John Muir Trail John Muir Trail Guide

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit

**Updated for the new 2017 permit application process!**

Obtaining a permit to hike the John Muir Trail is arguably the most difficult and frustrating aspect of planning for a JMT thru-hike. Unlike the online lottery application for hikes like Half Dome, aspiring backpackers need to submit their permits via fax, snail mail, or by phone if they plan on heading southbound (SOBO) from Yosemite Valley. I‚Äôm not going to lie, the SOBO permit application process can be exhausting and disheartening. Unlike your planning for gear, fitness, footwear, etc., the permit application process takes a bit of luck, and for the most part, is completely out of your control. 97% of all applications are denied (I’d expect submission odds to decrease even more given recent statistics). With this guide, I hope to give you a few key pointers, and links to resources that I found useful in submitting for a permit on my John Muir Trail thru-hike.


See My Complete John Muir Trail Guide


Step 1: Decide On A Date And Apply 168-170 Days In Advance

The first step I took in planning for my JMT through hike was setting a date. This is an important step for most of us, as vacation time needs to be requested far in advance for work. If you’re still a student or have summers off, your permit submission timeframe will be a little more flexible. I knew I could start my workleave in the first week of July, and would be able to use 10 weekdays of vacation time.

Applications are processed via a random lottery 168 days in advance of your desired entry date, but faxes can be submitted up to two days prior (170 days). For a July 1 start time, I would need to submit an application from January 11-13, with the drawing set for January 14. Applications for a July 1 start date would close January 14 at 7:30 AM before the lottery drawing. Here is a table on the NPS website to help you schedule your permit submissions: Wilderness Permits Reservation Window

When I submitted for a permit in 2015, I was not successful on my first attempt, and continued to apply in the following days.  Luckily, the NPS has made a huge change for 2017. Applicants with flexible dates can now submit a permit request for a 21 day timeframe. I will have more on this below.


Step 2: Fill Out A Permit Reservation Application And Rank Your Preferred Trailheads

Below you will find information to help you fill out the JMT permit application form. You can view and download the permit form here: JMT Permit Application. This new permit form has a section for Date Range. This allows hikers to apply for a 21 day range with only one application.

John Muir Trail permit application process form 2017 JMT guide

Entry Preference: There are now 5 trailhead options for a John Muir Trail permit application. Rank your preference from 1 to 5, with 1 being most desirable. Use each number only once, and use a 0 for a trailhead you are not interested in. You will be required to start at the trailhead assigned by your permit.

Trailhead With 1st Night’s Camp Location: In previous years, applicants could select trailhead locations on their own. Now there are five static options.¬†Hiking the JMT SOBO from Yosemite Valley will take you over Donahue Pass, which as of 2017, has an exit quota of 45 hikers per day. These five static options will all take you up and over Donahue pass and are subject to the 45 hikers a day quota.

  1. Happy Isles to Sunrise/Merced Lakes Pass Through
  2. Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley
  3. Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley
  4. Sunrise Lakes (Tenaya Lake South)
  5. Lyell Canyon

As I mentioned above, a total of 45 permits are available each day for trailhead exiting over Donahue Pass. I haven’t been able to find confirmation on the allocation of permits for 2017, but for 2016 they were as follows:

*For options 1-4 (Happy Isles to Sunrise/Merced, Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley, or Sunrise Lakes), permits for 20 people will be made available each day by reservation.

*For option 5 (Lyell Canyon), permits for 25 people will be made available each day, 15 by reservation, and 10 for walkups

A look at the Entry Trailheads (View This Yosemite NP Trailhead Map For Reference):

