Wilderness Permit Rules and Regulations
Activities like hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, skiing, and horse camping are allowed. The use of motorized or mechanical equipment like drones, mountain bikes, strollers, or carts are not allowed.
There are maintained trails through the area but no developed campground facilities. Once you start on the trail there are no water faucets and no restrooms. In the Mt. Whitney area visitors are expected to carry out their solid human waste. Wilderness visitors need to practice a high degree of self-reliance and responsibility for their own safety. Plan Ahead for Safety
A wilderness permit is required year round for:
- Overnight trips into John Muir, Ansel Adams, Golden Trout, Hoover Wilderness, and the wilderness portions of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
- Day Use of the Mt. Whitney Zone.
Group Leaders Responsibility
Signed permit must be in group leader’s possession and must be presented to rangers upon request. When you sign a permit as group leader you are agreeing to abide by all laws, rules and regulations that apply to the area, and accept responsibility for your group to do likewise.
Click on topics below for policy details.
Each permit is written to describe your specific travel plan and is valid for one continuous wilderness trip.
- Everyone in your group must start on entry date and location specified on the permit.
- If part of your group will enter on a different date or trail to meet you in the backcountry, they must have their own permit and fit into the quota for their entry date and trail.
- You cannot exceed the group size stated on permit.
- You cannot exceed stay limits for the area being visited.
- Groups on separate permits cannot combine, hike or camp together if the total number of people would exceed the maximum group size limit.
- Alternate leaders cannot be changed or added later. Only the leader or alternate listed when reservation is made can pick up or use the permit.
- For trips ending at Mt Whitney (Whitney Portal) the permit must specify the exit point "Mt Whitney (Trail Crest Exit)"and identify the exit date.
Continuous Wilderness Travel
Continuous wilderness travel is an unbroken path on system trails or within wilderness.
- Leaving the trail system for resupply or taking time off terminates a permit.
- Exiting the wilderness to reenter at a different location terminates a permit.
- Leaving the trail and using an alternative method of travel, like a shuttle bus or a vehicle terminates the permit.
- If you have a break in continuous wilderness travel, a new permit would be required from the agency where the next section of your trip begins. The Inyo National Forest will make an exception for long distance hikers to exit for a reasonable period of time necessary for resupply.
If you have a break in continuous travel a new permit would be required from the agency where the next section of your trip begins.
Permits are issued by the agency where your trip begins. If your trip will start in another forest or Yosemite, Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks, contact the park to issue your permit.
The following permits are issued at Inyo National Forest Visitor Centers:
- Mt. Whitney permits (starting at Whitney Portal) must be picked up at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center.
- Trips that will start at other entry points in Inyo National Forest may be issued at any Inyo National Forest visitor center.
- Reserved permits can be issued one or two days before the entry date or on the entry date.
- Walk-in permits are only issued in person at the visitor center. No show and unused reservation space is made available for walk-in permits.
Groups using the services of a pack outfit or guide may require a different quota. Contact the company providing your service to reserve your trip. The permit will be issued to the outfitter/ guide.
Trips sponsored by organizations must contact the wilderness permit office before reserving a trip. A special use permit may be needed.
Group Size Limits & Trail Quotas
Group size limits and trail quotas work together to help protect wilderness solitude. Group size limits apply year round for day use and overnight.
- Maximum group size is 15 people.
- Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have group size limits of 8-12 in some areas for off trail or cross country travel.
- Groups on separate permits cannot travel or camp together if the combined group exceeds max group size.
- There is no age limit, children count for group size limits.
Quota limit the total number of people that can start on a trail in the same day. When selecting quota you are reserving a specific date and place to start your trip.
- If part of your group will enter on a different date or trail to meet you in the backcountry, they must have their own permit and fit into the quota for their date or trail.
- The combined number of people in all the groups cannot exceed the daily entry quota.
- For Day Use the entry and exit date are the same; quota applies to the day you are hiking on the trail.
- Overnight permits, quota applies to the entry date, the day you will begin walking the trail.
- Do not include days that are not part of the backpacking trip like campgrounds or motels the night before or after the trip.
- There are no quota exemptions for military, seniors, or children. All people count for group size, quotas and fees.
- Off trail travel is limited by quota. Contact the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office for assistance identifying what quota applies for your travel plan.
