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#20 - 09/22/09 09:28 PM Wilderness Permit Options
VersatileFred Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 130
Loc: SoCal
The following table summarizes the different options for acquiring wilderness permits in Inyo National Forest. The table is arranged in hierarchical order (starting with the most restrictive conditions and working toward the most general). It is not intended to be a replacement for reading the Inyo N.F. wilderness permit pages or for calling the wilderness permit office but rather a quick overview of the different options people have, depending on the time of the year.

The Mt. Whitney Lottery is Online only.  Here is Inyo National Forest's Mt. Whitney Lottery Permit Reservations information page.  Wilderness permits and Lottery Applications can be accessed online from the Recreation.gov website.


PERMIT RESERVATION DECISION TREE
StepActions to take if True
0. Is your entry point outside Inyo National Forest (such as Sequoia / Kings Canyon or Yosemite National Parks)?
  • Get a permit at your entry point (see Sequoia / Kings Canyon or Yosemite).
  • Follow their instructions. You do not need a separate permit from Inyo National Forest, and you are not subject to the Trail Crest exit quota (if your permit states that you are exiting at Mount Whitney).
1. Is your entry date before May 1 or after November 1?
  • Reservations cannot be made. There is no permit quota.
  • Pick up a self-issue permit at the Visitor Center information booth when you arrive.
2. Are you planning a day hike that does not enter the Mount Whitney Zone?
3. Are you making a reservation for an overnight trip that originates on any trail besides the Main Mount Whitney Trail (including the North Fork Lone Pine Creek aka Whitney Mountaineers non-trail Route)?
  • Wait until 6 months before desired entry date, then apply online.
  • Go to the Recreation.gov website.  In the primary search box, enter INYO NATIONAL FOREST - WILDERNESS PERMITS.  and click Search.
  • Determine which type of hike you want to take:
    • Overnight:  Only hiking in Inyo National Forest, or if entering a National Park, your group stays on maintained trails. Fee is $5 per hiker, group size limit is 15.
    • Overnight Visiting Mt Whitney:  Same as Overnight, but fee is $15 per hiker.
    • Overnight Exiting Mt Whitney:  Requires a Trail Crest exit permit.  Fee is $15 per hiker, group size limit is 15. You will make two Date/Quota selections -- one for your trail, the second for the Trail Crest exit permit.
    • Cross Country:  "Cross Country" is for off-trail hiking in National Parks. Same as "Overnight", except group size limit is 8.
    • Cross Country visiting Mt Whitney:  Fee is $15 per hiker, group size limit is 8.
    • Cross Country Exiting Mt Whitney:  Requires a Trail Crest exit permit. Fee is $15 per hiker, group size limit is 8.
  • Select the trail you want to hike, enter date and group size, then check to see if space is available. If it is, you can make a reservation.
  • If you successfully make a reservation online, you will receive an email confirmation letter.
  • Reading:  Inyo National Forest - Recreation Passes and Permits
  • If no permits are available online, or you need more flexibility in your schedule, consider the applicable options in Step 5 or Step 6.
4. Is today's date before March 15?   Enter the Mt Whitney Lottery.
  • Between February 1 and March 15...
  • Complete the online lottery application.
    • Go to the Recreation.gov website.
      Under "Search for Places" Set Where? to MT.WHITNEY.
      Set Interested in to Permits & Wilderness, then click Search.
    • On the page displayed, find the Mt. WHITNEY and Mt. WHITNEY LOTTERY section.  Click "Check Availability"
    • On the left side of the "Find Entrances - Mt. WHITNEY, CA" page, make sure you have selected a valid combination:
      Looking for and Trail/Zone must be either:
