The United States is one of the best hiking destinations in the world, claiming iconic trails such as Half Dome, Mt Whitney, the Grand Canyon and the PCT (to name just a few!). Given the sheer popularity of many bucket list hikes in the USA, the National Park Service has made permits a requirement for certain trails to reduce crowding and protect natural resources.
Navigating these permit systems is not for the faint of heart, and we’ve combed the internet in an attempt to make the process simpler. Here is our complete USA hiking bucket list, with useful dates and tips for securing permits. Grab your camping must haves and hit the trail!
2022 uSA hiking bucket list
1. Mt whitney trail
Famous for its distinction as the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney is located in California and stands at a colossal 14,505 feet tall. An absolutely beautiful, yet grueling 22.5 mile out-and-back trail with a 6,656 foot elevation gain, the Mt Whitney Trail is well maintained and does not require any technical experience so long as it is not covered in snow and ice (which is often the case until early July). Be sure to check weather conditions and arrive prepared.
Do you need a permit to hike mt whitney?
A Wilderness Permit is required year-round for all day hiking and overnight backpacking taking place in the Mt Whitney Zone. However, between the 2nd of November and 30th of April each year, no quota is enforced and hikers can collect their permits directly from the visitor center. Be forewarned that Eastern Sierra winters are treacherous and should not be attempted unless highly experienced. Alternatively, between the 1st of May and 1st of November each year, quotas are strictly enforced and hikers and backpackers are strongly encouraged to apply for permits via the annual lottery.
When is the Mt Whitney Lottery in 2022?
The online lottery is open for permit applications between the 1st of February and 15th of March each year. Successful applicants are notified on the 24th of March and then have until the 30th of April to confirm their reservation and pay the required fee. Any unconfirmed reservations are released online at 7:00 AM PST on the 1st of May, and tend to disappear quickly. Following the 1st of May, your best bet is to check online regularly for cancellations.
Mt Whitney Permit Types
During quota season, 100 permits are issued per day for Mt Whitney Zone day hikers, and an additional 60 permits are issued per day for Mt Whitney Zone overnight backpackers. Overnight permits can extend more than one night.
What are the Mt Whitney Lottery Odds?
Mt Whitney permits during quota season are competitive. Only 34% of group leaders were awarded the date of their choice in 2019.
Mt Whitney Permit Fee
$6 transaction fee + $15 recreation fee per person
How to Apply for a Mt Whitney Permit
Apply and pay online at Recreation.gov.
Extend the Adventure
A Mount Whitney summit attempt makes for an epic addition to a California National Parks Road Trip. If you don’t have time for a multi-week adventure, tack on a few days in Mammoth Lakes, Death Valley or Sequoia.
2. Grand canyon rim-to-rim hike
Among one of the seven natural wonders of the world, completing the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike is a top bucket list item for hiking and backpacking enthusiasts spanning the globe. An incredible 21.6 mile point-to-point trail with a 5,298 foot change in elevation, the linking North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails are well maintained and broken up by three campgrounds that are equipped with water faucets, compost toilets and emergency phones (Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Garden campgrounds). If planning to complete the trail over multiple days (as the vast majority of hikers do), a backcountry permit is required.
Best Time to Do Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Backcountry permits are required year-round for camping that takes place below the rim. However, the North Rim is closed to all vehicles between the December 1st and May 15th, so keep in mind that a rim-to-rim trip may need to be extended into an out-and-back rim-to-rim-to-rim adventure during this period. For those planning to tackle the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike in just a day, permits are not required. Just beware that during summer, temperatures at the bottom of the canyon typically exceed 100 ºF (38 ºC) and can prove lethal to those forced to hike in the heat of the day.
2022 Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Permit Dates
For the best chance of obtaining a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit, all requests should be submitted by fax, mail or walk-in no later than 5 PM MST on the 1st of the month, four months prior to the proposed start date. For instance, if hoping to secure a start date falling in May, applications should be submitted no later than the 1st of January (visit the National Park Service website for a full breakdown of when to apply). Permit applications typically require at least three weeks for processing. Should any spots remain following the earliest consideration period, requests will be accepted as late as two weeks prior to a start date and a limited number of walk-up permits may be available the day prior to your hike.
What are the Grand Canyon Lottery Odds?
