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What You Need to Know About Eastern Sierra Camping and Wilderness Permits

mammoth lakes hiking trails

People travel from all over the world to the Eastern Sierras for good reason. From mountain peaks to meadows full of trout stocked streams, there’s something for everyone in the wilderness surrounding Mammoth Lakes.

However, if you’re unfamiliar with the different types of public lands and the permits necessary to access them you could stumble before you even step foot on the trail. To help you start off on the right foot, the ASO Mammoth team has put together a quick guide to answer the most important questions you may have about Eastern Sierra camping and wilderness permits. Check it out below!

Where Do You Need A Permit to Hike?

Generally, you don’t need a permit for day hikes.

Once you begin planning overnight hikes and camping trips into publicly controlled land though, you have to do your research and see what permits are required. The main factors that will determine if or what permit you need is who controls the land, what its classification status is, what you plan on doing there, and how long you plan on staying there. One of the most notable exceptions to not needing a permit for day hikes is hiking into the Mount Whitney Zone, which requires a permit for day hikes and overnight hikes.

For example, if you wanted to camp overnight in the John Muir Wilderness you would need to decide what trail you’re going to hike in on, how long you’ll stay, if you’ll be using a barbecue or creating campfires, and then acquire the right permit for your trail.

Does All Publicly Managed Land Require a Permit?

Whether you plan on visiting a national park, wilderness area, national forest, or any other kind of publicly managed land, you should check beforehand to see if a permit is required and where you can purchase one. While not true for all, most publicly managed lands will require a permit or pass. An excellent resources to figure out the permits and passes you’ll need for your trip is the U.S. Forests Service’s interactive map. While you’ll have to look elsewhere for information on national parks, this map provides access to information for national forests and wilderness areas.

Where Can You Camp?

While there are beautiful and convenient private and public campgrounds all over the Eastern Sierras, one of the best ways to experience the solitude and beauty of the mountains is dispersed camping.

If you’re camping outside of a designated campground in a national forest, then you are dispersed camping. The main thing to consider when dispersed camping is the three major landowners in the Eastern Sierras. They are the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the city of Los Angeles. Other than when by a restricted area like a road, most land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is open to camping. However, on land controlled by the city of Los Angeles, such as that along the Owens River, camping is prohibited.

A good example of this policy is explained in depth on the U.S. Forest Service’s dispersed camping page.

Another great resource to determine what you need to camp around the Eastern Sierras is the Inyo National Forest’s list of wilderness trail names and permit quotas. On this page, you’ll see every trail in the Inyo National Forest, how many permits are made available, and permit guidelines for the wilderness areas in the forest.

If you’re still unsure, call ahead and speak to a park or forest official who can answer your questions with certainty!

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