Obtaining a Wilderness Permit

Alpine meadow with stream

The Sierra National Forest encompasses 1.3 million acres of which 528,000 is congressionally designated a wilderness. The California Wilderness Act of 1984 added 227,000 acres of that total. The Sierra National Forest has five wilderness areas: Ansel Adams, Dinkey Lakes, John Muir, Kaiser, and Monarch. All are managed with special regulations to protect their ecosystems and preserve the wilderness.

Why do we need a wilderness permit to go into the Wilderness?
A daily entry quota system is in effect for all wilderness areas to protect the natural resources and to preserve the quality of the wilderness. The land can only support a certain number of visitors. When excessive use occurs all at one time, the opportunity for solitude decreases, vegetation gets damaged, erosion is accelerated, and the risk of water pollution increases.

When Is A Wilderness Permit Required?
Wilderness permits are required on the Sierra National Forest for all overnight trips into the John Muir, Ansel Adams, Dinkey and Kaiser Wildernesses. Trailhead quotas are in place year round. A wilderness permit is not required for day hikes into the wilderness areas. By limiting the number of people we hope to provide a true wilderness experiencewhile protecting the physical and biological resources of the land. Late spring, summer, and early fall are typical periods of heavy use in all wilderness areas. 

How many people can be on my wilderness permit?
There is a maximum of 15 people on one wilderness permit, and 25 head of stock for day and overnight use. There is no exemption for the people that are visiting the wilderness. 

Can I Reserve A Permit?
60% of the trailhead quota is available through advanced reservations, and 40% is available on a walk-in basis. For these trails, you can reserve a permit by submitting a wilderness permit application to the reservation office following the wilderness permit procedures outlined on the application form. Applications for advanced reservations will be accepted in advance begining in January (Reservations accepted for May - October) in the year of your planned trip and no later than 21 days (3 weeks) in advance.

Are Reservations And Permits Transferable?
No, Once the forest has issued an advanced reservation for a wilderness permit to the leader of the party, it is valid only for that person or any of the listed alternate leaders. The permit authorizes the permit holder to enter into the wilderness with a specific number of people.

What If I Want To Hike Starting In One Of The National Parks?
For trips that originate in Yosemite National Park (209-372-0740) or Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park (559-565-3766), you must obtain a permit from the appropriate park office. The permit you will receive is good for travel in designated wilderness on other National Forests on that trip. If a permit is issued for entry at a Sierra National Forest trailhead, it is valid for travel into the National Parks only if the Park is listed on your itinerary.

What If I Want To Go On Several Different Trips During The Quota Season?
If you want advanced reservations for several trips, you must submit a separate application for each trip request. An application for an advanced reservation can have alternate date requests and/or alternate trailhead requests. Alternate dates must be listed by priority.

Reservations and Fees for Wilderness Permits

Fees are charged for reservations only, walk-in permits are free. Reservation fees are not refundable once your reservation is processed. There is a $5.00 per person reservation fee.

  • Reservations Will Be Confirmed in Writing - You will receive by mail a confirmation letter of your reservation. Fees will not be refunded once the reservation has been confirmed. If your request cannot be filled, your application and fees will be returned. It is a good idea to apply for alternate dates, or trailheads.
  • Reserved Permits- Permits may be picked up 48 hours before the day of departure at the location indicated on your confirmation letter. Permits must be picked up in person by noon of the departure day, or will be re-issued to another party. Permits will not be issued by mail.
  • Processing Fee for Changing Wilderness Permit Reservations - If you need to change the entry date or entry trailhead of your confirmed reservation, and quota space is available, there is a processing fee of $10.00. Contact the office where you made your reservation.
  • Payment -Your payment for reservation can be made by check or money order. All checks and money orders must be in US funds and made payable to: USDA Forest Service. Fees are due when the reservation is made.
  • Phone Reservations - For your protection, no phone reservations are accepted for wilderness reservations.
  • How Close to my trip can I make a reservation? Reservations can be made in advance beginning in January  (Reservations accepted for May - October) of each year, and no later than 21 days (3weeks) in advance of your planned entry into the wilderness.

Walk-in Permits

Walk-in permits are available 24 hours prior to the day of your planned departure (Trail Quota applies). They can be obtained at Forest Service Offices. Walk-in permits are free of charge.