Trail Names & Quota (PDF)
Quota for Exiting Mt Whitney (Trail Crest Exit)
An additional quota applies to visitors who descend the Mt. Whitney trail to end their trip at Whitney Portal. This quota applies for passing through the area whether you summit or not. Exit quota applies to trips starting on Inyo National Forest entry points. Exit quota does not apply to Mt. Whitney Day Use, Mt. Whitney Trail Overnight permits as these permits already authorize use of the Mt. Whitney trail.
- Reserve the entry trail and exit quota all in one reservation by selecting the permit type Overnight Exiting Mt Whitney.
- This permit allows you the option to hike to the summit and camp along the Mt. Whitney trail as you finish your trip.
- Exit date is the date you will finish the trip at Whitney Portal.
- You cannot use a day pass for an exit permit.
Types of Permits
Mt Whitney Permits
A wilderness permit for hiking or backpacking is required year round to visit Mt. Whitney. Several different types of permits are accepted however these permits are not interchangeable. You must have a permit for the type of trip that you will be doing:
- If you have an overnight permit with a travel plan through the Mt. Whitney Management Area or Whitney Zone you do not need an additional day use permit; your overnight permit is valid for your summit day.
- If your trip is one day only you must have the Mt Whitney Day Use permit.
- PCT long-distance permit holders are allowed to day hike from the PCT to the summit of Mt. Whitney and back to the PCT.
Day Use – Mt Whitney Zone
This permit is valid for one day only, from midnight to midnight. Choose the route appropriate for your group, Mt. Whitney Trail or climbing routes like the Mountaineers Route.
- Consecutive day use permits are not allowed.
- Day Use permit cannot be used as part of an overnight trip to pass through the Mt Whitney Zone; if your trip will be more than one day you need the appropriate overnight permit for the area.
- Mt Whitney Zone Day Use permit is reserved by the Mt Whitney Lottery.
Map of Mt. Whitney Zone (Day Use permit is required within the red boundary)
While no permit is required for day hikers to use other wilderness trails throughout Inyo National Forest all visitors should use Leave No Trace principles and must follow wilderness rules, including group size limits.
Overnight – Mt. Whitney Trail
This permit is for trips staying one or more nights, starting on the classic Mt. Whitney Trail and allows camping along the Mt Whitney Trail and summiting Mt. Whitney.
- Permit can be extended to stay more than one night on the Mt. Whitney Trail.
- Permit can be extended to exit at other locations if the trip will be continuous wilderness travel. Example: starting a Whitney Portal to do a section of the Pacific Crest Trail or the John Muir Trail.
- Mt. Whitney Trail permit is not valid for the approach to climbing routes like Mountaineers Route, East Face, East Buttress, or Mt Russell.
- Camping at Lone Pine Lake requires an Overnight - Mt Whitney Trail permit.
- Overnight Mt. Whitney Trail permit is reserved by the Mt. Whitney Lottery.
Overnight - North Fork of Lone Pine Creek Permit
This permit is for trips staying one or more nights and includes Boy Scout or Iceberg Lakes and the approach to climbing routes like Mountaineers Route, East Face, East Buttress, and Mt Russell.
- Allows summiting Mt. Whitney
- Does not include camping or hiking on the classic Mt. Whitney Trail.
- Reservations can be made from 6 months in advance. This permit is not in the lottery.
Overnight - Exiting Mt Whitney
A permit with Exiting Mt. Whitney allows you the option to hike to the summit and camp along the Mt. Whitney trail as you finish your multi-day trip.
- Exit quota applies for passing through the area whether you summit or not.
- Reserve the entry trail and exit quota all in one reservation.
- Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance on the website, recreation.gov. This permit is not in the lottery.
- You cannot use a day pass for an exit permit.
Other Inyo Permits
Day Use in Other Areas
No permit is required for day hikes in other parts of Inyo National Forest. Only the Mt. Whitney Zone requires a day use permit. Day hikers do need to follow wilderness rules, including group size limits.
This permit is for trips staying one or more nights and is only valid to start on the date and trail identified on the permit. Your travel plan, exit date and location identify the area you will visit. Permit is valid for one continuous wilderness trip and may include crossing into adjacent national parks, Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails.
- Overnight permits are for a specific entry point.
- When reserving an overnight permit review the trail description and first night camp locations to determine if the trail goes where you intend to go.
Annual and lifetime National Interagency Pass is not accepted for wilderness permits. There are no discounts or permit exemptions for National Interagency Pass holders.
Cancellation Policy - No Show - Refunds
Cancellation Policy - No Show
Your reservation will be canceled as a No Show and your space may go to other groups, unless you pick up your permit or arrange to hold the permit for late arrival before the deadline.
