Permit Season

posted Apr 24, 2010, 8:58 AM by Paul Wagner
It's springtime, and that means it's time to start filing for your wilderness permits with the various national parks, forests, etc.  And of course, each authority and region has its own system, which makes it all that much more challenging...which is to say: frustrating. We sent in three applications:  one to Yosemite, one to Desolation Wilderness, and one to the Hoover Wilderness.
At one end of the spectrum is Yosemite National Park, which posts its trail quotas and constantly updates them to let you know when their reservations are full for each day and every trailhead.  That's nice.  I understand that they have to manage these resources, and I appreciate the fact that when I go out into the wilderness areas of Yosemite, I am not going to meet 750 other people who are all doing the same thing. 
I am not enthusiastic about the lecture they give when you pick up your permit--after four or five repetitions, this gets a little silly--but still, it's a good system, and it still allows some permits to be available on a first-come first serve basis. It's the best system for a highly visited park, and it appropriate for Yosemite.  My only complaint is that they really ought to be able to put the whole system on-line, rather than have you work through their wilderness center.  What the heck, if the airlines can do it, so can the national parks.
At another end of the spectrum is the Emigrant Wilderness.  All permits are provided as requested--all you have to do is ask.  Arrive at the Summit Ranger Station, tell them where you want to go, and they'll write up your permit for you.  Simple, easy, and very convenient.  Yeah, you may run into a few people at a single campsite...but Emigrant has enough areas nearby that you can always find another place to camp if you are willing to walk another mile, or less.  Perfect.
In the ugly middle is Desolation Wilderness.  I know that this place gets a lot of traffic, but there is really no reason for them to run the system the way they do.  Permits are only available after April 22, so on that day their phone is busy, their fax machine is overworked, and there is no way to find out whether or not you are getting through or getting your permit.  And there is nothing on-line to help you.  That's just bad organization, and an almost criminal ignorance of modern technology.  grump hmph. 
Of course, if you don't want to deal with any of this, you can just backpack in a national forest.  You can get your campfire permit from any CDF fire station, and you are good to go.  We know, because we got one for our hike to Hite Cove, and it is good for all year. 
Which may come in handy if we never hear back from Desolation wilderness.