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Trail Permits: What You Need to Know

Kenna Sarae      Trip Planning       7/01/2020

When preparing for a thru-hike or section hike, navigating local, state, and federal land regulations can be complicated. Nonetheless, obtaining proper trail permit(s) is a requisite of the planning process.

Trail permits help land managers understand the usage that areas receive, regulate highly trafficked sections to minimize impact, and in many cases influence funding allocations for trail maintenance and management budgets. Failing to meet permit requirements can result in fines, and is a general breach of trail etiquette.

As such, we’ve collected permit information for the most popular of the trails we offer guides for. Note that while some trails do not require permits, there are still required registries, etc. Always check directly with land managers for the most up-to-date permitting information.

Trails that Require Permits

(Expand for more information)
PERMITS REQUIRED IN NATIONAL/STATE PARKS
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Thru-Hiker Permit’s of $20 (available 38 days before entry and up to 8 days in the park).
  • Shenandoah National Park): FREE self-registration permits (for AT thru-hikers) at north and south trail points.
  • Baxter State Park: FREE permit must be obtained at Katahdin Stream Campground.
ATC Permits Page
Grand Canyon & Saguaro National Park Backcountry PERMITS REQUIRED
  • Backcountry permits required for:
    • Grand Canyon National Park
    • Saguaro National Park
  • Fee collected at Colossal Cave Park entrance.
  • “If you plan on traveling outside the 15-foot corridor to camp, explore, etc. then it is strongly recommended that you obtain a State Land Recreation Permit.” – AZT Association
AZT Association Permits Page
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Backcountry Permit Required
  • Backcountry permit required.
  • Advance reservations for backcountry camping required.
GSMNP Backcountry Permits Portal
No master permit, permits required in national parks and NM Land
  • Advance permit required for: Glacier National Park, Blackfeet Nation land, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • On-trail permit registries located in wilderness areas.
  • General NM state lands permit required.
CDTC Trip Planning Guide (with permit instructions)
Numerous small permits & FTA membership required
  • Florida Trail Association membership required to cross private lands, regardless of permit necessitation.
FTA Permits Information
No master permit, permits required in national parks
  • Permits required for:
    • Banff National Park
    • Jasper National Park
    • Kootenay National Park
    • Waterton Lakes National Park
    • Yoho National Park
Parks Canada Reservation SystemGRC Permit Information Page
lottery-style permit required
  • Daily permits are capped, although a small number of permits are available as walk-ups (at specific entry points).
  • Lottery is held 24 weeks (168 days) before start dates, applications are accepted 170 days in advance (two days before the lottery).
  • If flexible on start date, one permit can be submitted for a number of potential start dates.
Rolling Permit Lottery ApplicationNPS Permit Information Page
Lottery style permit required
  • 2020 lottery applications accepted between February 1 and March 15.
  • One application per group can include flexible dates, duplicate applications will be disregarded.
NPS Permits Page
Master Permit Required (FREE)
  • Advance submission portal available through PCTA.
  • Master permits are for hikers and horseback riders traveling 500 or more miles (in one trip).
  • The PCTA administers 50 permits/day for trips NOBO, 15 permits/day SOBO, 1400 section hikers permits crossing the John Muir Trail, 600 permits from the Southern Sierras.
PCTA Long-Distance Permit Request FormMore permit information
National Park Backcountry Permits Required
  • North Cascades and Olympic National Parks allow special phone reservations for PNT thru-hikers.
    • Olympic National Park: 360-565-3100
    • North Cascades National Park: 360-854-7245
  • Glacier National Park: backcountry permit must be obtained from one of the six ranger stations. (The PNTA notes that “the Polebridge and Two Medicine Ranger Stations and the Saint Mary Visitor Center are typically most convenient to PNT thru-hikers.”)
PNTA Permits Information Page

Torres del Paine

park entrance fee & campsite/refugio reservations required
  • Reservations can be made in advance, or in the park (be prepared to be flexible), but you can be turned away at Ranger stations if you are attempting to camp without a reservation.
Park Rules/RegulationsPrivate campsites
Mt. Rainier National Park Wilderness Permit Required
  • Online requests due no less than 7 days and no more than 30 days before trip start day.
  • One full-circuit Wonderland Trail trip request per person.
  • A limited number of first-come-first-serve permits can be obtained at Visitor, Information, and Wilderness Information stations throughout the park. (Currently suspended for 2020 due to COVID-19.)
Permit request formNPS Wilderness Trip Planning page
Glenn's Lake sits in a beautiful green valley between majestic peaks in Glacier National Park on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
A trail leads along a golden ridge towards distant snowy mountains.
Pacific Northwest Trail        |        Pacific Northwest Trail Association

Trails that DO NOT Require Permits

(Expand for more information & exceptions)
Te Araroa, Jordan Trail           |          Dahn Pratt
No permit required
  • Free, self-service permits are available (and required) where the CT enters wilderness areas.
More Information on the Colorado Trail

Israel National Trail

No permit required
More Israel Trail Information
No permit required
  • Ticket required to enter Petra (available in person or in advance).
    • If entering through Little Petra, tickets must be purchased in advance.
  • Entrance fee to Dana Biosphere Reserve required. Management can be contacted at 079-911-1434.
More Jordan Trail Information
No permit required
  • If staying in location for 2+ nights, contact the local state office to obtain a permit.
More Keystone Trails Association Information
No permit required
  • FREE registration required.
RegistrationMore Te Araroa Information
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Download our popular hiking and biking guides!

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author

Kenna Sarae

Kenna-Sarae grew up in Northern California visiting her grandmother’s cabins along the PCT, which helped catalyze her love for the outdoors and interest in backpacking. She is particularly passionate about the intersection between sustainability and outdoor recreation, connecting with womxn and communities that have been historically underrepresented in outdoor spaces, and pesto pasta. You’re likely to find her having an impromptu dance party with her pup, whether it’s while backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, or just on the side of the road.