How to get an InyoKern Sierra Wilderness Permit Reservation
Post COVID, getting permit reservations began to get much harder as hiking and
backpacking became more popular.
In 2024, the difficulty of getting a Kearsarge Pass reservation was impacted by the popular
West side Cedar Grove / Road's End entrance on Highway 140 being closed for repairs.
Highway 140 will be open by then, but you can't get a permit reservation for it and that
doesn't stop people from deciding to use Kearsarge Pass to get to the Rae Lakes via
Permit reservations are now done on recreation.gov.
The very first thing you should do on recreation.gov is to create an account.
You'll need it to make any permit or camping reservations.
Now go to Permit, and scroll down to Inyo National Forest - Wilderness Permits.
It's a good idea to "Favorite" this as it makes getting to this spot much faster.
There's a lot of good information on this page, but once you're dong reading it, choose
"Explore Available Permits"
Tell it where you are a commercial outfitter or not.
Then you have to say you want an Overnight trip, when you want to go, and how many people
Permits are reservable up to 6 months in advance and for the popular trails you should be
planning that far in advance. Example in Feb 11, you should be trying to reserve for a trip that
starts Aug 11.
Permits are available at 7am, and you should be on your computer ready and waiting at
6:55am. Popular trailheads will fill in 10 min.
Now you will see a long list of entry points (trailheads). It's a good idea to spend a lot of time
here. If you click on a trailhead name you can get a lot of basic information, like a one line
opinion of how difficult the trail and access is.
For the long and hard-to-follow Baxter Pass trail you will see:
"Baxter Pass trail is steep and rugged. Starting near Oak Creek, the trail climbs more
than 6,000 feet to the Sierra Crest at Baxter Pass. It pays to start early in the day for
this high elevation pass.
It’s approximately eight miles to the top of the pass where the trail goes into Kings
Canyon National Park, a total of 13 miles to the John Muir Trail junction. "
The "W" that all of the 60% of the reservable spots have been taken - see after the popular
Cottonwood Lakes trailhead in the image.
"W" is an older term that means "Walkup" and you used to need to walk up to the office to see
if there are spaces. These days, it means that the remaining 40% of the permits are released
2 weeks before the date. You might still be able to "walkup" to the window, but it's not
"Non-quota" means the trail has no quota and you should call to make a reservation 2 weeks
before your trip.
So right at 7am you want it to refresh the display. Do NOT click reload or you'll have to reenter
the top information. Instead you can just click "Prev X days" and then optionally click
"Next X days." OR you can just change the date a little. (I find clicking easier).
If things are working (and they sometimes don't), the number of available permits will display.
For example, Kearsarge Trail allows 36 people. Click on the number and then click "Book Now"
at the bottom. For very popular trailheads, expect this to fail often and you have to keep trying.
It will feel like a virtual brawl.
If you succeed it will give you 15 min to complete your reservation. If you clicked on a number
that you didn't mean to, then just click the check mark and it will go away.
For popular trailheads, the number available can go to "W" very quickly.
The 15 min limit thing is why it's a good idea to keep refreshing the display as some will change
their minds in the middle of a reservation for various reasons.
If you succeed at making a permit reservation, it will then go into your Reservations list on
recreation.gov. You will also get a conformation email and you will, of course, see a bill on your
credit card. Now is a good time to go out to a celebratory breakfast.
A note on iPad use. The iPad or iPhones display behave just like the computer displays, you
have to make the display refresh. In my experience, they don't auto-update like most iPad
Note. Before you go out to breakfast and while you're still on recreation.gov, you should make
a camping reservation. Places like Yosemite will let you stay at one of their backpacker's
camps. InyoKern and others don't have that so you'll have to find a campground for the night
before your permit starts. You can also find campgrounds on recreation.gov.