Grand Canyon backcountry permits are fairly competitive during high season – which runs from April to early June and September to October due to favorable weather conditions. Roughly 45% of applicants were successful in 2019. Alternatively, during low season – which runs from July to August (due to extreme heat) and December to February (due to snowfall) nearly all applicants were successful in securing permits.
Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit Fee
$10 per permit + $8 per person per night camped
How to Apply for a Grand Canyon Permit
Extend the Adventure
3. John Muir Trail
The 200+ mile John Muir Trail (JMT) weaves its way through California’s Sierra Nevada and includes iconic destinations such as Yosemite, Sequoia and Mount Whitney. Most of the JMT falls within High Sierra backcountry and wilderness areas, following the same footpath as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for almost 160 miles. Named after the famous naturalist, there are far more hikers interested in this trail than the area can handle.
Depending on your pace, the full JMT can take anything from 10 to 30 days to complete. Hikers can start at the Northern Terminus heading Southbound (starting in Yosemite and ending at Mt Whitney), or the Southern Terminus heading Northbound (starting at Mt Whitney and ending in Yosemite). The permit system differs depending on which direction and trailhead you choose. Regardless of your starting point, completing the JMT is on virtually every backpacker’s bucket list and it’s an experience that will stay with you forever.
When to Hike the John Muir Trail
For most backpackers, the best time to hike the John Muir Trail falls between July and September due to snowfall during other parts of the year. It is possible that June and October will also be mostly free of snow, but it all depends on the snowfall in California during a given year (which varies widely). While a permit is required year-round to hike the JMT, permits for late fall, winter and early spring dates are less competitive, but fall within mountaineering season and should not be attempted unless extensive winter backcountry experience has been acquired. Many of the typical re-supply points are also closed during winter, creating an added logistical challenge.
When to Apply for JMT Permits
Application dates for JMT permits vary depending on whether you’re planning to start at the Northern Terminus (also known as SOBO – or Southbound) or the Southern Terminus (also known as NOBO – or Northbound). For those hoping to depart from the Northern Terminus in Yosemite (the more popular option), a Yosemite Wilderness Permit is necessary. You can apply via the lottery system 24 weeks (i.e. 160 – 170 days) in advance of your start date. Use this table to help determine your necessary application date.
For those planning to depart from the Southern Terminus near Mt Whitney (either via Whitney Portal or Horseshoe Meadows), you’ll either be applying for a Mt Whitney permit (if starting from Whitney Portal) or an Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit (if starting from Horseshoe Meadows). You can apply for the Mt Whitney lottery between February 1st and March 15th each year, and an Inyo National Forest Wilderness permit (there is no lottery for this option) up to six months in advance of your intended start date.
What are the JMT Lottery Odds?
Regardless of whether you plan to start your hike from a Northern or Southern Terminus, JMT lottery applications are extremely competitive. Approximately 97% of applicants are unsuccessful. Your odds increase if you’re flexible on your start date and / or if you apply via both the NOBO and SOBO permit systems in the hopes that one of the two is successful.
2022 JMT Permit Cost
For SOBO backpackers departing from Yosemite on a Yosemite Wilderness Permit, successful applicants are required to pay a $10 lottery fee and additional $5 per person fee if successful. Reservations must be confirmed within the same week you receive your successful outcome notification by no later than Thursday at 11:59 p.m. For NOBO backpackers departing from Horseshoe Meadows on an Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit, permits require a $5 fee per person and a $6 transaction fee. For NOBO backpackers departing from Whitney Portal on a Mt Whitney Permit, you’ll pay a $6 transaction fee along with a $15 recreation fee per person.
How to Get John Muir Trail Permits in 2022
To apply for SOBO permits departing from Yosemite, visit the Yosemite National Park Wilderness Permits page. For NOBO permits departing from Whitney Portal, visit the Mt Whitney permit page. To apply for NOBO permits departing from Horseshoe Meadows, visit the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit page.
Extend the Adventure
For SOBO hikers, tack a few days in Yosemite National Park onto the beginning of your trip, and decompress in Mammoth Lakes or Sequoia at the end. For NOBO hikers, do the opposite! Mammoth Lakes is a great place to acclimate in preparation for your start date.
