Yosemite NPS Backpacking Trip: COVID19 Times

How to Obtain Backcountry Permits at Yosemite National Park:

Link: https://yosemite.org/planning-your-wilderness-permit/


1. Apply 6-months in advance

2. Walk-in 24 hours before your trip, which may include waiting outside hours prior.

Yosemite allocates 40% percentage of permits for walk-in permits. It allows locals like us to take a chance to backpack.


There are no walk-in permits. Not even for half-dome. It is now a lottery, and there are several steps. 

From NPS: “There will be no first-come, first-served permits in 2020. This year, 40% of permits that would normally be available first-come, first-served are instead available by lottery two weeks in advance. You can submit a request 15 days in advance of a hike’s start date. The lottery will run daily and be processed the next day. Unreserved permits remain available up to 9 days in advance. It is not possible to obtain a wilderness permit reservation fewer than 9 days in advance.”

As a recap, for Backpackers it is a two-week lottery.

For that lottery day (date 14 days later)

It doesn’t matter when you apply, 12:01 am on the dot or 1 pm. You have three choices to submit. Have six options in mind and mix up the trailheads.

When you visit the website, “Planning Your Wilderness Permit” it shows the number of permits available now and for the lottery date. Unless the permit you applied had a specific destination, it will require research.

Trailheads Information: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/wildernesstrailheads.pdf

Wilderness Permits Information:

Trailheads Quotas:
Click on where you want to go, to view details about where to go and what trailheads to pick. If you pick the wrong trailhead, you will get denied. Do your research.

Tioga Road (west of Olmsted Point)
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite Valley
Wawona and Glacier Point Road

Valley Backpacking Options

Website and how it looks. It shows the amount of permits for Yosemite Valley.

We did not receive our first three choices, and I submitted my application 12:01:01 am.

You find out if you received permits within 24-48 hours. I received my update around 2-3:30 pm the next day.

What happens if you didn’t secure your permit?

Check the trail update page, find all the trailheads that have the number of permits available for that day. Reapply. If you apply for a permit on a day that is less than 14 days, it is first-come-first-serve. Example, we applied Saturday, 6/30 for Sunday, 7/13

The worst part of all of it, you never receive a confirmation email stating you submitted for a permit. You end up scratching your head, wondering if you successfully applied.

For the second application (applied Sunday 6/29 for Sunday, 7/12), we picked Yosemite Falls, which had 6x spots. It asked, “First Night’s Camp Location in the wilderness?” I typed “Near Capitan, 4 miles away from the trailhead and at least one-half mile back from the rim of the Valley as it is stated on the website”. Success! We found out around Monday, 6/30, at 4:03 pm. 

Note: They released the Monday, 7/13 lottery permits around 2 pm, but it took longer to receive a confirmation for the 7/12 permit. I called the Yosemite Wilderness Station because I had panicked, thinking I didn’t book it. I booked it when we were camping at Lake Alpine. And you don’t receive a confirmation of applying. So who knew? The ranger told me to wait. I could find out on Tuesday.

Camping Destination Tip

If you are unsure where to camp, as long as you state it is the minimum distance away from the trailhead, you are ok, unless you picked a route online that states a specific backpacker campsite such as May Lake or Happy Isle. There is plenty of time to solidify your destination if you are unsure. You can talk with a ranger leading up to your trip. All they care about is that you are starting from the trailhead you are assigned, and if you camp far enough where it is required. Usually it is 4 miles out from the trailhead.

Trailhead Trip

Lyell Canyon, Cathedral Lakes, Happy Isles, May Lake are specific trailheads that go quickly. Pick at least one alternative that will guarantee you a spot. Or you can gamble and pick the three most popular trailheads and apply the next day again with the hope that there are open spots available.

If there a chance the trail will intersect Half-dome, there is a box that asks if you would like to apply for half-dome permits. I checked yes, and if we do not receive half-dome permits that we still want our wilderness permits. Why not?

Success, you received a Wilderness Permit Reservation Confirmation, what’s next?

It is all outlined in your reservation confirmation email and tips + general recommendations. 

1. You have 48 hours from when the email was sent to make an online payment for your permits. In the email, it states in red the exact day and time.

The total cost for two people: $15. $5 per person, $5 transaction fee.

2. Attend a virtual meeting with a wilderness ranger. It will last for one hour. There will be a window when you have 10 minutes to join. If you miss that meeting, you will have to wait until the next meeting. During the meeting, you receive a code to obtain your permit. Please write it down. In the end, there is a Q&A. Have questions written down to ask. This is your time to ask away.

Please attend the virtual meeting at least two days before your trip. It allows time for you to receive your permit and to print it out. There is a lot of information, and it will help you plan your trip to make it as successful as possible.

Do not be that jerk who is privileged to visit Yosemite that you do everything last-minute, do not learn anything, and now you are harming the environment and animals because you did not care or listen. Don’t be that privileged jerk. Be responsible. 

3. Request Your Permit. Fill out the form per the email and enter the meeting code. 

You should receive your Wilderness Permit and Parking Permit. Please note there is a separate cost for admission. ($35). My recommendation is to get a National Parks Pass. No credit card or cash is needed. It makes it seamless to enter, and now you can visit other National Parks too. If you order it online, expect it to take max one week to receive it.

Success, you received your backcountry permit and parking permit. What’s next?

Plan accordingly and enjoy. There is a bunch of information Yosemite provides to backpack safely and to comply with the wildlife. The resources are endless and the links are provided in the emails. Read it all thoroughly. It explains about bear canisters too.

One perk of receiving a permit in advance: you can comfortably drive to Yosemite, knowing you already have your permit. There is no gamble aspect. 

An additional perk is that you can camp at the backpacker’s trail camp, which is the back half of the Upper Pines campground. It is $6 per person, per night. It is a perfect way to get acclimated to the altitude. If you get there early, you can day-hike and explore. It is an extra day in Yosemite.

Then you can get up at the crack of dawn and hike immediately. See the sunrise and be the first ones up.

When you return, you can stay an extra night. We prefer it because we do not have to worry about driving home tired. You can come back, relax, unwind, and enjoy it. 

On the 4th day at Yosemite, you can wake up, take your time, and leave the next day. Make your one night trip into three nights. On the 4th day we visited the Lower Yosemite Falls to take a quick picture. Now that is magical!

Valley Backpackers Camp Note:

It is only at the back half of Upper Pines, which are the 200s. The information can be found on table 205. You must bring cash. It is self-served. There is not a person to help you.

It is the closest to the Happy Isles trail head. If your trail head is further out like Yosemite Falls, we had to walk 2.5 miles to get to the trailhead. The rangers told us there is no other place we could park overnight except the parking lot near where we camped or at Curry Village.

If your trailhead is far from the the trail camp, do ask in the virtual ranger meeting about parking overnight in case there is a way to park that is closer to the trail head.

For Tuolumne Meadows, I remembered people on the side of the road. We did that and it was ok. For some reason, the Valley is different right now. So ask about it in the virtual meeting.

Where we backpacked

Back-half of the Upper Pines Campground sectioned off for backpackers.

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