With Sierra snowpack levels exceeding 150% and more snow in the immediate forecast, it’s hard to begin thinking about summer adventures when there is still so much winter to be enjoyed. But if you want access to the more popular sites and trailheads up and down the mountains of California this summer, you need to act now.
Yosemite Half Dome Cables
A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed (about 225 day hikers and 75 backpackers) each day on the Half Dome Trail beyond the base of the subdome. To gain access to the infamous cables to the summit of Half Dome, you need to enter the preseason lottery on Recreation.gov that runs from March 1 though March 31. You can apply for up to six people on a permit and for up to seven different dates — you will receive an email mid-April to let you know if you have been successful or not. To help give you the best chance of securing a permit, Yosemite published a handy graph that shows you which days of the summer are the most popular — pick a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and you might have a better chance of getting this coveted permit. The current plan is for the Half Dome cables to be up May 26, 2017 through October 10, 2017, but these dates could change based on conditions.
Yosemite High Sierra Camps
As you read this now, you are sadly way to late for booking a High Sierra Camp trip this summer. But mark your calendars now for September, when lottery applications are accepted for the following year — this is for unguided, guided, and meals only options. You will be notified early spring of your success or not.
John Muir Trail/Mt. Whitney
A major bucket list long trail for every backpacker, John Muir Trail permits are understandably hard to come by. The John Muir Trail runs from the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney near the Whitney Portal trailhead on Inyo National Forest and can be hiked in either direction, though most do north to south. Due to the increased popularity of JMT hikers, Yosemite has begun issuing exit permits instead of trailhead permits — the exit quota limits the total number of hikers exiting Yosemite Wilderness over Donohue Pass to 45 hikers per day, regardless of whether you start at Lyell Canyon, Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, Happy Isles pass-through, Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley, or Sunrise Lakes. You can now submit one application for a range of dates up to 3 weeks long, and do so 168 days in advance.
At the southern end, the Whitney Portal permits for the JMT can be reserved on Recreation. gov via a lottery system that started February 1 and runs through March 15. This is the same lottery process you need to enter if you only intend to climb Mt. Whitney and not hike the whole trail.
Arguably one of the most popular backpacking spots in the Sierra with its close proximity to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness requires a permit for overnight camping, with a quota system is in place during the summer months (Friday before Memorial Day to September 30th) for the 45 destination zones within the wilderness. You can book your permit up to 6 months in advance from Recreation.gov, and need to specify where you will enter and exit the zone, on what dates, and what is your party size.
So pull out those maps and get planning!