With the start of a new year, it's time again for our annual list of opening dates and deadlines for both reservations and permits for some of the most popular outdoor destinations in California.
Yosemite's campgrounds are managed by the National Park Service, unlike all the other accommodations in the park. Seven of the largest accept reservations through the National Recreation Reservation System (www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777). You can book up to five months in advance with a new month of reservations opening up on the 15th of each month at 7 a.m. What this means is that on Jan. 15 at 7 a.m., reservations for May 15 to June 14 become available. On Feb. 15, reservations for June 15 to July 14 will open up.
Reservations often sell out within a few minutes, so hopeful campers should be on the website and ready to go before 7 a.m. The website is recommended because the phone system can be overloaded and online users may book all the sites while phone users are waiting for an operator.
The NRRS also handles campground reservations for all other national forests and parks (including cabins and fire lookouts), with reservations available exactly six months in advance.
Yosemite's hotels, motels, cabins, tent cabins, High Sierra Camps, and housekeeping cabins are operated by the park's concessionaire, DNC Parks and Resorts. The High Sierra Camps are by far the most competitive and applications are chosen via a lottery system. Lottery applications for 2014 will be accepted from Sept. 1 through Nov. 1. Reservations for all other accommodations and tickets for the Ahwahnee Hotel's Bracebridge Dinner are available one year and one day in advance beginning at 7 a.m. (www.yosemitepark.com ro call 801-559-4884).
As with the NRRS, Internet users have an advantage because they don't have to wait to speak with an operator.
Sequoia National Park operates its own Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp along the popular High Sierra Trail. Reservations open today at 7 a.m. (www.visitsequoia.com/bearpaw.aspx or call 866-807-3598).
Finding lodging in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is less challenging than in Yosemite. You can currently make reservations through the end of 2013. Go to www.
sequoia-kingscanyon.com or call 866-522-6966.
Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome continue to be required this year. Although the website has not yet been updated, the official word is that the system should be the same as last year, though changes still are possible. That means that the majority of permits should be distributed through a lottery system with applications accepted March 1-31. About 50 additional permits will be offered for each day that the cables are up. Applications will be accepted two days in advance with results announced at the end of the application day. There is an application fee ($4.50 Internet; $6.50 phone), plus a fee of $5 per hiker. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/
hdpermits.htm. Lottery applications will be processed through www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.
The popular springtime "Path of the Padres" hike along Los Banos Creek is accessible with ranger-led groups on Saturdays and Sundays from late February through late April. The abundant spring wildflowers are a major attraction. For reservations call 209-826-1197 starting on Feb. 1 (adults, $12; children 6-12, $7).
Permits are required to hike to the 14,495-foot summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. Applications are placed into a lottery because the trail is so popular. Even determined hikers who attempt the 22-mile challenge in a single day must have a permit. Inyo National Forest (http://fs.usda.gov/inyo; 760-873-2400) accepts applications from Feb. 1 through March 15. The cost is $15/person.
Wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips into the most popular wilderness areas. For national forest areas in the Sierra Nevada, and especially for the national parks, advance reservations are strongly recommended. Yosemite permits can be reserved up to 24 weeks in advance by phone, fax, or mail (www.nps.gov/yose; phone: 372-0740; fax: 372-0739). The reservation fee is $5 plus $5 for each person in the group. Reservations for Sequoia and Kings Canyon permits are accepted starting March 1. A $15 fee is charged (www.nps.gov/seki; 559-565-3341). For national forest trailheads, requesting a permit in March or April should guarantee a reservation in areas subject to daily quotas. Check with each forest's headquarters for further details.
For overnight trips in non-wilderness areas within national forests, such as the popular Hite's Cove trip on the South Fork of the Merced River, no permit is required unless you plan on having a campfire. An annual California Campfire Permit, valid in all National Forests and BLM areas, can be obtained from any ranger station. Sequoia National Forest has offered an online permit for several years, but hasn't yet updated it for 2013 (www.fs.fed.us/r5/
campfire-index.html). Campfires may be prohibited in specific areas or in times of fire danger, so make sure you check restrictions before your trip. The permit also is required for camping on public lands outside of established campgrounds.
California State Park campground reservations are available at www.reserveamerica.com or by calling 800-444-7275. Reservations can be made as early as seven months in advance. Reservations are opened in month-long blocks on the first of each month. Currently, they can be made through July 31. The next block (through Aug. 31) will open on Feb. 1 at 8 a.m.
The remote eastern section of Henry Coe State Park is open for vehicle access on April 26-28 of this year. Access is granted via a lottery system that will open in February. For more information go to www.coepark.net.
The Sierra Foothill Conservancy offers a wide variety of hikes and classes in the spring. A full calendar of these activities and an easy-to-use online reservation system can be found by going to www.sierrafoothill.org/hikes_classes_2010.htm. You can also call 559-855-3473.
When trying to get a reservation or a permit for a popular trail or accommodation, the best strategy is to use Internet reservation systems or to send in your application at the earliest possible time. If you can plan your trip for a weekday or the offseason, your likelihood of success increases exponentially.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
JAN. 2: Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp
FEB. 1: Mt. Whitney permits, Path of the Padres, Henry Coe Backcountry Weekend
MARCH 1: Half Dome permits, Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness permits
SEPT. 1: Yosemite High Sierra Camp reservations
1ST OF EACH MONTH (8 a.m.): California State Parks (seven months in advance)
15TH OF EACH MONTH (7 a.m.): Yosemite campgrounds (five months in advance)
24 WEEKS IN ADVANCE: Yosemite wilderness permits
6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE: national park and national forest campground reservations
1 YEAR IN ADVANCE: Sequoia and Kings Canyon lodging reservations
366 DAYS IN ADVANCE (7 a.m.): Yosemite lodging reservations