How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (Updated for 2019!)

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***Updated for 2019***

Obtaining a permit to hike the John Muir Trail is arguably the most difficult and frustrating aspect of planning for a JMT thru-hike. In previous years, aspiring backpackers needed to submit their permits via fax, snail mail, or by phone if they planned on heading southbound (SOBO) from Yosemite Valley. New for 2019, aspiring backpackers will be able to use the new online permit request form that includes a rolling lottery! This doesn’t mean that your chances of scoring a permit get any better though. In fact, it might make them worse.

The SOBO permit application process can be pretty disheartening. Unlike your planning and prep for gear, fitness, footwear, etc., the permit application process takes a bit of luck. And for the most part, it’s completely out of your control. It’s important to keep in mind that 97% of all applications are denied (I’d expect submission odds to decrease even more given recent statistics). With this guide, I hope to walk you through the new online submission process and help you get your JMT dream off the ground.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit


See My Complete John Muir Trail Guide


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

The first step you’ll need to take while planning for your JMT thru-hike is deciding on 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 and you will benefit from the 21 day rolling lottery.

Applications are processed via a random lottery 168 days (24 weeks) in advance of your desired entry date. For a July 1 start date, you would need to submit an application on January 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

Applications can also be submitted online 2 days before the lottery date, or 170 days in advance.


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

Application Step 1/8: Introduction

Open Application Form Here

The first step to take is to open the new online permit application form and read through the introduction.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 2/8: Selecting Entry Trailheads

The next step is to choose a starting trailhead. There are 5 trailhead options for a John Muir Trail permit application. These are the only 5 trailheads that have access to Donohue Pass. Rank your preference from 1 to 5, with your first entry being the most desirable. You will also be required to enter your “First Night’s Camp Location” which I will provide more information on below.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Trailheads 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 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 trailheads exiting over Donahue Pass. I haven’t been able to find confirmation on the allocation of permits for 2019, but for previous years, 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

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 entries might look. 

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 3/8: Selecting Exit Trailhead

Unless you plan on a shorter section hike of the JMT, you’ll want to select Whitney Portal as your exit trailhead.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)


Application Step 4/8: Selecting Exit Trailhead

The fourth step of your online application will be to select your date range and trip duration. You can now submit just one application for a 21 day period.

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’s 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’s 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.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 5/8: Selecting A Group Size

The next stage is to select your desired group size and the minimum number of people you’d find acceptable on the permit. The maximum group size is 15

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 6/8: Adding Half Dome

For all of the starting trailheads except Lyell Canyon, you can also apply for a Half Dome permit. For this you just select yes/no and the group size.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 7/8: Guided and/or with stock?

For step seven, you select yes/no for if your trip is guided and/or will be traveling with stock. For almost all applicants this will be no and no.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)

Application Step 8/8: Trip Leader Information

The final step is to provide all of the relevant contact information for the group leader.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)


Step 3: Submit Your Permit And Wait

Once you’ve finished completing the 8 steps of the permit application process you’re done! Unlike previous years that required applications to be faxed in, you don’t need to take any additional steps after this point!

For all granted application requests, there is a non refundable fee of $5.00 per person in the group. There is also a $5.00 charge for each transaction. So you’d be looking at $25 for a successful 4 person application. There is no charge for denied requests.

Your permit reservation will not be valid until you successfully pay for it! If your application is successful, you will receive a payment email and will have 14 days to pay before your reservation is cancelled.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (2019 Updates Included)


Step 4: Wait For A Response

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, your application will be rolled over into the dates that you selected.

How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit


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

For successful applicants, you can pick up your permit the day of or the day before your hike. There are 5 wilderness center options in Yosemite NP to choose from 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 you’re starting at high elevation 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, and can also be completed 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 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. You can apply online for these options as well.

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.


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53 thoughts on “How To Apply For A John Muir Trail Permit (Updated for 2019!)”

  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. 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.

    • 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.

      • The north of Spain has skewed seasons…it was 22ºC (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 50ºF/10ºC 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 🙂

      • 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 🙂

  3. 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’s 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?

  4. 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

  5. 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!

  6. 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?

  7. 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 ??

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

      • 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.

  10. Thanks Drew, your site is fantastic, very well done. I got a lot of my information from you last winter when first beginning to consider a JMT thru-hike for 2018, and your update on the 2017 permit process is definitely good to have! I have a couple questions, any help or advice is greatly appreciated!

