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11 Well-known Mountain climbing Trails with the Hardest Permits to Get within the US

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So you want to go hiking at The Wave or climb Mt. Whitney? You’re going to need persistence, attention to detail and a good bit of luck because these places and some of our other favorites require a permit. Listed below are the 11 Hardest Permits To Get as well as any tips or tricks we know of that will help you obtain one. Experience has taught us that it’s best to have low expectations so that you can be pleasantly surprised if you find your number is called as well as a backup plan in the event that it isn’t.

11 Hardest Hiking Permits to Get in the US (photo: trailkrum) // localadventurer.com

11 FAMOUS HIKING TRAILS AND HARDEST ADVENTURE PERMITS TO GET IN THE US

1. Half Dome Cables Route, California

It’s not that there is a shortage of permits available (300 people per day are allowed beyond the base of the Sub Dome), it’s just that demand is so very high for the Half Dome Cables Route! There are daily lotteries and a pre-season lottery, where applications are taken from March 1 – March 31. Read more on how to get Half Dome permits plus what you need to know before your hike, what to pack for Half Dome, or check out our photo diary of the hike.

Hiking Half Dome Cables - Scariest thing I've done on a hike... so far // localadventurer.comYosemite Half Dome Hike // localadventurer.com

2. John Muir Trail, California

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is 210.4 miles long and has an elevation gain of about 47,000 feet. This is not for the faint of heart! It passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks and for about 160 miles is also part of the longer Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Permits for the John Muir Trail are hard to get because of its increasing popularity. From 2011 to 2015, there has been a 100% increase in JMT permits requested. The current solution is an exit quota (45 permits per day) over Donohue Pass. Recently the park system has changed their application process and is letting people submit one application for a longer range of dates. That way, if you’re flexible about when you can start, you have a greater chance of getting a permit. (Note: This only applies to John Muir Trail Hikers that are exiting Yosemite over Donohue Pass.)

Nevada Falls, John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park + 11 Most Difficult Hiking Permits to Get in the US // localadventurer.com

3. The Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona/Utah

The Wave Rock Formation is located in Coyote Buttes North, which is part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The trailhead is located in Utah, and you hike over the border where you’ll arrive into the permitted area. There are 20 people allowed onto the Wave per day. 10 people are awarded permits online and 10 are awarded at a walk-in lottery. If you’re ready to try your luck, check out our post on how to get the Wave permits plus tips for your hike and our photo diary.

The Wave AZ - a sandstone rock formation popular among hikers and photographers. They only allow 20 people in per day and it's by lottery // localadventurer.com

4. Mt. Whitney Trail, California

Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the “lower 48”. It’s also the most frequently climbed mountain peak in the Sierra Nevadas, and can be one of the most difficult permits to get. In 2016, there were 13,638 applications! There are two places to obtain permits: The Inyo National Forest and Sequoia & Kings Canyon. The Inyo National Forest is far more difficult to get than the one offered by Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Mt Whitney - 11 Most Difficult Backcountry Permits to get in the US (photo: trailkrum) // Local Adventurer
photo: trailkrum

5. Enchantments, Core Zone, Washington

224 campers are allowed per night (28 groups of up to 8 people) in this area, which offers high alpine lakes of a gorgeous blue color at 7,000-8,000 feet of elevation. The wilderness here is virtually untouched. Sound good? Here’s the scoop: In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service extended the season for required, limited-entry permits for overnight camping. The application period runs from February 15 – March 2 and 75% of those permits are issued through a lottery. The permit season now runs from May 15 – October 31.

Enchantments Washington + 11 Hardest Adventure Permits to Get in the US (photo: Brian Holsclaw) // Local Adventurer
photo: Brian Holsclaw

6. Havasupai Falls, Arizona

Many people think that the falls are part of the Grand Canyon, but they’re actually part of a side canyon called Havasu Canyon which is outside of the National Park. The Havasupai Tribe manages the land and there are multiple checkpoints once you arrive at Supai Village.

