If this is the year you want to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park, time is running short to get your application in.
Permit applications are found on recreation.gov, the site more and more units of the National Park System, as well as U.S. Forest Service sites, are using to handle reservations for campgrounds, some lodging, interpretive tours and other activities on public lands that carry a fee.
Despite its size, the mountain is relatively easy to summit and does not pose many of the risks associated with ascents of Mount Rainier in Washington or Mount Hood in Oregon or Mount Shasta in California.
The best way to access Mt. Whitney is from the Whitney Portal in Inyo National Forest. Here visitors will find two trailheads, including the most popular route to the summit: The Mt. Whitney Trail (main trail). When free of snow, this 11-mile trail provides a non-technical, but strenuous, trek to the top. Click here for more information on the Mt. Whitney Trail.
The North Fork Lone Pine Creek Trail is a shorter, but much more difficult hike over steep and rugged terrain. From here, hikers and climbers can access a handful of routes to the summit, including the popular Mountaineers Route and the highly technical East Face and East Buttress. Click here for more information on the North Fork Lone Pine Creek Trail.
The Mountaineers Route is more direct and less crowded than the main trail, but requires significant mountaineering skills. While many hikers find this route extremely rewarding, it is a tremendous physical challenge and not recommended for beginner.
Due to its popularity and accessibility, the Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, which manages the adjacent Inyo National Forest, have turned to the permit system to better manage numbers of hikers on Mount Whitney. All hikers, including day hikers, who head onto the mountain must have a permit, either one specific to the "Mount Whitney zone" issued by the Forest Service, or a wilderness permit issued by the Park Service if you approach the mountain from inside Sequoia.
The application period for permits runs from Feb. 1 to March 15. Once that period closes, all the applications are placed into a lottery.
During peak season -- between May 1 and November 1 -- 60 overnight visitors a day are permitted on Mount Whitney, and 100 day-use visitors are allowed. There are no daily quotas between November 1 and May 1, but you still must obtain a permit either from a Forest Service office or from self-issuing kiosks near the trailhead or at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine.
During the peak season, fees for applications include a $6 non-refundable application fee, and a $15 per person use fee. These fees are non-refundable. You also must pick up your permit, or confirm your arrival for late pickup, one to two days before your scheduled trip, or your permit will be canceled.