7 U.S. Trail Permits Worth Applying For

The Wave is one of the most sought after destinations in all of Utah, and because of this, foot traffic is limited each day. To see The Wave requires either pure luck, or patience and planning as only 20 daily permits are allotted to see this magnificent sight. If you are lucky to win The Wave’s lottery, you will get the opportunity to see the uniquely shaped rock layers formed by windblown sand to resemble a wave. The hike itself is short at just over 5 miles round trip, but the memories and photos you take will stay with you long after.

Havasupai Falls, Arizona

Havasupai roughly translates to “the people of the blue-green waters”, which is right on point for the beautiful turquoise color of Havasu Creek. Every day trail blazers hike a little over 10 miles to catch a glimpse of the glistening blue-green water, numerous waterfalls, and unique rock formations hidden in the Grand Canyon. Though the hike can be strenuous at times, due to a large incline on the way back out and sweltering Arizona temperatures, it makes my list of top three hikes I’ve ever done in my life. The lottery for Havasupai Falls takes place in February each year and is difficult to attain. Be flexible with your dates and be willing to take what is first available.

Wonderland Trail, Washington

Looking for a hike that is both mentally and physically challenging? Look no further than the Wonderland Trail, an epic quest that covers a total distance of 93 miles, takes approximately 10-14 days to hike, and gains 23,000 feet in elevation. Located in Mount Rainier National Park, this trek gives visitors an all-encompassing view of the wonders of Washington, from lush green forest to staggering peaks. The Park Service accepts applications for this backcountry multi-day trip from March 15th to April 1st. In April, a lottery assigns reservations. The best time to make this journey is from late July to mid-September, when the mountain experiences the least precipitation.

Half Dome, California

Sitting gloriously 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is one of the most iconic rock formations in the world. You’ve likely seen it in photographs and heard about the grueling 14- to 16-mile trek it takes to reach the summit, yet many apply each year to take on the challenge. Unlike some of the other permit trails we cover, Half Dome allows a few more hikers to summit each day, capping out at a maximum of 300 hikers per day. With flexibility and planning, you too can climb the cables and conquer Yosemite’s greatest feat.

The Narrows, Utah

Located in Zion National Park, The Narrows is one of the most unique slot canyon hikes in the world, where hikers must traverse through the river that cuts the canyon. The water level generally stays at one’s ankles, however there are portions of the trail where the water rises to waist-deep. There are three different ways to access The Narrows, Bottom Up (no permit required), Top Down – one day, or top down –overnight. Technically you could hike The Narrows without a permit, but for the super adventurous seeking to explore a larger portion of the canyon and darkest slot canyons you typically see in photos, a permit will be required.

Mt. Whitney, California

Mt. Whitney is arguably the toughest trail in all of California. With over 6,200 feet of elevation gain and 22-miles round trip, this trail can either be a grueling all-day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. Yet climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. However, not just anyone can summit Mount Whitney. Both day and overnight permits require entering a lottery, held February 1 through March 15. For the most pleasant conditions on this challenging yet epic trail, try to get a permit for July through early September months, when the trail is usually snow free.

Pacific Crest Trail, CA to WA

Each year, hundreds of people set out to tackle all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. While less than half make it all the way, some are able to finish the mentally and physically challenging feat. Those that do complete the Pacific Crest Trail live to say they are among the few strong enough to handle such an extensive hike. However, not just anyone can hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re looking to channel your inner Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, it will require you to get a permit. The Pacific Crest Trail issues a maximum of 50 permits each day for long-distance hikers starting at or near the Mexican border.

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