Deadline for No Show:
- Day Use Mt Whitney deadline is noon, one day before the entry date.
- Overnight permit deadline is 10 a.m. on the entry date.
Complete any of the following to hold your permit until 5 p.m. on the entry date.
- Reserved permits can be picked up one or two days before the trip entry date. Permit Pick up Instructions
- Log into your Recreation.gov account up to a week prior to the trip and verify your final group size and click on save to hold your reservation past the no show deadline.
- Call the wilderness office up to three days before the trip, (760) 873-2483, and verify your final group size to hold permit for late arrival. You may arrange for will call and night box service in the same call.
Change of Reservation
Leader or Alternate Cannot be Changed
Only the group leader or alternate identified at the time the reservation is made can pick up or use the permit.
- You may designate up to 3 alternate permit holders by selecting them when you make your reservation.
- Leader or alternates cannot be added or changed at a later date.
- Reservations cannot be sold or transferred.
|Cannot Change:||Can Change:|
|Entry Date / Entry Location||Exit Location|
|Permit Type||Camp Location|
|Alternate Leader||Overnight can extend exit date|
|Increase Group Size||Reduce Group Size|
You can make these changes on line:
- Changes to group size can be made if quota space is available.
- Change of entry trail, entry date, or permit type requires a new reservation for the desired trip. You will pay new reservation and recreation fees.
- Cancel your reservation online, if refund is allowed the per person recreation fee will be refunded automatically.
- Corrections to itinerary, exit date or exit location can be done online or when the permit is issued.
Log onto your account at Recreation.gov to make changes on line or call the wilderness permit office for Inyo National Forest for reservation assistance.
Reservation Fees & Refunds
All people count for wilderness quotas and fees. Prices are not different for military, seniors or children.
A $6.00 non-refundable reservation fee is required for each permit reservation. The reservation fees are used to finance the on-line reservation system.
A per person recreation fee is charged for your group when reserving a wilderness permit for entry on Inyo National Forest trails. The recreation fees are used to finance the on-the-ground wilderness programs in Inyo National Forest.
- A $15.00 per person recreation fee is charged for trips entering the Whitney Zone (Mt. Whitney, North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, and Trail Crest Exit).
- A $5.00 per person recreation fee is charged for all other areas.
There are no discounts for annual passes, military service, civil service, seniors, students or persons with disabilities. All people count for wilderness quotas and fees.
There are no refunds for Mt. Whitney Day Use or Mt Whitney Trail Overnight permits. For all other trails the per person fee is refunded if you cancel 12 days or more in advance of the entry date. Fees cannot be transferred to alternate dates. No rain checks or credits.
Watch this: Leave No Trace Principles on Mount Whitney
In addition to all county, state and federal laws, the following acts are prohibited in the Ansel Adams, John Muir, Hoover, Golden Trout and South Sierra wildernesses:
- Camping overnight in the wilderness without a valid wilderness permit or entering or being in the Mount Whitney Zone without a valid wilderness permit.
- Camping within 100 feet of lakes, streams or trails.
- Possessing or storing any food or refuse, unless the food or refuse is stored in a container designed to prevent access by bears, or counter-balanced at least 15 feet above the ground and 10 feet horizontally from a tree trunk (where containers are not required).
- Washing and/or discharging soap waste within 100 feet of lakes or streams.
- Depositing bodily waste within 100 feet of lakes, streams, campsites or trails.
- Leaving any debris, garbage or refuse within the wilderness.
- Entering or using the wilderness in a group larger than 15 persons or with more than 25 head of pack or saddle stock.
- Storing or leaving unattended equipment, personal property or supplies for more than 24 hours.
- Hitching, tethering or tying pack or saddle stock within 100 feet of lakes, streams, trails or campsites except while loading or unloading.
- Discharging a firearm, except for emergencies and the taking of game as permitted by California State law.
- Possessing or using a wheeled or mechanical device is prohibited (drone, bicycle, motorcycle, cart, etc.), except for persons requiring a wheelchair may use non-motorized wheelchair.
- Shortcutting a switchback on any forest trail.
The above include enforceable Forest Service regulations with maximum penalties of $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail. Violation of permit terms or other Forest Service regulations may also invalidate an issued permit, requiring a group to terminate their visit.
Food Storage and Refuse
Do not feed wildlife. It is not acceptable to burn or bury food or trash.
Food and refuse storage requirements are in effect year round for all wilderness areas in Inyo National Forest. This includes Ansel Adams, Boundary Peak, Golden Trout, Hoover, Inyo Mountains, John Muir, Owens River Headwaters, South Sierra, and White Mountains Wilderness Areas.
