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Most people who visit Yosemite National Park only see the 5% of it visible from roads but did you know nearly 95 percent of Yosemite National Park is designated Wilderness? So what is wilderness? Wilderness is a special designation granted by Congress protecting land from further development. Yosemite is surrounded by wilderness! The best way to experience the 1,100 square miles of the Yosemite Wilderness is to explore it first hand.

Check out this great video from the National Park Service’s Yosemite Nature Notes on wilderness.

Wilderness Permits

Before you head out on the trail you’re required to obtain a wilderness permit. WIlderness permits are free for any overnight stay in the Yosemite. Wilderness permits have a couple of functions.

  1. They limit the number of people entering at a trailhead at any one time to help make sure certain areas aren’t overused and continue to provide the solitude experience one expects when entering a wilderness area.
  2. They let rangers know where you plan to be should an emergency like a wildfire arise and they need to contact you.
  3. They let rangers know where you were planning to go should you fail to return on time and they need to send out a search party.
  4. They let rangers know who was in the area should a search begin for another missing hiker/backpacker. Often interviewing other hikers is the best way for rangers to ascertain where a person was last seen in the thousands of square miles of wilderness surrounding Yosemite.

60 percent of all wilderness permits for a given trailhead can be reserved ahead of time and it’s highly recommended. The remaining 40 percent are available on a first-come, first-served basis no earlier than 11 am the day before your hike until all permits have been issued for that trailhead. Keep in mind there is a $5 per confirmed reservation plus $5 per person reservation fee but it’s preferable to reserve your permit than spend hundreds of dollars flying to the park, renting a car, driving to the wilderness permit office only to find all the permits are already gone. During summer months the line outside the wilderness office starts around 4 AM.

To get a wilderness permit:

1. Being by deciding where you will be starting your hike.
Once you know where you want to begin your hike from, use the trailheads map (pictured below) to determine the name of your trailhead. The trailhead information page has additional information, including quotas for each trailhead, parking information, and other details.
Yosemite National Park Wilderness Trailheads Map
Click here to download a high-resolution PDF of the trailhead map.

2. Check for availability.
The Yosemite Conservancy issues the wilderness permits and has an updated page (embedded below) showing which trailheads are full by entry date. If the date or trailhead isn’t listed, space is available for at least one person. Unfortunately, just because your date isn’t shown doesn’t guarantee there will be enough room for your entire group.

3. Apply for a wilderness permit reservation.
Wilderness permit reservations are available up to 24 weeks (check out this calendar showing when to make reservations) in advance when the wilderness permit reservation office from late November through October. To ensure best chance for getting your reservation, reservations should be made as early as possible. It’s not uncommon for some of the more popular trailheads to fill up the day they become available. Reservations will not be taken two or fewer days prior to the planned date of the hike. Learn more about how to make a reservation.

4. The Last Options: The first-come, first-served permit.
Unreserved permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 11 AM the day before the intended entry date. All reservations (same day and next day) and same-day unreserved permits may still be picked up when the wilderness center opens for the day.

If the trailhead you were planning on hiking is full consider one of the other trailheads in the park. There are lots of trailheads and so much of Yosemite that most people never experience. Every trek into Yosemite’s back country is an adventure you’ll never forget.

How to make a reservation for a wilderness permit in Yosemite

Plan your trip before you make a reservation. It is your responsibility to research trails and trail conditions to decide which trip is right for you and your group. Park rangers will not plan your trip for you.
To make a reservation, you will need to know the name the permit will be under, mailing address, daytime telephone number, number of people, number of stock (horses, mules, llamas), start and end dates, beginning and ending trailheads, principal destination (to help clarify trailhead), method of payment ($5 plus $5/person): credit card, check, or money order.

Reservations are available up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance when the wilderness permit reservation office is open (late November through September).

Three Ways to Make a Reservation

In 2011–2012, the reservation office is open November 28 through September and accepts reservations for trips during May through September. Reservations are not necessary for trips during November through April. We are not currently accepting online reservations.

Fax (preferred): An editable PDF fax reservation form can be downloaded from the National Park Service website by clicking here. Fill out the form using your computer, then print and fax to 209–372–0739. The fax line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week..

Faxes received between 5 PM and 7:30 AM PT will be processed before phone calls. Faxes and letters are processed randomly together. Otherwise, faxes received during business hours will be processed on first-come, first-served basis along with phone calls.

