Mt Whitney Permit Process For Backpackers & Hikers
With over 6,700 feet of elevation gain on the trail, Mt. Whitney stands at 14,505 feet and is the highest point in the lower 48 states. Mt. Whitney is a beautiful hike, and it’s been the best sunrise I’ve ever seen time and time again. But before you go, here’s everything you need to know about the permit process.
FIRST STEP TO MT. WHITNEY: THE PERMIT!
It doesn’t matter if you are day hiking or planning an overnight backpacking trip to the iconic 14,505 foot peak, you’ll NEED a permit between May 1 through November 1. You have a few different options for obtaining a permit, and there are a few different places you can start. Unless you are hiking it through the High Sierra Trail, John Muir Trail SOBO from Yosemite or the Pacific Crest Trail, you will apply for a permit through recreation.gov.
There are rangers on the Mt. Whitney trail checking, you do need a permit.
There is a daily quota during the permitting season, this means there is a limit for how many people can start per day. This limits how many people are in the wilderness at a certain time and minimizes the impacts on nature from having too many people there at once.
- 100 people per entry day for Mt Whitney Zone Day Use permits
- 60 people per entry day for Mt Whitney Trail Overnight permits
- Overnight trips that start on other trails are limited by different quotas
- No age limit; children count in group size limits and quotas
- There are limits to the group size.
- Maximum group size of 15 people
- Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have smaller group size limits in some areas
- Groups on separate permits cannot combine if they will exceed the group size limit
NOW THAT WE COVERED THE BASICS OF GETTING A PERMIT, HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY GET ONE?
Here are your options if you are looking to hike the 22 miles round trip from Whitney Portal, Lone Pine.to
- Apply for the lottery through recreation.gov which opens February 1st. Lottery results are announced on March 24th.
- If you don’t get a permit through the lottery, next on April 1st, whatever wasn’t taken from the lottery goes on sale.
- If you still have no luck on the date you want, April 30th is the deadline to pay for your permit for everyone that did get the date they wanted. Those that don’t pay, after April 30th it goes back into the general pool for you to purchase then.
- If you still don’t find the date you want on May 1st, check back often, especially closer to your ideal date. Things happen, people cancel. I have gotten a last minute overnight permit from Whitney Portal on a Thursday to hike it on Saturday.
- And finally, if all else fails or you’re just spontaneous, you have the option of a walk up permit! You go to the ranger station and pick up permits if they have any left over. They always leave a handful to walk-ups and there are always no-shows. Walk-ups must be requested in person. **COVID-19 edit: Walk up permits will not be issued. To secure a last minute permit, check for last minute cancellations through the online portal (step 4).
- Starting at 8am you can get walk up permits for same day entry.
- Starting at 11am you can get walk up permits for next day entry and no-show for same day entry (overnight permits/any trail). Next day entry permits for North Fork of Lone Pine (Mountaineers Route/ East Face routes) and other non-Whitney trails are released at this time too.
- Starting at 2:00pm you can get no-show for Mt. Whitney day use, next day entry. Last permit is issued 15 minutes before closing.
WHAT ABOUT HIKING IT FROM A DIFFERENT LOCATION?
There are options there too!
You can take a few days and hike from Kearsarge Pass in Onion Valley out of Independence to Mt. Whitney (North to South) or from Cottonwood Lakes to Mt. Whitney (South to North). Or alternatively, you can choose to hike the full 72 mile High Sierra Trail or the 221 mile John Muir Trail!
The High Sierra Trail and the John Muir Trail have their own permit and planning process. But if you decide to just do a couple days and hike from Kearsarge Pass or Cottonwood Lakes, you will need an entering permit for those trailheads and an exit permit for Mt. Whitney. Those are also obtained from recreation.gov. In most cases, you only need permits for other hikes in the Eastern Sierra’s if you are planning a overnight to multi-day trips. Permits for those trailheads open exactly 6 months from your start date.
PLANNING THE TRIP
Next step is planning your itinerary, where you’ll camp or stay, and the best time to go! Click here to read everything you’ll need to know about planning your Mt. Whitney trip.
And don’t forget to read through the trail report to get a better idea of the different landmarks on the trail and what to expect.