By Michael Lanza
You just decided you’d like to backpack in Yosemite this year and realized you’re months late in reserving a wilderness permit. What now? As it happens, one positive outcome of the pandemic has been Yosemite National Park revising its procedure for obtaining a first-come or walk-in backpacking permit, making it possible to reserve one just a week in advance—meaning you no longer have to risk traveling to the park, standing in line and hoping for Lady Luck to smile on you. Here’s how you can still grab a last-minute permit for backpacking in Yosemite this year.
Little wonder that the nation’s third national park, designated in 1890, sees enormous demand for wilderness permits and that most available permits get claimed months in advance. Unquestionably one of the 10 best backpacking destinations in America, its sprawling backcountry abounds in classic High Sierra scenery: high passes overlooking a sea of rocky peaks, meadows alive with wildflowers, and too many stunning mountain lakes, creeks, and waterfalls to count.
After numerous trips in Yosemite since my first more than three decades ago—many of them during the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog—my biggest lesson has been that every time I believe I’ve seen the best that Yosemite has to offer, I take another trip and discover how much more natural beauty this park possesses.
See my expert e-guides to three great backpacking trips in Yosemite and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan a Yosemite trip or any trip you read about at The Big Outside. I’ve helped many readers of my blog navigate Yosemite’s permit process to find currently available permits for great multi-day hikes.
Please share your questions or suggestions in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.
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Yosemite’s Wilderness Permit System
First of all—and keep this in mind for future trips—the best way to get a Yosemite wilderness permit for any backpacking trip in the park is by applying for one through the weekly lottery at recreation.gov/permits/445859 up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance. The park makes 60 percent of permit reservations available on that timetable.
The most competition for permits—whether reserved or walk-in—centers on Yosemite’s core between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, including Half Dome and the northernmost section of the John Muir Trail.
But a permit for other areas of the park is much easier to get, including the biggest block of wilderness in Yosemite, north of Tuolumne Meadows, and another large chunk of backcountry in the park’s southeast corner, south of Tuolumne and east of Yosemite Valley.
Plan your next great backpacking adventure in Yosemite and other flagship parks using my expert e-guides.
How to Get a Walk-in Yosemite Wilderness Permit
Yosemite also sets aside the other 40 percent of daily trailhead quotas for walk-in, or first-come wilderness permits, made available at recreation.gov/permits/445859 at 7 a.m. Pacific Time seven days in advance of the date you want to start hiking. Popular trailheads usually fill within minutes, so be ready to make a reservation at 7 a.m. You can reserve a permit up to three days ahead of a start date—but most permits will be gone by then.
While getting a permit remains a challenge a week in advance, the system at least enables backpackers who didn’t apply months earlier to plan a trip about a week out and arrive at the park with the assurance of having a permit reservation. Many wilderness parks issue walk-in permits only in person no more than a day in advance of starting a trip—meaning you can travel there and not get what you want.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in Yosemite.
Want my help with yours? Find out more here.
The park makes any unreserved permits available to obtain first-come, in person at wilderness centers only on the start date of the trip—but there are typically very few, if any, unused permits available. Show up at a wilderness center between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Find more information at nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm.
See all of this blog’s stories about backpacking in Yosemite, including “The 7 Best Backpacking Trips in Yosemite,” “How to Get a Yosemite or High Sierra Wilderness Permit,” “Backpacking Yosemite: What You Need to Know,” and “Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite,” plus my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”