Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous US and hiking to the summit of 14,505 ft is a bucket-list hike for most hikers. However; you can’t just go whenever you want. There is an advanced permit system in place which I will walk you through along with tips and tricks on how to legally hike Mt. Whitney when you don’t win a Whitney permit.
Can you hike Mt. Whitney without a Permit?
A permit is required all year round to day hike and overnight camp to the summit of Mount Whitney. Quota season is in place from May 1 – Nov 1 and you can get your permits through the Mt. Whitney Lotto.
You can, however, hike the first 3 miles of the Mt. Whitney trail to Lone Pine Lake without a permit which is a beautiful hike on its own. Some people use this as a training hike the day before their Mt Whitney attempt. Once you reach the Whitney Zone just beyond Lone Pine Lake, a Mt. Whitney permit is required and rangers do check.
How do you apply for a Whitney permit?
Here is everything you need to know about the Mt. Whitney permit lotto.
You can apply for a Mount Whitney permit at www.recreation.gov. Because this permit utilizes a lotto system, it does not matter how quickly you apply for your permit; as long as you apply within the month of February, your odds of winning a permit are the same as all other applicants.
Important dates and fees to remember:
- February 1 – March 1: Applications accepted
- One application per group
- Can have up to 10 trip choices and alternate leaders – this cannot be changed later. This means you can select multiple dates and permit types when submitting your application. Fill out all choices for a higher chance of winning permits! Only the permit holder or alternate leaders can pick up the permit.
- March 15: Results posted
- April 21: Deadline to accept and pay permit fees (it costs $6 for each permit reservation and $15 per person)
- Max group size is 15 people
- April 22: Unclaimed permits are released on recreation.gov at 7am PT
- May 1 – Nov 1: Quota season
- Nov 2 – April 30: Non-quota season but permits are still required
Types of Mt Whitney permits you can apply for during lotto season:
There are two types of permits that you can apply for. If you’re unsure if you should day hike or backpack Mount Whitney, check out this post for my pros and cons list, as well as my personal experience of each.
- Day Use Permit (Mt Whitney Zone Permit): For all the hardcore people who want to day hike 22 miles, this is for you. This permit is valid for your permit date only, midnight to midnight, although it is common for people to start before midnight of their permit date to allow for more hours on the trail which technically your permit does not cover.
- Quota season allows 100 people per day
- Overnight – Mt Whitney Trail: For those looking to backpack and overnight camp along the Mt Whitney trail, this is for you. This permit is valid for multi-night camping trips along the Mt Whitney trail and allows you to exit at a different trailhead; it is commonly used for North-bound JMT hikers. There are a few camp areas that you can read about in my other Mt Whitney blog posts.
- Quota season allows 60 people per entry day
How hard is it to get a permit to climb Mount Whitney?
Tips to increase your chances of winning a permit.
For the Whitney lotto, it’s pure luck, but there are ways to improve your chances.
- July-August is the busy seasons so I’d aim for Sept-Oct. The daylight is shorter and it gets a lot cooler once the sun goes down but day time temps are still comfortable with the right layers. June could be good too with a little less applicants depending on the snow year but at the moment, the 2023 snowfall in the Sierra Nevada is on track to being the snowiest season in Sierra Nevada history.
- Apply for weekdays and prepare to take that time off if you win permits.
How can I climb Mt Whitney if I don’t win a permit?
- Hike in early November before the snow season starts. It will be freezing temps when the sun is not up but with the right layers, it’s a way for you to hike Mt Whitney without a permit.
- Are you experienced with mountaineering? If so, April is a great time to climb up the mountaineer’s route. The typical Spring season should offer drier conditions during the first couple of miles before needing to put your mountaineering gear on. You will still need a permit but it’s non-quota so anyone (experienced or with a guide) can go.
- Looking to go during May – Oct still? You can get a permit entering from a different trail that exists on Mount Whitney! This will require multiday trips unless you’re a hardcore ultra runner and a car shuttle. The shortest and most common routes would be from
- Mt. Langley to Mt. Whitney: about 5 days starting South of Lone Pine, CA
- Kearsarge Pass to Mount Whitney: about 5 days starting North of Lone Pine, CA
- High Sierra Trail: about 5-7 days starting on the Western side of the Sierra Nevada in Sequoia
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