Food and refuse must be secured in containers designed to prevent access by bears in 8 specific areas.
- Bishop Pass area (includes Treasure Lakes)
- Cottonwood Lakes / Cottonwood Pass area
- Duck Pass / Purple Lake area (includes John Muir Trail to Lake Virginia)
- Fish Creek area
- Kearsarge Pass area
- Little Lakes Valley area (includes to the crest of Mono Pass)
- Mammoth Lakes / Rush Creek area (includes John Muir Trail to Yosemite)
- Mount Whitney area
Bear container use is also required when camping in any area without trees adequate to hang food at least 15 feet above ground and 10 feet from tree trunk.
In areas where food storage containers are not mandatory you may use portable containers, or use the counter balance method to hang food at least 15 feet above the ground and 10 feet horizontally from a tree trunk. No other methods of food storage are allowed. Examples are in Traveling in Bear Country
Pack-Out Everything You Pack In
Inspect your campsite and rest areas for forgotten items, trash or spilled foods.
- Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Remove all supplies and equipment.
- Geo-caching is limited to photo or virtual only.
- Take only pictures; leave no trace of your visit.
Protect Water Quality
- Move well off -trail and at least 100 feet away from all water sources or camps to urinate.
- Visitors are expected to pack out solid human waste from the Mt. Whitney Zone; in other areas it should be buried 6 to 8 inches deep and 100 feet or more from water sources or campsites.
- Dish water or bathwater should be disposed of at least 100 feet away from lakes, streams or other water sources. Pack out solid particles from dish washing.
- Sunscreen and insect repellant contaminates water; wash off before wading or swimming.
During times of high fire danger the forest may be placed under temporary fires restrictions. Check Alerts & Notices for restrictions.
When and where campfires are prohibited:
- Portable stoves using gas, petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel may be used.
- Stoves that burn twigs or trash, charcoal briquettes, or other solid fuel are not allowed.
Campfires are prohibited year round for all areas above 10,000 ft. north of the Mt Emerson/ Mt Humphreys/ Glacier Divide; and all areas above 10,400 ft. south of the Mt Emerson and Mt Humphreys ridgeline.
Additional areas in lower elevations are closed to campfires:
- Saddlebag Lake area (20 Lakes Basin) Map C
- Bloody Canyon & Parker drainages Map E
- Rush Creek, Thousand Island Lake & Garnet Lake Map F
- Shadow Creek & Minaret Lake area Map G
- King Creek drainage (Fern and Beck Lake trails) Map H
- Coldwater drainage (Duck Pass trail) Map I
- Duck Creek & Purple Lake area Map J
- Upper Fish Creek Map K
- Convict Creek & McGee Creek Map L
- Hilton Creek drainage Map M
- Pine Creek & Horton Lakes Map N
- Big Pine North & South Forks Map O
- Taboose Creek drainage Map P
- Kearsarge Pass & Onion Valley area Map Q
- Shepherd Pass / Anvil Camp Map R
- Mt Whitney area Map S
- Cottonwood Pass /Chicken Spring Lake Map B
- Rocky Basin Lakes Map B
Full map set of campfire closures
Ansel Adams & John Muir wilderness - Hoover & Golden Trout wilderness
Specific campsites are not reserved or assigned by your permit. Indicate in your itinerary the general area you expect to camp. When you arrive in the area, follow Leave No Trace principles to select a suitable place to camp. Avoid damaging new areas. Do not camp on vegetation, move rocks, build walls, or disturb soils or plants to create a camp site.
- Campsites should be 100 feet or more away from any lake, stream or water sources. In areas where steep or rocky terrain does not permit camping farther away, camping is permitted from 50 to 100 feet from water.
- Never camp closer than 50 feet from lakes or streams.
- Campsites should be more than 100 feet from trails. In areas where terrain does not permit camping farther away, camping is permitted from 25 to 100 feet from trails.
- Never camp closer than 25 feet from trails.
Ansel Adams Wilderness
- Ediza Lake, no camping on the south or east side of the lake.
- Garnet Lake, no camping within ¼ mile of the outlet.
- Shadow Lake, no camping at the lake, or between Shadow Creek and the trail.
- Thousand Island Lake, no camping within ¼ mile of the outlet.
John Muir Wilderness
- Mt Whitney area:
- No camping at Mirror Lake or Trailside Meadow on the Mt. Whitney trail.
- Camping at Lone Pine Lake requires an Overnight Mt Whitney Trail permit.
