PCT Permit – You need Luck with your Application

For a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail you need a permit that allows you to travel and camp on the PCT. On the website of the PCT Association (PCTA) there are many helpful tips, which only help to a limited extent during the application process. 

Why it is so difficult to get a permit for the PCT and why you need a lot of luck in the application process, I’ll show you in this article.

The Application Process

There are two important dates for applying for a PCT permit from Mexico to Canada: 14th November and 15th January. On these two days 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time (19:30 german time) places for the new PCT year will be unlocked. On the 14th of November there will be 35 places per day released and on the 15th of January 15 more places per day. This means a maximum of 50 permits are issued per day. The reason for this action is the protection of nature, which I fully support.

Due to the fact that there is only a relatively small time window to start the PCT, the places from April 1st to May 12th are very popular. These 6 weeks are seen as the optimum time window for the start of the PCT. If you start earlier, the Sierras (which you reach after approx. 7 weeks) can still have too much snow, so that they are not passable. If you start too late, an early arrival of winter at the end of September in Washington can become a real threat. 

In this time window of 6 weeks 2,100 places are available. According to PCTA statistics, 4,506 permits were granted for a complete hike (thru-hike) from Mexico to Canada in 2018. If you have chosen a start date like me (April 7th), the chances to get a permit for this day are at an incredible 1.11%. Well, better than nothing.

My first Try

It’s November the 14th, 2018 19:20 german time and I turn on my computer. It is recommended not to come too early to the web page, since you have thereby no advantage. Anyone who comes to the website before 19:30 (10:30 a.m. Pacific Time) gets a random place in the queue.

I go shortly before half past seven to the PCT Permit application page and it opens a screen with a timer and the hint that already 10:10 a.m. Pacific Time more than 2,000 people are in the queue. Oh, uh… if that goes well.

The Queue

At 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time I get my number in the queue… it’s place 3,613, my estimated waiting time is more than an hour…. I quickly estimate my chances for the 7th of April and come to the conclusion that it is practically impossible.

PCT Permit Application Process
PCT Permit Application Process

After an hour and 55 minutes it’s finally my turn. In the meantime, however, all the available places have been filled in April. I’m going back to March and forward to May. Almost all places are occupied here as well. In addition, you have to make a very fast decision.

I see that on March 23rd only 26 places are occupied and consider whether I should start so early. After a few seconds I make a decision, want to click on the date and get the message that the 35 spots for this day are occupied as well. At this time, all available places are full from March the 10th to May the 25th. I guess that didn’t work.

Stay Calm and look for Alternatives

Confusion, disappointment, anger and a little panic rise in me. I still try to keep calm and think about alternative plans. A look at the PCTA website helps me to make the following considerations.

  • Plan A: I’ll wait until January 15th and with a little luck I’ll get a permit for the appropriate start date.
  • Plan B: Recommended procedure on the PCTA website, if you don’t get a permit on the desired date: I start further north from mile 152 at Pines to Pals Scenic Byway CA SR 74, the first point behind the Mexican border where the “max. 50 permits per day” rule no longer applies. Here you can choose your starting date in peace, hike south to the Mexican border and then hitchhike back to the starting point to continue towards Canada.
  • Plan C: I don’t start as planned at the Mexican border but from the Canadian and hike southbound from Canada to Mexico.

For me only option one and two are possible. From now on I have to wait until January the 15th. If I don’t get a permit, I’ll consider plan B and start a little further north.

My second Try

It’s January the 15th, 2019, and I’m really excited. In order to increase my chances I use some tricks – actually everybody does it that way and I have an uncomfortable feeling that you have to do something like this in order to have a chance at all. The trick looks like this: Open the application page in 4 different browsers to get 4 identification numbers for the queue.

PCT Permit Application with 4 different browsers
PCT Permit Application with 4 different browsers

Did it help? Not really… my best queue place is 2,913. The other three queue places are attached in the three thousands… This starts really well and I decide to extend my starting window up to 6 weeks. My new timeframe now lies between March the 25th and May the 5th. 

After an hour I get access to the application portal and see that the whole April is fully booked until May the 15th – crap! In March there’ s a place available on the 19th! This is not within my time frame but I want to decide quickly before the place is gone.

l take the 19th, permit in my bag! Baaaam! I go through the application process, receive a confirmation email and am overjoyed. Now I need a beer to calm down my nerves – cheers.

Luck in the right Moment – My new Start Date

The next day I have Spanish lessons and want to show my Spanish teacher how it works with this permit application. To help him understand it better, I take my smartphone out of my pocket and go to the PCT Permit application page. When I open the calendar overview I can’t believe what l’m seeing! On the 5th of April there is one place free!

PCT Application Calendar - Free place on April the 5th
PCT Application Calendar – Free place on April the 5th

I leave everything as it is, log into the Permit Management Portal with my login details from the confirmation email and try to change my start date. It’s working! My new starting date is April the 5th.

Less than five minutes later, my vacated place on March the 19th is occupied by someone else. I’ll break it down like this: So damn lucky… 😀 After two weeks my permit is released to download in the Permit Management Portal! YIIIHAAAA!

Conclusion

I must honestly admit that this whole application process has cost me a lot of energy and built up quite a bit of pressure. Not knowing when it finally starts and if it starts at all is very nerve-racking. On the other hand, many hikers have easily obtained a permit for their desired date.
 
To get a PCT Permit you need some luck, patience, a Plan B and a wide time window in which you are ready to start (at least 6 weeks). So stay flexible and hope for the best!
 
UPDATE: On my PCT 2019 hike I met Patrick from Karlsruhe. His trail name was “The First One”. Why? He was the first in the queue on November 14th 2018 and had ALL possible start dates to choose from. So it really takes a good portion of luck.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Ein Beitrag geteilt von Martin “Jukebox” – Hike Junkie (@hike.junkie) am


I hope with this article I could give you a little insight into my application process for a PCT Permit. If you liked this article, I’m happy about a Like, a heart or a smile on your face. If you have questions, suggestions or criticism, I look forward to your comments.

Greetings, Martin

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Hi, I'm Martin and I love hiking. In 2012 I had my first big hike on the Camino de Santiago. Since then I am hiking addicted and write as HikeJunkie on this blog.
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