There has been a change to the way Yosemite National Park issues wilderness permit reservations, and it is one that will make it much more convenient to apply. Your chances of getting the permit will probably decrease (more on that later), but it will be much less of an administrative nightmare. Here is the outline of the process.
A 21-Day Window. The biggest change is that a single request will be good for three weeks of lotteries. (That, alone, might save you twenty iterations of trying to get your FAX through to the Wilderness Center). If it is your intention, for example, to hike starting around Labor Day, you could submit a request for a permit to enter the wilderness on August 26. If you don’t “win” the 26th, your request will rollover to the 27th. No luck on the 27th? Without any action on your part you get entered into the 28th’s lottery. This process would continue until September 15. If you don’t get your reservation on the 15th your request is no longer considered.
A Larger Window for Submission. A second significant change is that the window during which the FAX must be sent has expanded from 24 to 72 hours. Using that example of an August 26 entry into the wilderness, the old requirement was that you FAX the request on March 13. Now, hikers can send the request anytime between March 11 and 13. (In other words, you can now submit the request from 170 days in advance to 168 days in advance.)
Daily Updates. The park service promises daily updates. Once the window opens and your three-weeks of lotteries begin, each day you should get an email notification. If the notification is negative, you should expect another email the next day. If you get your reservation, you will stop getting emails. If you get twenty-one consecutive emails, and if the last is still bad news, your request will no longer be considered.
A New Request Form. The new request form can be found here. The park service did a nice job of making it easy to fill out, including the ability to prioritize the five different permits you can reserve that will allow for a departure over Donohue Pass. (One minor quibble: it would have been nice if, after selecting the Happy Isles->Little Yosemite Valley option, it would automatically put “Little Yosemite Valley” as your first night’s campsite.)
If you go zero & 21 on the lotteries, you can submit another request for the next twenty-one days, assuming you have that much flexibility on departure dates. (I’m looking at you, retirees!)
Although I applaud this change, I’m concerned this will make it somewhat harder to get a permit. Here’s why: I suspect (and I have some data to back this up) that the majority of hikers in past years gave up after some number of FAXed requests; I also suspect that the number was much less than twenty-one. In my communication with readers I get the impression that after about ten failed attempts, a different alternative was considered. There are different reasons for that, including the difficulty of changing vacation dates and the unpleasantness of FAXing the request every single day.
This new process eliminates the hassle of FAXing every day, but that hassle was an obstacle that eliminated some who were less committed (or less flexible). Even if the total number of hikers who make the request stay exactly the same, the number of hikers per day will likely increase, because of the automatic rollover.
Good hiking, Ray