    1) Ever since seeing images from Clouds Rest, I’ve really wanted to add that somewhere into my itinerary. Is there an easy/common way people hike that during their JMT hike, or is it better to knock it out a day before your start date? if you end up with a HI to LYV permit, is it reasonable to hike Clouds Rest and back down to LYV night 1? Or is it worth it to shoot for Clouds Rest day 2 and meet back up with the JMT at the sunrise lakes junction before continuing on?
    2) Finally, I’m shooting for a 3 week itinerary because I don’t want to rush it…I wanna take side trails, go around lakes, just enjoy every second of it. If a friend with less time off wanted to meet up with me for a 5-7 day stretch, do you have a recommendation? My resupplies all seem to be about 3 days apart until a 10 day stretch from MTR-Whitney of course, so they feel either too short or too long. Any thoughts?

    Thank you so much!
    -Ross

    • Thanks, Ross! I’m glad that you found this guide useful. Some people hike Clouds Rest from Yosemite Valley, but most hike from Tioga Road via Tenaya Lake. If you want to hike it before the JMT, I would suggest using the Tioga Road option as a way to acclimatize. Otherwise, you could wake up early and hike Clouds Rest from Yosemite Valley then hike back down to camp at LYV. It would be a long first day, but doable given the requisite fitness.

      21 days is a nice amount of time for the JMT. If I return, I hope to have an equal amount of time to enjoy the secondary trail options and bag a few peaks. If your friend has 5-7 days, you’ll want to make sure they’re hitting the trail in top shape. The easiest would be to start with you in LYV or join at Tuolumne and then hike down. The reason I say they should start early is that transportation when they leave the trail can be a challenge. If they start with you, you can pick them up at the desired exit trailhead and they’ll have a car when they finish.

  11. Hi, if you leave from glacier point, could you hike to happy isles then to little Yosemite valley… just to start from the beginning?

  12. All,
    Yes, getting a permit can be frustrating without the help of sites like this to inform all.
    Caveat though…..Once you understand the process and plan appropriately…..you can pretty much get a permit every year and even each way (SOBO/NOBO).

    Case and point. My first try in 2016 landed me a permit for 4 (Golden Ticket) from Happy Isles to Mt Whitney with Half Dome permits to boot. I submitted for a summer solstice departure, nailed it, and we completed our first JMT SOBO in a casual 26 days. No problems on the trail.
    Second go was 2017. Went solo SOBO end of August, but did get a permit for 2. Started Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne) which was my third choice.
    This year, 2019, entered the rolling lottery starting with a 23 June departure (then rolls for 20 some days after). I got my first requested departure date once again….and its another SOBO Golden Ticket for 4 out of Happy Isles with 4 Half Dome permits
    I also already secured a NOBO permit as well, albeit its not the Mt Whitney Portal (lotto hasn’t began yet), by getting on recreation,gov and just picking my trail head entry date. Plenty of spaces if you plan early and hit it the day you wish to go. This leaves through Cottonwood Pass.

    So…..once I decide which way to go this year (probably NOBO since its later in July and I’ve never gone that way), then I will cancel my other permit to open up spaces for others.

    So…..with a little planning and preparedness…..you will get yourself a permit.
    Good luck and stay safe.
    DN

  13. Hi Drew,
    Not sure if you are still following this thread here or not, but if you are wondering if you could help with some guidance. My 2 friends and I are submitting for permits to hike this year. We aren’t picky about the dates, just anytime between August and October. We are not looking to do the entire trail, in fact, only about 30-40 miles or so. We all can’t take much time off of work unfortunately. For a 3-4 day trip, assuming starting in Yosemite Valley, what do you suggest we list as a start and exit point? We all 3 hiked half dome last summer, so we don’t necessarily need to take that trail again. Thanks in advance!!!

  14. Hi, i’m a little confused about first night camp choices because it states as follows: “To verify that your route matches your trailhead selection please list your anticipated first night’s camp location in wilderness. The backpackers’ campgrounds located in Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley are not valid options because they are in the frontcountry; not in the wilderness.”
    I’m unclear as to what frontcountry and wilderness are. In the JMT Data Book (E.Wenk), there is a long list of campsites by distance but no map to reference it.

      • And that answered her question how? Perhaps something a little more definitive would help her more. Is there a POC for the ranger station, a website that’s not obtuse, or even your pat answer of “That’s a good question, and one I’ll have to look into.” in order to give her something relative to the subject at hand? Just a varried thought.

  15. Drew, thank you for putting all this information together. It’s been very helpful for me while putting my JMT hike together.
    For anyone looking to ride the Eastern Sierra bus from Lone Pine, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce rents parking spots for $25 per week.

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