  1. Happy Isles to Sunrise/Merced Lakes Pass Through¬† People ask a lot of questions about this option and how it differs from the Happy Isles to LYV listed above. From the NPS website: “For long-distance hikers, to pass through the Little Yosemite Valley/Half Dome area and camp beyond that, in the direction of either Merced Lake or Sunrise High Sierra Camp…” This is a better option than HI to LYV¬†in my opinion, as it allows hikers to get a lot more distance in on day 1, and feel a little bit of freedom once they get past the Half Dome junction. Look at the entry for HI to LYV below for more details on this option.
  2. Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley – The Happy Isles trailhead is the most popular and sought after starting point for SOBO JMT hikers, as it is the official start of the John Muir Trail. It also allows for hikers to start in Yosemite Valley, and begin their trek with views of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and options to scale Half Dome and Clouds Rest. You’ll need a separate permit for Half Dome if you plan on making that hike, so make sure to fill out that section of the permit application accordingly. If you receive the HI to LYV permit, your campsite for the night will be Little Yosemite Valley. It is for this reason that I would avoid this option. At only 4.5 miles from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, it’s a bit of a wasted day. Even if you include a hike up to Half Dome, you’ll only be getting in about 12 miles.

    How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
    Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley And Sunrise Lakes
  3. Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley –¬† This permit has hikers starting at Glacier Point and continuing on towards Little Yosemite Valley to join up with the John Muir Trail. This first leg from Glacier Point to LYV is about 7 miles as opposed to the 4.5 of Happy Isles to LYV. The positive is that it drops 1,000ft instead of the 2,000ft climb from the valley floor. This option is a non-starter in my opinion, as it’s a bit of a logistical headache. This option¬†limits your first day to 7 miles, as your campsite for the night will be Little Yosemite Valley.

    How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
    (3) Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley (In Blue)
  4. Sunrise Lakes –¬†Sunrise Lakes is an option from the Tuolumne Meadows area starting at Tenaya Lake. This trailhead misses the first section of the JMT by starting in Tuolumne Meadows, but that’s easily remedied if you’re okay with big days. Julia and I fastpacked the 25 miles from Little Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, which does not require a permit. ¬†If you had a Sunrise Lakes permit, you could do the same. Hike from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne, catch a ride to Tenaya Lake, and continue on. The hike from the Tenaya Lake trailhead to Sunrise Lakes is a little over 3 miles with 1,300ft of gain. This would be your first night campsite for filling out the application form. You could also decide to just start your JMT hike from Tenaya lake and forego the Yosemite Valley section of the JMT.

    How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
    (19) Tenaya Lake to Sunrise Lakes
  5. Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne Meadows) –¬†This is one of the best choices in my opinion, as it gives applicants a better chance of success when compared to the other options. If you still want to hike the entire JMT from Yosemite Valley, you can do like I did, and day hike from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows in one day, stay at Tuolumne Backpacker’s Camp after grabbing your permit, and continue on. From Tuolumne Meadows, Lyell Canyon is a mostly level and flat hike until you start the climb up to Donahue Pass. ¬†There are a lot of nice campsites along the Lyell Fork in Lyell Canyon, which is what you’ll enter for your 1st campsite on the application form.

    How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
    Sunrise Lakes -> Tuolumne -> Donahue Pass

Here is an example of how the top table of your application form might look. 

John Muir Trail permit application process form 2017 JMT guide
Exit Trailhead:
Select Whitney Portal as your Exit Trailhead.

Date Range:¬†This is a new addition for 2017 that allows applicants to apply for a 21 day date range using only one permit. According to the NPS website: “…you will submit one application for a range of dates up to 3 weeks (21 days) long. Your reservation application will be placed in each day‚Äôs daily lottery for the date span you provide. You will be notified of lottery results each day via email. If denied, your application will roll to the next day‚Äôs lottery. The application will be removed from the rolling lottery if 1) your request is granted 2) is manually cancelled by applicant or 3) the date range has been exceeded…

Trip Length (Nights): Enter the number of nights you plan on spending on the John Muir Trail. It is much better to overestimate your desired itinerary here.

Half Dome: If you would like to also enter the Half Dome lottery, make sure to select that option on the permit. Make sure to also select that they process your permit request even if you’re not selected for Half Dome.

You can view the trailhead quota information here: Trailhead Quota Information

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
Heading Towards Donahue Pass

Step 3: Submit Your Permit Via Fax, Phone, or Mail

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to submit your application online through the NPS website. You can, however, complete the entire process online. Once you have the form filled out, head over to Hello Fax and sign up for a free account.

