Wilderness Permit Rules and Regulations

Wilderness Backcountry

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.

Rules and regulations are provided on this page and on your permit.

Permit Policy - Alternate Leaders - No Show

Alternate Leaders

Only the group leader or alternate can pick up or use the permit. An alternate can only be designated at the time of reservation.

The permit holder (group leader) is required to be present on the entire trip for the permit to be valid. In the event the permit holder is unavailable, an alternate leader can lead the trip in place of the group leader.

Designate up to 3 alternate permit holder by selecting them when you make your reservation. You must enter a valid email address for the intended alternate permit holders. The alternate permit holder will receive an email that they must respond to within 72 hours and accept being an alternate. If the alternate does not have a recreation.gov account, they will be required to create an account. If alternate fails to respond the permit will not have an alternate. Alternates cannot be added or changed at a later date.

No Show Policy

Pick up your permit or arrange for late arrival before the no show deadline or your reservation will be canceled.

  • Deadline for Day Use permit is at noon one day before the entry date.
  • Deadline for Overnight permit is at 11 a.m. on the entry date

To hold a permit for arrival after the no show deadline arrange for will call, night box service, or verify your final group size the week before your trip.

To verify your group size:

  • log into your account on recreation.gov
  • look under My Reservations
  • update your group size if reduced.
  • click save to complete this step. This will hold your permit to the end of business on the entry date. 

Permit Policy

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.
  • Groups on separate permits cannot combine if they exceed maximum group size.
  • Alternate leaders cannot be changed or added later. Only the leader or alternate verified when reservation is made can pick up or use the permit.
  • Exiting the wilderness to reenter at a different location terminates the permit.
  • Permit expires after the exit date.
  • 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.

Permit Source

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.
  • Trips that will be overnight in Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks must be picked up during open hours, will call or night box service is not allowed.
  • 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.

 Permit Pick up Instructions.

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

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 to start your trip, you do not need to select quota for every day.

  • 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.
  • There are no exemptions for annual passes, 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 or not you summit. Exit quota applies to trips starting on Inyo National Forest entry points; quota does not apply to Mt. Whitney Day Use or Mt. Whitney Trail Overnight permits.

  • The entry trail and exit quota must be reserved 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 quota applies to the date you will finish the trip at Whitney Portal.
  • You cannot use a day pass for an exit permit.

Quota Based on Entry Date

Entry date is used to identify the quota for your wilderness trip. Do not include days that are not part of the backpacking trip like campgrounds or motels the night before or after the trip.

  • 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.
  • Exiting Mt Whitney, exit quota applies to the day you will end your trip at Whitney Portal.

Types of Permits

Mt Whitney Permits

A wilderness permit for hiking or backpacking is required year round to visit Mt. Whitney. Several diffrent 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 Managment 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 includes multi-night trips starting on the classic Mt. Whitney Trail and allows camping along the Mt Whitney Trail and summiting Mt. Whitney.

  • Permit can be one night or more on the Mt. Whitney Trail.
  • Permit can be extended to exit at other locations if the trip will be continuous wilderness travel. Example, a trip starting a Whitney Portal to do a section of the Pacific Crest Trail or the John Muir Trail to Yosemite National Park.
  • Mt. Whitney Trail permit is not valid for the approach to climbing routes like Mountaineers Route, East Face, East Buttress, or Mt Russell.
  • Overnight Mt. Whitney Trail permit is reserved by the Mt. Whitney Lottery.

Overnight - North Fork of Lone Pine Creek Permit

This permit includes multi-night trips to Boy Scout or Iceberge Lakes, the approach to climbing routes like Mountaineers Route, East Face, East Buttress, and Mt Russell.

  • Overnight North Fork of Lone Pine Creek permit allows summiting Mt. Whitney, but does not include camping or hiking on the classic Mt. Whitney Trail.

Day Use in Other Areas

Only the Mt. Whitney Zone requires a permit for day use. While no permit is required for day hikers to use any other wilderness trails throughout Inyo National Forest visitors do need to follow wilderness rules, including group size limits.

Overnight Permit

Trips lasting one or more nights require an overnight permit. The exit date and exit location determine the length of the trip. An overnight permit may include trips that cross into adjacent national parks or continue onto the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails.

  • Overnight permits are for a specific entry point, for example a Mt Whitney Trail Overnight permit only allows you to begin your trip on the Mt Whitney Trail.
  • For an overnight permit for the Mountaineer's Route, or climbing routes like the East Face or East Buttress, Mt. Russell select the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek trail.
  • 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.

Overnight - Exiting Mt Whitney

The Exit Mt Whitney permit is for trips that approach the Mt. Whitney Zone from Crabtree Meadows or cross country routes. This permit type allows you to climb to the summit and includes exit down the Mt Whitney trail to Whitney Portal with the option to camp along the Mt Whitney trail. For trips that start on Inyo National Forest a quota limits the number of people allowed to exit each day.

  • Reserve Exiting Mt Whitney along with your entry point trail on recreation.gov
  • Reservations can be made from 6 months in advance. This type of permit is not in the lottery
  • A Mt. Whitney Day Use permit cannot be used as part of an overnight trip to pass through the Mt Whitney area.

Commercial or Organized Groups

On many trails a separate quota is used for commercial trips. If you are using the services of a pack outfit or guide 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.

Trips sponsored by organizations or commercial 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.

Other Permits

Pacific Crest Trail Association issues long-distance hiking permits for visitors who will travel more than 500 miles in a single, continuous trip on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). In the Southern Sierra section, long-distance permit holders are limited to pass through the John Muir Trail overlap within 30 days (Crabtree Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows). 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.

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.

Annual and lifetime National Interagency Pass: There are no discounts or permit exemptions for National Interagency Pass holders.

Wilderness Regulations

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 (terrain permitting), and never less than 50 feet of lakes or streams or within 25 feet of 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.

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.

Campsite Requirements:

  • 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.

Hoover Wilderness

  • 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.

Crossing Park Boundaries

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.

  • A permit is valid for one continuous wilderness trip.
  • You must follow rules for each area while you are there.
  • A new permit is required if you skip a section.
  • 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.
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) Wilderness Trip Planner
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.