The Mt. Whitney Application Process
With over 6,200 feet of elevation gain on the trail, Mt. Whitney stands at 14,505 feet and is the highest point in the lower 48 states.
So you’ve decided to hike to the top?
That’s awesome! Mt. Whitney is a beautiful hike, and it’s been the best sunrise I’ve ever seen time and time again. But before you go, here’s everything you need to know about the permit process.
First step Mt. Whitney: The Permit!
It doesn’t matter if you are day hiking or planning an overnight backpacking trip to the iconic 14,505 ft mountain, you’ll need a permit between May 1 through November 1. You have a few different options for obtaining a permit, and there are a few different places you can start. Unless you are hiking it through the High Sierra Trail (East Bound), John Muir Trail (SOBO from Yosemite) or the Pacific Crest Trail, you will apply for a permit through recreation.gov.
There are rangers on the Mt. Whitney trail checking, you do need a permit.
There is a daily quota during the permitting season, this means there is a limit for how many people can start per day. This limits how many people are in the wilderness at a certain time and minimizes the impacts on nature from having too many people there at once.
100 people per entry day for Mt Whitney Zone Day Use permits
60 people per entry day for Mt Whitney Trail Overnight permits
Overnight trips that start on other trails are limited by different quotas
No age limit; children count in group size limits and quotas
There are limits to the group size.
Maximum group size of 15 people
Group size limits apply year-round, including day use
Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have smaller group size limits in some areas
Groups on separate permits cannot combine if they will exceed the group size limit
Alright, now that we covered the basics of getting a permit, how do you actually get one?
Here are your options if you are looking to hike the 22 miles round trip from Whitney Portal, Lone Pine.
Apply for the lottery which opens February 1st. Lottery results are announced on March 24th.
If you don’t get a permit through the lottery, next on April 1st, whatever wasn’t taken from the lottery goes on sale.
If you still have no luck on the date you want, April 30th is the deadline to pay for your permit for everyone that did get the date they wanted. Those that don’t pay, after April 30th it goes back into the general pool for you to purchase then.
If you still don’t find the date you want on May 1st, check back often, especially closer to your ideal date. Things happen, people cancel. I have gotten a last minute overnight permit from Whitney Portal on a Thursday to hike it on Saturday.
And finally, if all else fails or you’re just spontaneous, you have the option of a walk up permit! You go to the ranger station and pick up permits if they have any left over. They always leave a handful to walk-ups and there are always no-shows. If you want a permit for the day off, go in the morning. If you want one for the following day, go in the afternoon.
What about hiking it from a different location?
There are options there too!
You can take a few days and hike from Kearsarge Pass in Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney (North to South) or from Cottonwood Lakes to Mt. Whitney (South to North). Or alternatively, you can choose to hike the full 72 mile High Sierra Trail or the 221 mile John Muir Trail!
The High Sierra Trail and the John Muir Trail have their own permit and planning process. But if you decide to just do a couple days and hike from Kearsarge Pass or Cottonwood Lakes, you will need an entering permit for those trailheads and an exit permit for Mt. Whitney. Those are also obtained from recreation.gov. In most cases, you only need permits for other hikes in the Eastern Sierra’s if you are planning a overnight to multi-day trips. Permits for those trailheads open exactly 6 months from your start date.
Planning the Trip
Next step is planning your itenerary, where you’ll camp or stay, and the best time to go! Click here to read everything you’ll need to know about planning your Mt. Whitney trip.