As of February 2017, the Havasupai Tribe launched a website where they were going to start taking online reservations. Unfortunately, there was an overwhelming amount of reservation requests that now they’re no longer taking online reservations. They still take reservations at the beginning of February for the entire year and you have to call in to let them know which dates you want and how many people. Sounds simple enough, but the hard part is getting them on the phone! If you need more tips, read our post on how to get Havasupai Permits and tips for your hike or check out day one and day two photo diaries of the hike.

Mooney Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Supai, Arizona // localadventurer.com

7. Denali Road Lottery, Alaska

The Denali Road Lottery is a four-day event in September that allows winners the chance to purchase one day-long permit which lets them drive as much of the Denali Park Road as the weather conditions allow. If the park has seen early snow, the Park Road might only be open as far as Savage River (mile 15). Otherwise, you will typically be able to drive all the way out to Wonder Lake (mile 85). The number of applicants fluctuates each year (last year there were 12,600 applicants) but there are only 1,600 winners (400 per day). Your odds of winning are about 1-in-7. Applications are accepted from May 1 – May 31.

Denali Road Lottery + 11 Hardest Adventure Permits to Get Your Hands On in the US (photo: Wall Boat) // Local Adventurer
photo: Wall Boat

8. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is an incredible experience. It’s a popular destination for everything from mountaineering and hiking to backcountry camping and fishing. If you want to get away from the crowds, though, consider backcountry camping. To reserve a backcountry reservation for the summer season, you have to apply for a permit during a certain period: the first Wednesday in January (starting 8 am MST) through May 15.

Grand Teton National Park + 11 Most Difficult Adventure Permits to Obtain in the US // Local Adventurer

9. The Narrows, Zion

You may have heard about the Narrows in Zion National Park and for good reason. This hike is one of the best around! Anyone can hike the bottom up half of the trail as a day hike, but you’ll need a Wilderness Permit to do the full top to bottom hike. Check out our backpacking gear list for the Narrows hike and our photo diaries for day one and day two hiking the Narrows top down.

The Narrows, Zion National Park + 15 Incredible Road Trips from Las Vegas // Local Adventurer

10. Selway River Rafting, North Central Idaho

Idaho’s Selway River may not be as famous as the Colorado River when it comes to rafting, but the permits are much more difficult to get (if you can imagine that). In typical years, 2,000 or more parties apply for just over 60 private trip permits-which are not good odds. It’s been said that a Selway River permit might be the hardest in the U.S. to score. If you’re not wedded to the idea of running it yourself, pay for a guided trip, where your odds are much better. The Selway River is one of four rivers that are part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The limited permit season is annually from May 15 to July 31.

Selway RIver Raftin Permits + 11 Hardest Adventure Permits to Obtain in the US (photo: Aaron of Idaho Fish and Game) // Local Adventurer
photo: Idaho Fish and Game

11. Yellowstone Snowmobile Lottery, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park in the wintertime is fierce while also being a wonderland of beauty. If you are interested in snowmobiling through the park, have grit and like to take risks, the payoff is sublime beauty and the ride of your life! The program allows only one non-commercially guided group per day (maximum of five snowmobiles per group) to enter Yellowstone from each of its four winter entrances.

Yellowstone Snowmobile Lottery + 11 Most Difficult National Park Lotteries // Local Adventurer
photo: NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Have you had any luck getting a permit to one of these spots? If so, how’d you do it? Did we miss anything?

Don’t forget to pick up an America the Beautiful Pass to save money on park entry. It gets you into National Parks, National Forests, BLM land, and more.

As always, if you liked this post, please share it with a friend or pin it for later.

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Caroline + Erin

CAROLINE + ERIN

They are freelance web designers and photographers who love finding adventure, both big and small. The two make a daily practice of sharing vulnerabilities, truth-telling, and side-splitting laughter. They’ve honed the art of traveling fast and doing all of the things that an adventurer can do in a day or two. The couple lives in Asheville, North Carolina and spend as much time as possible in the mountains.

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