- Duck Lake, no camping within 300 feet of the outlet.
- Purple Lake, no camping within 300 feet of the outlet.
- Legal campsites are very limited near Squaw Lake and Pocket Meadow.
- There are no legal campsites on the west side of the JMT/PCT for 2 miles south of Bear Creek / JMT junction.
- Camping is not recommended at Blayney Hot Springs area.
- Lower Golden Trout Lake (Piute Pass), no camping within 500 feet of the lake.
- Crystal Lake, no camping.
- Saddlebag Lake, no camping south of Greenstone Lake
- Hall Natural Research Area is day use only, no camping at Conness, Wasco, Alpine, Green Treble, Maul, Spuller, Big Horn, and Fantail Lakes or south to Highway 120.
Wilderness permits are written to describe each groups specific travel plan and are valid for that one continuous wilderness trip. Permits for trips starting from an Inyo National Forest entry point must be issued by Inyo National Forest, even if the first night will be into an adjacent park. If your trip begins in one of the adjacent parks or forest listed below, Inyo National Forest will accept the permit issued by the agency where your trip begins as long as you meet the requirements for continuous wilderness travel.
- Continuous wilderness travel is an unbroken path on system trails or within wilderness.
- If you have a break in continuous travel a new permit would be required from the agency where the next section of your trip begins.
- Smaller group size limits apply for off trail or cross country travel in areas of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Please check with the parks and forests that you will pass through regarding stay limits, food storage, resupply, pets, camping, and campfire regulations.
You must follow rules for each area while you are there.
Yosemite National Park (Happy Isles is the north end of John Muir Trail)
Sierra National Forest (west side access near Florence Lake and Lake Edison)
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Roads End, Mineral King)
Sequoia National Forest (Kennedy Meadows, Golden Trout Wilderness)
Humboldt/Toiyabe National Forest (Twin Lakes, north of Mono Lake)
Dogs or other pets are allowed for trips staying in the National Forest.
- Dogs should be under control, on leash or responsive to verbal command.
- Do not allow pets to chase or harass wildlife.
- Pet food must be stored the same as required for your food.
- Pet poop should be treated like human waste. Do not leave poop on trails, in campsites, or within 100 feet of water sources.
Dogs are prohibited, as are any other pets, on trips visiting the wilderness of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
- The summit of Mt. Whitney is in Sequoia National Park; pets are not allowed.
Pack and Saddle Stock
Stock includes animals traditionally used for saddle or pack stock, like horse and mule. Other animals like llama, burro, and goats are also considered stock. Dogs are considered pets even if they carry a pack.
- Stock are prohibited, Whitney Portal to Trail Crest.
- Where stock use is allowed, the maximum number is 25.
- In Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness areas, the number of stock will affect your group size limit and grazing restrictions may apply. Contact the parks.
- Grazing is prohibited: east of Shepherd Pass, Pioneer Basin, Hilgard Meadow.
- Seasonal grazing restrictions apply where grazing is allowed.
- Camping with stock is prohibited east of Shepherd Pass.
- To prevent disease transmission to endangered bighorn sheep use of pack goats is prohibited west of Highway 395 in Inyo National Forest.
Rules and Limits for Other Permits
Commercial or Organized Groups
If you are using the services of a pack outfit or guide for any part of your trip you will need a permit that identifies the commercial services. Contact the company providing the service to book your trip. The outfitter will work with the forest’s Wilderness Permit Office to ensure the correct type of permit is being issued. On many trails a separate quota is used for commercial trips.
Trips sponsored by organizations or non profit groups may require a special use permit. Different quota or rules may apply to your trip. Contact Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office before reserving a permit.
Pacific Crest Trail Permits
Pacific Crest Trail Association issues long-distance hiking permits for visitors who will travel more than 500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). In the Southern Sierra section travel must be continuous with no skips or changes in direction. PCT permit holders are limited to pass through the John Muir Trail overlap within 35 days (Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass). You are required to start at the entry location and date listed on the permit. Leaving the trail to resupply must be done on the most direct trail between the PCT and a trailhead within 15 trail miles of the PCT. Long-distance permits do not allow for camping off the PCT corridor.
PCT permit allows hiking to Mt. Whitney summit. PCT long-distance permit holders are allowed to day hike from the PCT to the summit of Mt. Whitney and back to the PCT (near Crabtree Meadow). The permit does not allow you to descend the east side of the mountain or camp east of Crabtree. No camping at Guitar Lake or on the mountain itself.