Yes, You Need a Permit to Backpack in Yosemite
Yosemite is an incredible place to backpack – and with over 750 miles of trail, you won’t see many of its beautiful features without spending a night or two in the wilderness. Doing so, however, is not as easy as throwing on a pack and walking into the woods. Yosemite is a highly impacted area protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964, and that means you need a wilderness permit.
The permit process can be daunting. You need to know a lot before you even apply, you cannot apply for one one in person, and the information you need is not housed in one place. So to help streamline the process, here I list the links you need in order during each step (but if you want to go down the rabbit hole on your own, you can begin HERE.)
NOTE: Yosemite wilderness permits are moving to Recreation.gov for the 2022 season. While the process of making reservations will change, many parts of the system will be the same or similar, including trailhead quotas, availability of walk-up permits, and reservation windows.
STEP ONE – Planning Your Trip
When you begin the permit application, you will need to know several pieces of data including start and end Dates, starting and ending trailhead(s), your first night’s camp location, and – if there’s a group – the group size and the contact information for the trip leader who will pick up and carry the actual permit for the group.
You need to know all of this to get started and you should know it long before your trip is to start!
That is because the majority (60%) of wilderness permits are awarded by lottery 24 weeks (= 169 days) in advance of a given start date. The rest become available 22 weeks later (14 days in advance) – but it is still a lottery which ends 4 days before the trip date.
- To see the permit date availability schedule, click HERE.
Now you need to decide where to hike! Once you have an idea of the general area where you wish to backpack, you also need to decide your entry and exit trailheads.
- To see current conditions in various backcountry areas, click HERE.
- For a map of trailheads and where wilderness camping is allowed, click HERE.
- For trailhead information (quotas, parking availability, etc.), click HERE.
- To check trailhead availability, click HERE.
Once you have your trip planned, it’s time to apply for that coveted permit!
STEP TWO – Getting a Permit
Applying for a Yosemite Wilderness Permit (Reservation)
From May through October, the wilderness permit process begins with a reservation (which aren’t needed for permits from November through April).
- To apply for a 2021 Yosemite wilderness permit, click HERE.
You do not need to pay for the reservation unless you get it – which you will find out in 1-2 business days. You will be alerted by email and given a payment link ($5 plus $5 per person including you) that expires in 48 hours. Once you’ve paid you’ll get an email reciept – but not your permit.
You won’t get the actual permit until you pick it up at the park.
So, print or photograph your reservation email, grab your ID, bring a credit card or an entrance pass (the permit doesn’t get you out of paying the entrance fee – but it will serve as an entrance reservation if those are in place), and drive to Yosemite!
Picking Up Your Yosemite Wilderness Permit
On your hike start date (or, in summer, the afternoon before if you are spending your first night at a backpacker camp), you’ll need to go to a Wilderness Permit Station in the park between 8am and 5pm and pick up your hard copy permit. (Note: This is not just a quick pickup – you’ll be talking with a park ranger for a while going over Leave No Trace principles, bear safety, etc.)
- To see where the closest Wilderness Permit Station is to your trailhead, click HERE.
NOTE: You may not be allowed into the backcountry without an approved bear-proof food storage system. You can bring your own or rent one at the park.
- For a list of approved bear-proof food storage systems, click HERE.