How to Get a Mt. Whitney Permit – The Struggle is Real
Mt. Whitney is the first and most complicated stop on my upcoming Wild West tour when it comes to government red tape. Mt. Whitney sits in the Inyo National Forest and therefore is subject to the particular rules for this area. In an effort to limit the impact of people in this wilderness area the National Forest Service imposes a quota which limits the amount of people who may enter this area on any given day during the busy season. Acquiring this permit is your first and most challenging step when it comes to planning your own Mt. Whitney adventure.
A permit is always required to enter the Mt Whitney zone but the quota is enforced between May 1st and November 1st. If you are climbing any time between these dates there is a limit to how many permits the forest service issues daily.
There are two basic types of permits available, Day Use Permits and Overnight Permits. As mentioned above you will need one or the other in order to hike or camp anywhere within the Mt. Whitney zone. In our particular case since we are planning a one day ascent, either permit would work for our needs. I will note that a one day trip of Mt Whitney, although done often by many people, is a serious endeavor and you should plan accordingly.
The ideal way to get a permit is to enter the permit Lottery. Every year from February 1st – March 15th you can submit an application online (HERE) for a chance at a permit. Unfortunately for us we planned our trip after this deadline so we were not able to enter the lottery. The next option is to wait until April 1st in order to apply for whatever permits were not already claimed from the original lottery. This can be done directly through (http://www.recreation.gov/) and you can continue to check back regularly for any openings. Unfortunately this ALSO didn’t work out for us so that leaves us with plan C for getting a Whitney permit.
Plan C involves getting a permit in person from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center – (760)-876-6200. This plan is similar to waiting in a line all day for concert tickets or killer black Friday deals. I also imagine it will provide the same amount of frustration and rage. After calling the visitor center I was informed to arrive as soon as possible the day before I planned to climb in order to wait in line for whatever unclaimed permits may become available. She seemed to think if I was there by 7am and was able to wait around I should have a shot at a day use or overnight permit. Permits are released at 8am, 11am, and 2pm. Since we plan to climb on a Monday we might have a decent shot at it, but worst case we are prepared to come back Monday in order to climb Tuesday. I don’t like leaving so much of our trip to chance but unfortunately we had no choice. I will also note that there is no way to reserve a permit over the phone and also that offering bribes is highly discouraged.
In the end this has been the most challenging and frustrating part of planning our trip but in the end I have faith it will work out, and certainly be worth it!