        * Mt. Whitney Trail Overnight Permit, with Mt. Whitney Trail JM35, or...
        * DAY USE of Mt. Whitney Zone, with Mt. Whitney Zone- Day Use All Routes JM34.5MWZ
    • Enter a date range and group size, then click Search.
    • On days where a "L" is shown, click the "L", and enter the lottery information.
    • You can enter up to 15 choices in the lottery.
    • The lottery will run some time between March 16 and April 1. You will be notified when results are available.
    • If you are unsuccessful in reserving a permit or need more flexibility in your schedule, consider the options in Step 5 and Step 6.
5. Is today after the Lottery (about April 1) and at least 2 days before your entry date?
  • Go to the Recreation.gov website.
    Under "Search for Places" Set Where? to MT.WHITNEY.
    Set Interested in to Permits & Wilderness, then click Search.
  • On the page displayed, click on either DAY USE of Mt. Whitney Zone
    or Mt. Whitney Trail Overnight Permit
  • Enter an Entry Date and Group size, then click "Find Permits"
  • You should see a 2-week display of dates. "R" under a date indicates all slots are Reserved (full quota). "A" and a number indicates that day has the number of slots available. Click the "A" and then "Book Permit" to get a permit on that date. (Make sure your Group Size is correct.)
  • Note that if someone cancels their reservation, it will become Available on this display, but not immediately.  In order to prevent transferring permits, the system makes cancellations available at some random-generated time in the next 24 hours after the cancellation.
  • If a permit cannot be reserved, consider the walk-in options in Step 6.
6. Are you willing to wait until after you get to Lone Pine for a possible Walk-in permit (from any cancellations or no-shows)?
    No-Fee Permit Options
  • Do not make an advance reservation.
  • For an overnight permit, show up at the Visitor Center by 11 am for no-shows.  No-shows for entering on the current day become available at 11 am.  Slots unused due to group size reductions become available when groups pick up their reserved permits, so some permits become available earlier. So ask about both same-day and next-day permits.
  • For a Mount Whitney Zone day hike permit (Main Trail or North Fork/MR), show up at the Visitor Center by 2 pm the day BEFORE your entry date.  No-shows for the next day become available at 2 pm.  Slots unused due to group size reductions become available earlier, as groups pick up their reserved permits, so you may be able to pick up a permit earlier.
  • Note: a "mini-lottery" drawing may be held at several times during the day at the Visitor Center. These are typically at 8 am, 11 am, and 2 pm -- times when crowds of people come in to pick up permits. Everyone needing a permit is included in the lottery, even those with reservations. Then, people are processed in the order of numbers drawn. Those with reservations may need to wait for those looking for walk-in permits, but the reserved permits are NOT given away due to a higher number drawn (as long as the pickup deadline has not passed.)
  • Check the Unused Whitney Permits pages to get an idea of your chances of getting a walk-in permit for overnight or day hikes in the Whitney Zone.
  • For overnight permits on all trails except the Main Mt. Whitney trail (such as Kearsarge Pass, Cottonwood Lakes and the North Fork (Mountaineers Route approach)), 40% of the quota space is unreservable and is saved for walk-ins.  These become available at 11 am the day BEFORE your entry date and are available at any Inyo National Forest permit office.  (The exception is the North Fork/MR overnight permits -- these are only available at the Visitor Center in Lone Pine.)  This quota space is in addition to any cancellations.  No-shows also become available at 11 am the following day (the day of entry).  So when you walk in to ask about available permits, be sure to ask for both next-day AND current-date permits.