Fax: Print and fax your application form or use an online fax service like Hello Fax to (209)372-0739. Remember to submit 168-170 days in advance of your desired departure date. Reference this table for send dates.

Phone: You can try calling if faxing doesn’t work for you, but keep in mind that the staff are very busy during this permit application period. When you call in, have your entire form filled out so that you can give all of the requisite information. The phone number is 209-372-0740 and the office is usually open from 8:30 to 4:30. Phone calls are usually only suggested if your trip will be within a two week period of the call. For the JMT, this more than likely means you won’t be getting a permit. Plan early, and use fax.

Mail: You can complete the form and mail it to the address listed below. Keep in mind that ‚ÄúApplications received more than two weeks in advance of the earliest reservation date (that is, more than 26 weeks in advance of the hiking date) will not be accepted.‚ÄĚ

Permit Reservations
PO Box 545
Yosemite, CA, 95389


Step 4: Wait For A Response And Reapply if Necessary

Within 24 hours of the lottery application draw date, you should receive an email stating whether or not your request was successful. If you’re successful, congratulations! If you fail, keep trying.  After a week of failures, I was starting to lose hope, but in my case, persistence paid off. The odds are not in your favor, so expect to have more than a few failures before you have a successful submission.


Step 5: Pick Up Your Permit At One Of The Five Yosemite Valley Wilderness Centers

You can pick up the permit the day of or the day before your hike. The permit will be held until 10am on the day of your trip so don’t be late. If you’re going to be late, make sure to call ahead and let them know (209-372-0308). Yosemite NP has backpackers camps available for permit holders, so my advice is to pick up your permit a day ahead, stay in a backpackers camp, and then start hiking on the day of your allotted time.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
Yosemite Backpacker’s Camp Before The Adventure Begins

Options To Consider If Your SOBO Application Is Not Successful

1.) My top pick for options after a failed SOBO application would be to consider hiking Northbound (NOBO). This is a much more difficult hike, as your starting at high elevations and taking on the JMT’s difficult passes in the first few days. There are also fewer resupply options in the Southern half of the JMT.

These permits are based on a lottery system as well, but at least it can be all done online. The submission timeframe is from February 1 to March 15, which comes after most people would be applying for the SOBO permits (March 15 would be a start date of August 30 for SOBO).

You can find information on the Forest Service website and apply at Recreation.gov.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
At Forrester Pass

2.) The other option if you fail to get obtain a standard SOBO JMT permit is to get creative. You can start in Yosemite Valley and avoid Donahue Pass (Mono Pass, Fernandez Pass, etc), or you can join the JMT south of Donahue Pass from a connecting trailhead. Here is a link to a great table if you’re looking for alternate permit options.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit
Near Red’s Meadow

I hope you have found this John Muir Trail Permit guide helpful. Make sure to check out the rest of my John Muir Trail Guide for planning and trip preparation. Feel free to leave me any questions or comments that you have.

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

37 comments on “How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit

  1. Great info. When you picked up your permit the day before your hike, how long was the wait? I went to Sequoia in September and had a permit reserved for 5 months, but still ended up waiting almost an hour in line, mainly with people hoping to get walk-up permits. This was frustrating to say the least.

    • Thanks, Ian! I went to the station in Yosemite Valley, and was lucky to only wait about 10 minutes. It was a bit late in the day though, so I think the timing was important. Having to wait in line with those seeking walk-up permits must have been a nightmare.

  2. It sounds like a nightmare! Would be so difficult to plan for this hike for people overseas.

    • It’s a nightmare for sure, but worth it once a permit is received. The hardest part for overseas hikers is that they can’t mail their food to the resupplies.

  3. I hope to walk the PCT one day, but if work restraints me from taking the long holiday period I might be forced to fall back to the JMT. And then your tips will surely help me. Thanks.

  4. That sounds incredibly complicated. I had no clue idea. So glad you beat the odds, as I loved reading those entries last year.

    • It’s a crazy process that only gets worse each year. I’m glad I was able to get in last year. It’s a bit like the Camino Frances, in that the numbers of hikers/pilgrims continues to swell. I think it may be social media that’s driving the numbers up.

