For those who couldn’t get a permit to hike the JMT southbound (which is the typical direction of travel on the trail), hiking northbound (NOBO) can be a great alternative. Getting a permit starting from Whitney Portal is very difficult, so many NOBO hikers opt to begin their hike at Horseshoe Meadow (can camp the night before for $6 per person). There are two trails that begin here that can connect you to the JMT near Mt. Whitney (allowing you to hike the entire JMT), Cottonwood Lakes Trail and Cottonwood Pass Trail.
Both trails are roughly the same distance and will take you to Crabtree via the Pacific Crest Trail. Cottonwood Pass Trail is considered easier while Cottonwood Lakes Trail is considered more scenic and difficult. You can reach Horseshoe Meadow by car or private shuttle from Lone Pine. I’ve never personally used this shuttle service, but I’ve heard that “LonePineKurt” (LonePineKurt@aol.com) offers good rates. You can see both trails on the Mt. Whitney High Country Trail Map.
Many NOBO hikers choose to camp at Crabtree on nights #2 and 3 of their trip, which allows them to ‘dayhike’ Mt. Whitney on day 3 (and gives them some time to acclimate). As MTR is the first on-trail resupply point, many NOBO hikers opt to camp at locations with bear boxes the first few nights until all of their food fits in their bear can.
How to apply for a wilderness permit
- Go to www.recreation.gov and sign up for an account (required).
- In the search box, write “Inyo National Forest – Wilderness permits” and click on it.
- Click on “View Details.”
- Click on “Explore available permits.”
- Click on “Filter” and type “Cottonwood” in the search box.
- Next, check the availability of permits for your preferred trailhead and click on the date you wish to begin your hike. Then, click “Book Now.”
- Click “yes” for visiting Mt. Whitney.
- Next, enter your exit date.
- You now must provide your intended itinerary. Just roughly estimate where you will camp each night (you do not have to adhere to this itinerary when you’re on the trail). If you select “Other/don’t know ” for some of the nights, you may need to provide your itinerary when you pick up your permit. On your online itinerary, there may be a limit to the number of times that you can select “Other/don’t know.” Also, you can only mark up to 14 days per area (Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Yosemite National Park) on your itinerary. See this webpage for help with selecting locations for your online itinerary.
- Next, select your exit trailhead. If you’re completing the whole JMT, then you should select “Happy Isles – Yosemite Valley (Exit only).” Also, confirm your group size and select “Foot” as your method of travel.
- Also be sure to select which permit office you would like to pick up your permit (Eastern Sierra Inter-agency Visitor Center is the closest to Lone Pine and Horseshoe Meadow).
- Checkout and pay for your permit:
Where to pick up your reserved permit
You can pick up your permit up to two days in advance at the issuing station that you selected on your application:
Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center
Junction of Highway 395 and State Route 136
2 miles south of Lone Pine, CA
Open 8-5 Daily
Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center
North of Lee Vining on Hwy 395
Lee Vining, CA 93541
Open 8-5 Daily (closed in winter)
White Mountain Ranger Station
798 N. Main Street
Bishop, CA 93514
Open 8-5 Daily(closed winter weekends /holidays)
Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center
2500 Main Street
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Open 8-5 Daily