Yosemite National Park has some of the best backpacking trips in the United States. Yet, permits are difficult to get. Only 27% of applicants won the lottery in 2022. Here is how to increase your chances of getting one.
Most parks issue backpacking permits through a single advance lottery. Yosemite has 25 of them! From November to April, Yosemite runs a weekly lottery to issue permits 24 weeks before your trip start date. Here is what that looks like for 2024:
If you don’t want to remember all these dates, subscribe to the Outdoor Status newsletter to get notified when lotteries open up.
You can only enter a given lottery once, but you can enter multiple separate lotteries. Each application costs $10. In July, the lottery success rate is around 20%, so you will, on average, have to enter five lotteries (and spend $50) to win a permit.
While lotteries are a good way to regulate access, pay-to-enter lotteries only benefit those who can afford them. And a big chunk of that money ends up in Recreation.gov’s pockets.
If you don’t want to play that game, see “What if I don’t win the lottery?”.
Your odds of winning the lottery are the highest before mid-June and after mid-September. We don’t have data for October, but you should expect the success rate to be even higher than September’s.
You can enter up to 8 itineraries per lottery application, but the historical reservation data that Recreation.gov provides doesn’t tell us anything about the winning itinerary. Recreation.gov gives us a single start date per lottery application, even when that application has multiple alternative start dates.
Strangely, Sundays have ten times the number of lottery applications than other weekdays. However, all we can say is that Sunday is one of the selected options. We think that when an application has multiple start dates, Recreation.gov defaults to showing us the earliest selected start date. It’s often a Sunday since it’s the earliest start date you can select.
However, if we discard Sunday applications, we can see some variation in the weekday success rate. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday seem to have the highest success rate. But take this with a grain of salt!
Enter the lottery on Recreation.gov.
Your application must include your trip’s entry point, exit point, and 1st night camp area. You can find that information under the “permit details” section of Outdoor Status’s trip pages. Find your trip using the list of the most popular backpacking trips in Yosemite.
Permits that aren’t claimed in the lottery are released at 9 AM PT on the Friday following the lottery closing date. For example, the first lottery closes on Saturday, November 18, so unclaimed permits are released on Friday, November 24, at 9 AM PT.
Only 60% of the permits are issued through the lottery, the rest is released at 7 AM PT, 2 weeks ahead of your trip start date. It’s your best chance to get a permit. However, you will have to plan your trip on short notice.
Very often, people who book permits in advance end up canceling. These permits go back to Recreation.gov to be rebooked. You can use Outdoor Status’s alerts to get notified when we find canceled permits.
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