John Muir Trail - South Bound Permit 101

Updated December 2016

NEW! For 2017 JMT hikers Yosemite NPS has announced a new process for flexible start dates which allows you to submit a single fax permit for your entire date range. See updated "How to Apply" section below.

The official northern starting point of the John Muir Trail is Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. Southbound hikers need only a single permit to hike the entire JMT, including exiting at Mt. Whitney, but face a challenging 2% success rate given the volume of applicants. These permits have been regulated by the same quota system for over 25 years but increasing demand has made it harder to obtain a permit each year. The information below should help you improve your odds by using alternate Yosemite trailheads, picking exact start dates, and correctly filling out the application. Most importantly, permits become available exactly 24 weeks (168 days) in advance and must be reserved by fax. Faxed applications are drawn randomly first thing every morning when the office opens. This means the entry date on your fax must be exactly 169 days from the day you send it (processed the following day). Be prepared for many rejections but don't give up!

>> Click here for my JMT trip summary page

By The Numbers

Each day there are:

This adds up to a permit success rate of only 2 or 3%! This also means the bottleneck for your permit is either Donohue Pass or your starting trailhead, so always include backup trailhead options.

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Happy Isles is the official starting point of the JMT, with 2 options for first night campsites. There are also 3 alternate starting trailheads which are listed below in order of increasing distance along the JMT. See map below.

  1. Happy Isles

    1. To Little Yosemite Valley:

      Begin your hike at the official starting point of the JMT. This option requires you to camp at Little Yosemite Valley on your first night, which is 4.7 miles from the trailhead and 3.5 miles from the Half Dome Junction. You can continue on to any campsite along the JMT the following night.

    2. Pass Through

      This option also starts you off at the official trailhead of the JMT. The difference is that you must camp beyond Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome on your first night, so you must hike a minimum of 8.2 miles before setting up camp. I chose this option for our permit and we found an amazing campsite just past the Half Dome Junction, putting us in a good position to hike Half Dome on day one.

    3. >> Click here for my JMT Day 1 Summary
  2. Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley

    Glacier Point is an alternate starting trailhead and bypasses the first 4.7 miles of the JMT before joining it near Nevada Fall. The hike is approximately the same length as the JMT section you are skipping. This option requires you to camp in Little Yosemite Valley. If you are having trouble obtaining a permit at Happy Isles this is a good back-up option.

  3. Sunrise Lakes

    This is an alternate starting trailhead which bypasses the first 13.2 miles of the JMT before joining it at Sunrise High Sierra Camp. The hike to get to the JMT is 5.8 miles. If you are having trouble obtaining a permit at Happy Isles or Glacier Point this is a good back-up option.

  4. Lyell Canyon

    This alternate starting point is the furthest along the JMT, beginning in Tuolumne and bypassing the first 22.8 miles of the JMT. This trail joins the JMT almost immediately. If you are having trouble obtaining a permit at Happy Isles, Glacier Point, or Sunrise Lakes this is a good option. Lyell Canyon has more total permits than each of those trailheads individually as well.

How to Apply

First of all, decide for which range of dates you are able to begin the hike. Note that if you choose a single date it is very unlikely that you will win a permit, so flexibility is key!

On that note, if you do have a flexible start range you can use the much easier 2017 JMT lottery process to submit a single application for your entire range of dates. The lottery process is identical except that your application will be automatically submitted each day during that range and you will not need to fax a separate application each day. Your application will only be removed if you win, you cancel, or your date range ends. You will receive an e-mail each day 168 days in advance of that start date letting you know if you were rejected or accepted. This lottery permit may be submitted up to 170 days in advance of the first start date (or 1 day ahead of the standard JMT submission date).

Choose your first start date as early as you can, knowing that that you could be rejected for days or likely weeks. Only one permit may be submitted per group.

First of all, decide when you want to start the hike. Begin applying as soon as you can, knowing that that you could be rejected for weeks beyond your initial intended start date.


  1. Download the permit application here: Flexible Start Date Range or here: Standard Wilderness Permit
  2. These fields are non-negotiable if you want to hike the JMT:
    1. Entry date: see reminder above.
    2. Trip length (or exit date): choose this based on how long you think the hike will take you. Add extra days just in case.
    3. Exit trailhead: Whitney Portal
    4. (Applicable only for standard application) My trip exits Yosemite: Yes, via Donohue Pass
  3. Decide if you want to hike Half Dome:
    1. Choose no, or yes and the number of people
    2. Choose if you still want to hike the JMT without Half Dome. I strongly recommend processing the request anyway and doing Half Dome on a separate trip if possible. You can also try to get walk-in Half Dome permits.
  4. Fill out the fields that I can’t help you with:
    1. Make appropriate selections for your group and stock
    2. Fill out your trip leader and payment information
  5. Decide where you want to start, or in the case of the new lottery permit rank your options:
    1. Entry trailhead: refer to details above
    2. First night camp location: refer to details above
  6. Submit your application via fax. Note that the time of the fax does not matter, the faxes will be randomly selected from the entire group the following day.
  7. Perform your favorite good luck ritual and patiently wait for an email!