4. Havasu Falls Hike
Located in the Grand Canyon (but outside the national park), Havasu Falls (or Havasupai Falls) lie within the Havasupai Reservation and are managed directly by the Havasupai Tribe. Renowned for their magnificent turquoise color, the falls require a 10 mile hike into the canyon (20 miles out-and-back) that comes with a 2,155 foot change in elevation. While a Havasu Falls permit is not required to complete the trek, a lodge or campsite reservation is, and they are extremely difficult to secure. Day hikes are not permitted so all visitors should plan for a multi-day adventure.
Will Havasu Falls Open in 2022?
In January, The Havasupai Tribal Council passed a resolution extending its tourism suspension until June 1st, 2022, meaning that Arizona’s Havasupai Falls will remain closed throughout (at least) the first half of the year. Should reservations open in June, availability will be extremely limited due to priority given to existing bookings that had to be transferred. Havasupai Lodge reservation dates have also not been announced for 2022 and differ from year to year.
Keep in mind that summers can be brutally hot (often exceeding 100 ºF / 38 ºC) and winters can be chilly, which may not be ideal for swimming. Monsoon season falls between July and August, which can lead to flooding and possible need for evacuation.
When Do Havasu Falls Permits Go On Sale?
Havasupai Campground reservations will remain closed until at least June 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing tourism suspension in the region. In 2020, online reservations opened at 8am on February 1st and all availability was fully booked within hours. It is strongly recommended that you create an online account before bookings open for any chance of securing a spot.
Havasupai Lodge reservation dates have also not been released for 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Typically, lodge reservations open in June the year prior to an intended stay. For instance, for planned 2020 stays, lodge reservations opened at 8am on June 1st, 2019. Although rates are extremely steep, securing a booking is no easy feat and reservations are exceptionally competitive.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Havasu Falls?
There is no budget way to visit Havasu Falls and rates seem to increase year-on-year. Also, keep in mind that with effect from 2019, camping reservations must be made for 4 days and 3 nights, so hikers must be prepared to pay for a 3-night stay. In 2019, rates were $100 per person per weekday night and $125 per person per weekend night. So in 2019, a camping reservation cost between $300 and $375 per person.
Havasupai Lodge reservations also require a 4 day / 3 night stay. Current rates are approximately $175 per room per night with each room allowing for a maximum of 4 occupants. So, a lodge reservation currently costs $525 per room hosting 1 to 4 people. An additional entrance fee of $90.00 per person is charged upon arrival.
How to Make a Havasu Falls Reservation
All Havasupai Campground reservations must be made online after creating an online account. In the past, all Havasupai Lodge reservations were made telephonically. However, with effect from 2022 all lodge reservations will be made online after creating an online account. Any lodge-related questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can You Helicopter to Havasu Falls?
It is possible to reach Havasupai Lodge without hiking via helicopter, though if you have a camping reservation you will still need to hike the two miles from the lodge to Havasupai Campground. Helicopters only operate during certain parts of the year and fly on certain days so advance planning is required. However, it is not possible to book the actual helicopter journey in advance and all flights are handled on a first-come first-served basis. Flights are operated by Airwest Helicopters and depart near the trailhead. A one-way flight currently costs $85 per person.
It is also possible to ride a horse to the falls or book a pack mule to carry your gear (i.e. backpack) if you’re looking to lighten your load. However, there is much debate around the ethics of making use of horses and mules in the Grand Canyon due to reports of sub-standard treatment. Do your own research and proceed with caution.
Extend the Adventure
5. Pacific crest trail (PCT)
Stretching 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to Canada and passing through 25 national forests and 7 national parks, the PCT soared in popularity following the release of Cheryl Strayed’s blockbuster book-turned-film Wild. Hiking the full PCT takes roughly five months (for the moderately fit hiker), and many opt to complete just a section of the trail due to time constraints. If hiking more than 500 miles of the trail in a single trip, a PCT Long Distance Permit in required. For hikes less than 500 miles, permits must be obtained via each local agency you will be hiking through.
When is the Best Time to Hike the PCT?
Permits are required year-round if planning to hike more than 500 continuous miles of the PCT. Unless you’re a backcountry skier or have significant winter backcountry experience, it is strongly recommended that you confine your hike to the warmer, snow-free months – which generally fall between July and early October. Still, if completing the full PCT and starting from the Mexican border, it’s also important to start your hike before the desert becomes scorching hot. For northbound hikers aiming to backpack the full 2,650 mile trail, it’s generally best to start your journey in mid-April or early May, with the aim of only reaching the Sierra Nevada mountains (miles 700 – 1150) in July.