ADDITIONAL DATA
Notes on Commonly Asked Permit Questions
1. People are required to have an overnight permit to stay overnight in the Golden Trout, John Muir, Ansel Adams and Hoover Wildernesses. That means you need to get a Main Mt. Whitney Trail overnight permit to stay overnight at Lone Pine Lake since the lake is inside the John Muir Wilderness (the Whitney Zone is irrelevant in this case). Although most people hiking the main trail stay overnight at either Outpost Camp or Trail Camp, there are no additional restrictions when staying at Lone Pine Lake or Consultation Lake. Just camp at least 100 feet away from the lake and any established trails. Note: Camping is prohibited at Mirror Lake and Trailside Meadow.

2. People day hiking the main trail beyond Lone Pine Lake, the North Fork beyond Lower Boy Scout Lake, or anywhere else in the Whitney Zone are required to have a Mount Whitney Zone day hike permit. A day hike permit requires people to start and end their hike on the same day (between midnight at the start of the day and midnight the following day) and "not sleep or camp along the trail." It does not require people to enter and exit on the same trailhead (people can go up the North Fork/Mountaineers Route and down the main trail). Day hike permits cannot be combined with other day hike permits or with overnight permits to extend the time on the trail. If you reserve a day hike permit and later decide that you want to stay at Lone Pine Lake before midnight, see if you can exchange your day hike permit for an overnight permit at the Visitor Center when you pick up your permit. If you have any further questions about permits, contact the Visitor Center at 760-876-6222 or the Wilderness Permit Office at 760-873-2483.

3. An overnight permit can be issued for a period of up to 14 days.  To get an overnight permit, there must space available within the entry quota for the day you plan to enter the designated trailhead.  Also, if you do not start on the main Mount Whitney trail and want to exit via the main trail, you also need a Trail Crest exit permit. The quota on these is 15 reservable, 10 walk-in.  The number of nights you stay (up to 14) is not counted as part of the quota for a trail.   People with a Trail Crest exit date are required to pass through Trail Crest on that date, but they can exit Whitney Portal on the following day (if inside the 14-day window). On any route, the exit date on the permit is used only for planning purposes (and you can exit any time inside the 14-day window). When you pick up your permit, you will be asked first to write down your planned overnight locations on the front of your permit.

4. In addition, the Trail Crest exit quota (see Note 3) only applies to overnight permits issued by Inyo National Forest.  It does not apply to permits issued by Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, or adjoining forests.  Those permits are valid on the Main Mount Whitney Trail if they are properly annotated.  The exit quota was designed to limit the number of people bypassing the quotas for the main trail by using alternate Inyo National Forest entry points.  It is an additional restriction for getting overnight permits (besides the entry quota for the starting trailhead).  It is not a second permit.  See JMT & Whitney Zone Permits for additional information.

5. Although 100 percent of the quota space for the main trail can be reserved in advance, cancellations and no-shows are likely on any given day. That means that you have an excellent chance of exercising Step 6 just by showing up at the Visitor Center at the appropriate time.  It also means that if you reserve a permit, you have an excellent chance of changing your entry date when you pick up your permit.  There is no fee to get a walk-in permit.   As noted in Unused Whitney Permits, on most of the dates in the summer there are enough walk-in permits available to go around.