If you provide an email address, a generic confirmation email will be sent within one business day stating whether you received your first, second, or third choice. Otherwise, allow two weeks to receive a printed confirmation by US mail. If you would like to request a reservation for a departure date within the next two weeks, please apply by phone.

Phone: As above, download the editable PDF reservation form from the National Park Service website by clicking here and fill it out. This will ensure that you have all the necessary information at hand before calling. When the form is filled out completely call 209–372–0740 Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Pacific Time. You will be asked to supply a major credit card over the phone to secure your reservation and cover the reservation processing fee ($5 per confirmed reservation fee plus $5 per person in the party).

Mail: As above, download the editable PDF reservation form from the National Park Service website by clicking here and fill it out on your computer. Print and mail the form along with payment ($5 per confirmed reservation fee plus $5 per person in the party), to Wilderness Permits, PO Box 545, Yosemite, CA, 95389. Make checks and money orders payable to “Yosemite Conservancy.”

Only apply once for each request: If you apply twice for the same request, you will be charged a non-refundable, non-transferable processing fee for both reservations. Please do not send cash. Please allow two weeks to receive a response.

Keep in mind it’s up to you, or another member of your hiking group, to pick up the wilderness permit at any permit station during business hours the day of, or the day before, your hike. Reserved permits are held until 10 AM the day of your trip and then released as first-come, first-served. If you will arrive later than 10 AM on the day of your trip, please call to hold your permit for a late arrival: 209–372–0308 (this number is for cancellations and late arrivals only). Permits held for late arrival still must be picked up at a permit station during business hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Where can I camp?
The trailhead quota system limits use based on entering trailhead (where you begin your hike), and in some cases, on where you camp the first night of your trip. This is to prevent overuse and degradation of the natural environment. After the first night, you may camp wherever you can hike to within the wilderness.

You can camp anywhere you like except near the five High Sierra Camps and in Little Yosemite Valley where you must camp in campgrounds. It’s up to you to know and follow all regulations before entering the wilderness. It’s not uncommon to meet rangers patrolling the trails and citations are issued even in the back country. Always be sure to practice Leave No Trace ethics when camping in the back country.

2. If I enter the park late at night or early, is there somewhere I can camp the night before or after by backpacking trip?
Wilderness permit holders may spend one night prior to, and one night after, a backpacking trip in a backpackers’ campground (summer only). This service is especially helpful for those wishing to get a first-come, first-served permit the day before beginning the hike.

3. Do I need a wilderness permit during winter?
Wilderness permits are required in winter but reservations aren’t required from November through April. You may get a wilderness permit at any normal permit issuing station unless the permit station is closed for the season. If the station is closed you will need to self-register. For trips beginning at Badger Pass, permits are available at the Badger Pass Ranger Station (“A-frame”).

4. I already have a reservation, can I add another person?
You can add another person to your wilderness permit reservation as long as space is still available for that trailhead. If space is no longer available for that trailhead, you can try to change your reservation for no additional charge to another date or another trailhead (as long as space is available).

5. I’m beginning my hike outside Yosemite, but will end my hike in Yosemite. How do I get a wilderness permit?
If you are starting a hike from a trailhead located outside of Yosemite National Park and you plan on camping in Yosemite, obtain your permit from the trailhead’s managing agency. You are not required to obtain a separate permit for the Yosemite portion of your trip. Only the one permit is required. If you are starting at a trailhead in Yosemite and wish to camp outside of Yosemite during your Wilderness trip, you will only need to get a single wilderness permit from Yosemite.

If your starting trailhead is outside Yosemite National Park, get your permit from the land agency that manages that trailhead. Common trailheads outside Yosemite that pass through the park:

Twin Lakes (Robinson Creek): Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
Virginia Lakes: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
Chiquito Pass: Sierra National Forest
Quartz Mountain: Sierra National Forest
Lake Eleanor: Stanislaus National Forest
Cherry Lake: Stanislaus National Forest
Saddlebag Lake: Inyo National Forest

More Information

Trail Descriptions
Current Trail Conditions
Seasonal Information
Wilderness permits
Food storage
Other Regulations
Safety tips
Leave No Trace ethics
Trailhead information
Parking and Transportation
Traveling with a horse or pack animal
Backpacking with a large group
Permit Stations
Backpackers Campgrounds


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