How Many PCT Permits Are Issued Each Year?
In 2022, Northbound permits for PCT trips starting between the Mexican border and Sonora Pass will be issued at 50 permits per day for peak season dates falling between March 1st and May 31st. Southbound permits starting between the Canadian border and Stehekin will be issued at 15 permits per day for dates falling between June 15th and July 31st. 15 permits per day will also be issued for section hikers starting in the Northern Terminus area between August 1st and September 15th.
While it may be tempting to apply for an available PCT permit falling outside of these dates, note that doing so may prove dangerous for the average hiker. Both summer heat in the desert and snow-season in the Sierras can quickly turn lethal.
In August 2021, the USDA Forest Service and Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) announced that the 2022 permit season would open on November 9th, 2021 for all hikes starting near the Mexican border. All other itineraries will open on January 11th, 2022.
How Much Do PCT Permits Cost?
PCT permits are free of charge. However, a full thru-hike of the PCT typically costs hikers between $4,000 and $8,000 in supplies, food, stopovers, etc.
When Do PCT Permits Open in 2022?
Northbound hikers starting south of Sonora Pass can first apply for permits on November 9th, 2021 at 10:30 am PST when 35 permits per day will become available. If you’ve missed this date, you can apply on January 11th, 2022 at 10:30 am PST, when the remaining 15 permits per day will be issued. For Southbound PCT thru and section hikers, permit applications will open on January 11th, 2022 at 10:30 am PST.
You can apply for your PCT permit here. The permit application system makes use of an online queue. When you arrive any time before 10:30am, you will be assigned a random place in line. Arriving early does not improve your odds, but those arriving late (after 10:30am) will be placed at the back of the queue.
6. Appalachian Trail
Crossing through 14 states and extending 2,193 miles between Georgia and Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. For thru-hikers planning to tackle the trail from start to finish, doing so typically takes five to seven months and only one in four successfully complete the endeavor. Still, for those starting to grow weary of the phrase “permits are highly competitive”, the Appalachian Trail is a fantastic option, as a permit is not required. However, some campsites along the route charge a fee and certain national and state parks require a permit upon entry.
When Is The Best Time to Hike the Appalachian Trail?
Most thru-hikers opt to complete the Appalachian Trail from south to north, starting in Georgia. For northbound hikers, the best time to start is between early March and mid-April, with the aim of finishing the trail before mid-October. For southbound hikers starting in Maine, the best time to start falls between early June and mid-July, with the aim of completing the trail by September or October.
Do You Need a Permit to Hike the Appalachian Trail?
No permits are required for thru-hikers aiming to complete the Appalachian Trail. However, certain national and state parks along the route require permits or camping fees. For a full breakdown of permits and fees along the trail, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website. Thru-hikers are also encouraged to register their hike here.
How Much Does It Cost to Hike the Appalachian Trail?
A full thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail typically costs hikers between $3,000 and $6,000 (excluding gear) over the course of their 5 to 7 month trek.
Extend the Adventure
After conquering the highest elevation point along the Appalachian Trail (Clingmans Dome), spend a few nights off trail in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg TN, two outdoor towns known as gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains.
7. Half Dome Trail
Looming 4,737 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, Half Dome is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. A stunning, yet taxing 14 to 16 mile out-and-back trail with a 4,800 foot elevation gain, most hikers opt to approach Half Dome via the Mist Trail (with the alternate option being the John Muir Trail). During cable season, permits are required to proceed beyond the dome’s base. The approach to the summit is not for the faint-of-heart and it is not uncommon to hear of hikers falling to their death. Between 2005 and 2015, 12 deaths and 140 search-and-rescue operations were reported. Still, for those who persist, the views from the top are nothing short of spectacular.
2022 Half Dome Permit Dates and Quotas
When the cables are up, a permit is required to hike beyond the base of Half Dome. Typically, cables go up towards the end of May (usually the Monday before Memorial Day) and are taken down mid-October subject to weather conditions. During the rest of the year, permits are not required, but scaling Half Dome without cables is only for those with extensive rock climbing experience and should not be attempted by the average hiker.
How Can I Get a Half Dome Permit in 2022?
The Half Dome cable pre-season lottery falls between March 1st and 31st. Applicants can apply for the lottery at any point during this period (i.e. there’s no advantage to applying earlier versus later), and results will be released by April 11th. Successful applicants have until April 25th to confirm and pay for their permits. During pre-season, 225 permits are available each day and each application can include up to six people.