      • I’m hoping to finish the Camino del Norte next June before things get too bad there. There are so many beautiful places to discover, and I’d rather be ahead of the curve.

      • I’ll be very interested to see how that goes in June? I know the Norte is known for rain anyway, but is it still Springlike in June?

      • The north of Spain has skewed seasons…it was 22¬ļC (low 70s) every day in January this year, yet in May it was 15 and raining. I went to Bilbao in June 2013, and it was 50¬ļF/10¬ļC and raining in mid-June. This year in June when I moved away it was extremely hot. The weather doesn’t care what season it is there ūüôā

      • That’s crazy! 22 in Winter and 15 in late Spring is a huge seasonal skew. I guess it’s one of those hikes where you just have to be ready for anything.

      • Yep! It’s the currents from the Atlantic that make it so unpredictable, plus the climate change makes it even worse. At least I live in Spain so I can easily pack according to the predictions the day I head out there ūüôā

  5. I have a question about the option you list for day hiking from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows in one day, stay at Tuolumne Backpacker‚Äôs Camp after grabbing your permit, and continue on. This sounds like a great option, but from the parks service perspective how is this actually legal? It is really the same thing as getting a permit that starts at Happy Isles except you don’t make camp before Tuolumne. Is that the material difference that matters?

    • Yes, it is the overnight camping/backpacking that matters. As far as I’m aware, you do not need a permit to day hike from HI to Tuolumne Meadows. I even asked the ranger in Yosemite about this when I picked up our JMT permit, and he confirmed that a day hike from HI to Tuolumne does not require a permit.

  6. Thanks so much for this site. I am planning on doing the JMT in 2018 as a 50th birthday gift to myself. I was thinking about doing it northbound but entering via Cottonwood Pass and giving myself a few days acclimatization before joining the JMT and going up Mt Whitney. Do you know what permits are required when starting the JMT in this manner? Thanks!

    • Thanks, Paul. I think NOBO is a great option. They just changed the SOBO permit process so that you can submit one application to cover a 21 day range. This takes the stress out of applying, but will also probably decrease ones chances even more. You’ll just need a permit to start from Cottonwood Lakes using recreation. gov

  7. Chandra Genitempo

    The 2017 SOBO JMT permit application process is easier than prior years. You can now complete one application for a start date range of up to 3 weeks, and instead of listing your 3 trailhead choices, you rank the 5 starting trailheads within Yosemite in order of preference (or you can specify an alternate trailhead choice). You can fax the application 2 days before the lottery date (170 days before the first start date in your range). If you don’t get a permit for the first start date in your specified range, your application is automatically rolled over into the next day’s lottery until a) you are granted a permit, b) you cancel the application or c) your specified date range expires.

    For example, I want to start my SOBO hike any time between June 24 and July 15. The lottery date for a June 24 start date is January 7 (168 days out). I can fax my application on January 5. If I do not get a permit from any of my listed trailheads for June 24, my application will automatically roll over to the next day’s lottery until I eventually (hopefully) get a permit, or January 28 (168 days out from July 15, the last date in my range). At that point I would need to submit a new application for later dates.

    This simply streamlines the application process. It doesn’t increase your chance of getting a permit, but it definitely eliminates the hassle of faxing a new application daily.

    Hope this is helpful!

    • Thanks for the comment, Chandra. I saw this updated on the NPS website. I’m going to have the updated information added to this post soon.

  8. I’m entering at Florence Lake and hiking NOBO to Yosemite. Just doing half of it this summer. From what I can tell, my permit from Sierra National Forest should get me all the way to Happy Isles. Is that your undetstanding of the rules too?

    • Hello Jason, I’m not sure about this one, as I’ve never applied for a permit for that trailhead. Did they have you select an exit trailhead?

      • Jason Dean

        Yes, I filled out a normal Permit application with my entry at Florence (J57 I think) and exiting at Happy Isles.

  9. Hello !! Super blog a lot of info. But I have a question is it still possible to have permits on the spot in the morning. I thought camping at the start of the JMT and have a permit in the morning ??