6. Although permit space can be reserved in advance, the permit itself is not printed out until you show up at the Visitor Center (or call for the night box). If you reserve a permit and later learn that you do not need all the space for your group, call the Wilderness Permit Office to reduce your group size and release the unused permit space to people without permits.  Similarly, if your group size increases, call the Wilderness Permit Office and see if additional space is available for your reserved date(s).  Permit reservations are not transferable, so do not attempt to barter with other people for additional permit space.  A printed permit has to be signed by the group leader at the Visitor Center and is a legal agreement to abide by the wilderness rules.  If the primary group leader cannot make the trip, any one of the alternate leaders listed in the permit reservation can sign the permit and become the legal group leader.  People without permits may become "friends" with other group leaders and join groups with extra permit space, but each group leader will be held legally responsible for all members of the group.  Help keep permit space available by releasing any unused space on your reservation as soon as people in your group cancel.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS
TermDefinition
CancellationPreviously reserved permit space that was released when the applicant called the Wilderness Permit Office to cancel a permit reservation.
Day Hike PermitA wilderness permit issued for a single day. A day hike permit is required for all day hikes that pass through the Mount Whitney Zone. The permit requires people to start and end their hike on the same day (between midnight at the start of the day and midnight the following day) and "not sleep or camp along the trail."
Entry QuotaThe maximum number of people who can enter a trailhead on a given day.
Exit QuotaThe maximum number of people who can return via the main trail on a given day without a main trail entry permit. It only applies to overnight permits issued by Inyo National Forest. It does not apply to permits issued by Sequoia/Kings Canyon or Yosemite National Parks that are designated for Mount Whitney exit.
GroupA collection of people who know each other and hike the same route. Normally there will be one wilderness permit per group, but group size is limited to 15 people, regardless of the number of permits that are issued.
Group LeaderThe person who signs the permit sheet. When a permit is reserved, the applicant is assumed to be the group leader, but up to three people can be specified as alternate leaders on the reservation. Any one of the specified leaders on a reservation can sign and pick up the permit sheet at the Visitor Center and become the legal group leader. The group leader is legally responsible for the well being and conduct of the group members covered by a permit.
LotteryA random drawing of permit applications to determine who will get permit reservations for main trail overnight permits and Mount Whitney Zone day hike permits for the next quota period. It is held each year in February/March.
Mount Whitney ZoneA special part of the John Muir Wilderness that has additional restrictions on day hike access. All day hikers passing through the zone need to have a day hike permit. In addition, overnight hikes into the zone that do not originate on the main trail may be subject to an exit quota.
Mountaineers RouteThe Class 3 route from Iceberg Lake to the top of Whitney. People often include the North Fork drainage when they talk about "going up the Mountaineers Route," but there are other places that are accessible from the drainage besides Whitney. The Mountaineers Route specifically refers to the section from Iceberg Lake up to the notch and the chute(s) up to the top.
Non-Quota PeriodThe period when anybody who wants a wilderness permit can get one without a reservation (November 2 through April 30). Permits are still required all year. The quota only limits the number of people getting permits. Also see quota period.
North ForkShort for North Fork Lone Pine Creek. The North Fork drainage starts up around Iceberg Lake/Upper Boy Scout Lake and crosses the main trail just before the John Muir Wilderness sign (eventually reaching the Whitney Portal Pond just past the WPS). People leave the main trail just before the North Fork crossing (through a cut log) to access the drainage and hike up to Iceberg Lake. From Iceberg Lake, people can climb up the Mountaineers Route to the top of Whitney.
No-ShowPreviously reserved permit space that was released when the applicant did not pick up the permit sheet or call the Visitor Center for night access.
Overnight PermitA wilderness permit issued for a multiple day period. Inyo National Forest will issue overnight permits for up to 14 contiguous days.
PermitSee wilderness permit, permit sheet, and permit space.
Permit ReservationAn assignment of permit space to a specific group for a specific entry trailhead on a specific entry date. Reservations can be made by mailing in an application form to or calling the Wilderness Permit Office. In addition, people requesting main trail overnight permits and Mount Whitney Zone day hike permits can also make reservations thought the Mount Whitney Lottery.
Permit SheetA printed document that has to be signed by the group leader at the permit pickup location (the Visitor Center for Mount Whitney permits) and is a legal agreement to abide by the wilderness rules. Only one permit sheet is issued per group, but permit tags will be issued for all group members traveling through the Mount Whitney Zone.
Permit SpaceThe number of people who still can be assigned to permits on a given day. During the quota period, the permit space is limited by the permit quota and is decremented each time a permit is assigned to a group. Once the quota is reached for a date, there is no permit space left and no permits will be issued.
Permit TagsColored tags that identify individual members of a group while they are in the Mount Whitney Zone. Although the group leader is required to carry a signed permit sheet, there is no requirement for all members of a group to stay together on the trail.
QuotaA preset limit on the number of people who can access a trail on any given day during the quota period. Once the permit quota is reached, no more permits will be issued for that day. See also entry quota, exit quota, and walk-in quota.
Quota PeriodThe period when entry quotas (and exit quotas) are in effect for various trailheads (May 1 through November 1). Also see non-quota period.
Visitor CenterThe Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center just south of Lone Pine. Besides offering information for tourists and a book store, it also is the location where Mount Whitney wilderness permits are picked up.
Walk-in QuotaA subset of the entry quota that cannot be reserved. It does not apply to main trail overnight permits and Mount Whitney Zone day hike permits. For other entry points, 40% of the entry quota cannot be reserved and is saved for people who show up for a permit without a reservation. This permit space is in addition to any permit space released by cancellations and no-shows. Note: People often refer to cancellations and no-shows as "walk-in permits," but they are different allocations of permit space.
Wilderness PermitAn agreement between the Forest Service and a group leader granting access to the wilderness to a specific number of people for a specific time period. The group leader has to sign a permit sheet agreeing to abide by the wilderness rules. During quota periods, wilderness permits are also used to control the number of people on any given trail.
Wilderness Permit OfficeThe Inyo National Forest permit reservation center in Bishop.

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