High Sierra backpacking trips

A backpacker hiking to Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, High Sierra.

How to Get a Yosemite or High Sierra Wilderness Permit

By Michael Lanza

Ah, the High Sierra. Yosemite. Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The John Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mount Whitney, and countless other, less famous but equally beautiful spots. Every backpacker who has ever walked for days through any of these wildlands holds them in special reverence—and for good reasons, given this seemingly infinite landscape’s constellations of sharply pointed granite peaks and alpine lakes, too many waterfalls to name, and rivers and creeks so pretty they make your heart glad. Plus, with thousands of miles of trails, you could spend a lifetime wandering here without seeing it all.

Little wonder there’s so much competition for backcountry permits throughout most of the High Sierra. But read on because the time for planning and reserving a permit for trips this summer is coming up fast.

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A backpacker on the John Muir Trail hiking toward Silver Pass in the John Muir Wilderness.

How to Get a John Muir Trail Wilderness Permit in 2024

By Michael Lanza

Sometimes it can seem like everyone who’s ever carried a backpack through mountains somewhere wants to thru-hike the John Muir Trail—especially when it comes time to apply for a JMT wilderness permit. And why not? “America’s Most Beautiful Trail” earns its nickname and ranks indisputably among “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips.” Consequently, few permits are harder to get; most people who enter one of the permit lotteries get rejected. This story explains the various ways to reserve a John Muir Trail wilderness permit—which you must do months ahead of your trip dates.

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A backpacker hiking past Minaret Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, High Sierra.

Backpacking the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses

By Michael Lanza

Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks loom large on the radar screens of most backpackers. But savvy Sierra aficionados know that the two major wilderness areas that sprawl over nearly 900,000 acres along more than 100 miles of the High Sierra between those parks, the John Muir and Ansel Adams wildernesses, harbor just as rich a cache of soaring, jagged peaks and shimmering alpine lakes—not to mention sections of the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail that enable almost endless possibilities for multi-day hikes, short and long. And while competition is stiff for permits to backpack in the John Muir and Ansel Adams wildernesses, those permits are not nearly as hard to draw as permits for the most popular trips in Yosemite or Sequoia-Kings Canyon or to thru-hike the John Muir Trail.

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A hiker on Half Dome, high above Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite

By Michael Lanza

Ready for your first backpacking trip in one of America’s greatest national parks for backpackers? Having backpacked several times all over Yosemite, my advice for a first-time backpacker who wants to hit highlights like Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail, and Half Dome is nearly identical to the itinerary I followed on my first trip more than three decades ago—but modified because I know better now.

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A backpacker on the John Muir Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: What You Need to Know

By Michael Lanza

For many serious backpackers, a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail looms as a sort of holy grail. But every JMT aspirant inevitably faces the question: How do you plan a 221-mile hike of “America’s Most Beautiful Trail?” Besides preparing physically for it, a JMT thru-hike poses myriad logistical and organizational challenges, from obtaining one of the country’s most sought-after wilderness permits to choosing an ideal time of year, the itinerary and number of days to take, gear, food resupplies, transportation, acclimating to elevations commonly between 9,000 and over 13,000 feet, and other details.

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