of an individual application being successful.

How much does a JMT permit cost? ›

Step 12: Click "Proceed to Cart" and pay the $10 lottery entry fee (if you win the lottery it will be an additional $5 per person when you confirm your reservation). Lottery results will be available the following Monday. If you are awarded a permit, be sure to confirm your reservation by Thursday at 11:59 p.m. PT.

What is the hardest part of the JMT? ›

Mather Pass:

Mather is one of the most dreaded passes on the JMT due to its steep northern side. If you camped below the Golden Staircase the night before, you will be in for a very hard time.

How many JMT permits per day? ›

Only 45 wilderness permits per day for exiting Yosemite via the John Muir Trail over Donohue Pass are issued per day. 20 of these are available for the Happy Isles to Past LYV trailhead, while 25 are available for the Lyell Canyon trailhead.

Do you have to pack out toilet paper on JMT? ›

General Travel Requirements

To prevent erosion, please walk in the middle of the trail and do not short-cut trails even if it is muddy or snowy. Do not build rock cairns or other trail markers. No caching food or gear in the wilderness. Pack out all trash, including toilet paper.

What are the best months to hike the JMT? ›

This makes early July to late September the best time to complete your John Muir Trail hike. While hiking the JMT in June or October might be okay, those months are considered shoulder season, and you could run into snow, depending on the accumulation that year in California.

Are there grizzly bears on the JMT? ›

This is a common question, and the answer is no, there are no grizzly bears on the JMT. There are, however, lots of black bears and you'll need to understand what to do if you meet a bear on the trail, carry bear spray and know how to secure your food from bears and other wildlife using a bear bag or bear canister.

Is the JMT hard? ›

Generally considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 109 h 18 min to complete.

Is the JMT well marked? ›

The John Muir Trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but as it lies within National Parks, you must navigate The National Parks' Permit System before embarking on your adventure.

How many people hike the JMT? ›

The trail sees about 1,500 thru-hiking attempts each year (including Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers), many fewer than the number of attempts on comparable walks such as the southern portion of Appalachian Trail or the Way of St. James. It has been described as "America's most famous trail".

How hard is it to get to Camp Muir? ›

It is a demanding hike, but if you are up for it the views are well worth it. I made the trek up to Camp Muir about 18 years ago and during a visit this past July I ascended once more. You will really feel the elelvation as you slowly climb up to 10,000 feet.

How hard is the John Muir Trail? ›

Generally considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 109 h 18 min to complete. This is a very popular area for backpacking, camping, and hiking, so you'll likely encounter other people while exploring.

What are the odds of getting a Grand Canyon permit? ›

5) Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike, AZ

The Grand Canyon's Backcountry Information Center reports they've seen 800 permit requests in a day and it's estimated that three out of four permit requests to backpack across the canyon are rejected.

How many passes does the John Muir Trail have? ›

The JMT goes over 10 High Sierra passes. The highest of these is Forester Pass (13,100′) at the boundary between Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park. The highest point on the trail is the southern terminus on the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505′).


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