For those that miss the pre-season lottery, a daily lottery is also available between May 25th and October 11th (weather conditions permitting). Applicants can apply for a permit via the daily lottery two days in advance of their desired date anytime between midnight and 4pm PST. Applicants will be notified if they were successful later the same day. Multiple applications by the same person are not allowed, but each application can include up to six people.
Backpackers who wish to summit Half Dome can apply for a Half Dome permit along with their Wilderness Permit. More information here.
How Hard Is It To Get Half Dome Permits?
In 2020, 28% of pre-season lottery applicants were successful in securing permits and 23% of daily lottery applicants were successful. However, in typical (non-pandemic) years, only about 7% of daily lottery applicants are successful.
How Much Do Half Dome Permits Cost?
Each lottery application requires a $10 non-refundable fee. For successful applicants, a $10 recreation fee is also charged for each hiker. For the pre-season lottery, the $10 recreation fee is due on or before April 25th. For the daily lottery, the $10 recreation fee is automatically deducted using the credit card provided at the time of application.
Where Can I Get Half Dome Permits in 2022?
Apply and pay online at Recreation.gov.
8. The Wave
Located in Coyotes Buttes North (a section of Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness), The Wave lies on the Utah-Arizona border and is one of the most photographed natural features in the United States. It’s exceptionally difficult to visit given the limited number of permits issued per day.
Still, getting a permit is only part of the adventure. The Wave lies in a backcountry wilderness area with no developed trails or facilities en route. Permit holders will be given a route description and photo map that includes GPS coordinates. Basic navigation skills are recommended, particularly if you’re contending with the extreme heat of summer. The journey is 6.4 miles round-trip and rated as moderately difficult.
Do You Need a Permit for The Wave?
Permits are required year-round for The Wave. All issued permits are day-use only and no overnight camping is allowed. In terms of the best time to visit The Wave, summers can be scorching hot with temperatures often exceeding 100 ºF (38 ºC). Alternatively, during winter the weather can be unpredictable. Still, permits are so competitive that hikers are generally happy to visit any time of year regardless of conditions.
How Does The Wave Lottery Work?
A maximum of 64 people per day are permitted to visit Coyote Buttes North (the area that includes The Wave) and permits are extremely competitive. 48 permits and / or 12 groups (whichever comes first) are available each day via a seasonal online lottery and an additional 16 permits and / or 4 groups (whichever comes first) are available via a new mobile-based day-of lottery. Each application can include a maximum of six people.
To apply in advance via the online lottery, applicants can submit their application at any point during the calendar month falling four months prior to their intended hike date. For instance, those hoping to visit in May should apply via the online lottery any time during January (there’s no advantage to applying earlier in the month versus later). Results are released on the 1st of the following month (so in the example above, results would be released on February 1st) at which point payment is due.
To make use of the new mobile-based lottery (which recently replaced the walk-in lottery that used to take place in Kanab), apply through the recreation.gov app two days prior to your intended hike date between 6am and 6pm Utah time.
To apply, you MUST be within the set geofence, which includes areas such as Page, Vermilion Cliffs, Kanab, Orderville, Glendale and East Zion (see here for full geofenced region). You will not be able to apply using this method if you are not physically located in one of these areas. Successful applicants will be notified by 7:15pm Utah time and need to collect their permit at 8am the following day.
The Wave Permit Costs
There’s a $9 non-refundable fee associated with each application. For successful applicants, a $7 fee per person (or dog) is also payable. All fees paid are non-refundable and non-transferrable.
How Hard Is It To Get a Permit for The Wave?
In 2019, only 3.5% of applicants were successful in securing permits.
How To Apply For The Wave Lottery
Extend the Adventure
More For the USA Hiking Bucket List
This USA hiking bucket list is a work in progress and popular US hikes are constantly being added. On our list of future additions include The Narrows in Zion National Park, Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming, The Enchantments in Washington, the Kalalau Trail in Hawaii and Angels Landing in Zion National Park (which will require permits from April 2022). Any others we missed? Shoot us a mail with your recommendations!
Up and Away Magazine is reader supported. This means that when you make a booking via one of our affiliate links, we earn a commission at absolutely no additional cost to you. In this way, we are able to bring you content for free. Your continued support is greatly appreciated. Adventure on!