    • Thanks! I’m not sure about this. I think Tuolumne is your only option for a walk up, unless someone cancels.

    • Chandra Genitempo

      Lyell Canyon TH (Tuolomne Meadows) is the only trailhead available for walk-up permits. There are 10 spots available per day.

  10. langejorstad

    Thanks for the great information, very practical advice for my planning. I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on the Sunrise Lakes trailhead approach in a slightly more detail (just secured a permit for late June). You suggest the possibility of fastpacking from Happy Isles to Tuolumne to cover that leg, then getting a lift to Tenaya Lake to access the Sunrise Lakes trailhead – thus covering the complete first leg of the JMT. Presumably this means that you would end up re-hiking the 8 miles from Sunrise Lakes junction to Tuolumne the next day? Do you think a possible alternative to reduce the re-hiking distance would be to fastpack from Happy Isles to Tenaya Lake Campground, spend the night there (of course requiring a campground booking in advance), then hike back in from there to Tuolumne and Lyell canyon the next day? Then you only re-hike the 4.5 mi between Tenaya Lake and JMT. I guess a big question is – once you enter the Sunrise Lakes trailhead on the first day of the wilderness permit, do you *have to* camp at Sunrise Lakes, or could you push on?

    • That’s a good question, and one I’ll have to look into. I’ve never actually done this permit option, so I’ve only listed it as an option. It would be nice to cut down on the portion of the JMT you’d have to cover twice, especially if you can save yourself 3.5 miles. You options sounds like a good one. It all hinges on whether you *have to* camp at Sunrise Lakes.

  11. langejorstad

    As it turns out, I was persistent with watching permit availability list, and with keeping my permit application rolling through the lottery, and got a reservation for Lyell. So, answering the Sunrise Creek TH question will be relegated to another day. I’m going to try your suggestion of fastpacking from the valley to Tuolumne – but now have a couple more questions for you:
    1. where did you store everything you didn’t need for the day hike? can you leave it in a bear box in Tuolumne or something similar, or is that too risky?
    2. where did you stay the night before? i.e. did you need to book a campsite/room/cabin in the valley?
    3. did you pick up your wilderness permit from the valley the day before it started, or can you pick it up in Tuolumne?

    I would be grateful for your thoughts on logistics so I can plan accordingly!

    • Congrats on the permit!
      1.) I had all of my food at the Tuolumne post office. I carried all of my gear with me from YV, since I needed my tent and sleeping bag to stay at Yosemite Backpacker’s Camp.
      2.) You can stay at Yosemite Backpacker’s Camp with a permit reservation. The same goes for Tuolumne Meadow’s. You can also book at Half Dome Village (Curry Village) for a reasonable rate. The cabins and hotels can get a little pricey, and you have to book far ahead.
      3.) You can pick up your permit from the Valley or in Tuolumne from what I understand.

      If you’re planning on hiking from YV to Tuolumne in one day, make sure to arrive by 5PM. That is when the post office and grill closes. You don’t want to arrive too late, as you’d have to wait until morning to pick up your supplies. This might set you back if you’re looking for an early start the next day. We left Yosemite Valley at around 4 am. The downside is you miss seeing Yosemite Falls. I have already hiked through the valley to Half Dome and Clouds rest a few times, so it wasn’t an issue.

      • langejorstad

        As always, very useful advice… thank you! I am originally from California – was actually married in front of the Ahwahnee! – so seeing the valley is a lower priority. I thought I would try to book in Curry Village for the night before so I could leave almost all of my gear in Tuolumne and have a very light pack for that bomber first day. I note that you and your partner seemed to be pretty fit, and that first day still took you 13 hours! Guess to make this work, I might need to book a regular campsite in Tuolumne and just leave my kit in the tent and bear box the day before.

      • It took us 13 hours, but we had to stop for almost two hours in the morning for a thunderstorm. Then we were in rain until around noon. With better weather, you should be able to make much better time.

  12. Scott Muir

    Thank you for the great instructions. This was simple and concise. I really appreciate it.

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