Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

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Mike M.
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Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by Mike M. » Wed Feb 10, 2021 8:00 pm

I secured my wilderness permit this morning via recreation.gov and wanted to share my experience.

Bottom line: the site has been improved a little but not much.

Wilderness permit reservations are available up to six months from your date of entry. In other words, if you wanted to reserve a permit for September 1, 2021, that date would not be available in recreation.gov's system until March 1. As most of you know, many trailheads are subject to quotas, and reservations for the popular trailheads are gone within hours of being made available in the recreation.gov system. Last year the system would release a new date right after midnight each day. That has changed this year, according to a post I saw on a PCT forum, which said that new dates are released at 7:00 am Pacific Time.

Last year, I stayed up until midnight, got into the system at 12:01 and successfully reserved a permit. Within 45 minutes, the quota for the day had been filled.

This year, I stayed up until midnight, got into the system at 12:01, but the date I was shooting for (August 9) was not active -- it had not been released. I stayed up until 1:00 am but finally threw in the towel and went to bed. I did a search the next morning and discovered that dates were not being freed up until 7:00 am Pacific Time. So, I logged in at 7:01 this morning and secured a permit for the 10th. Even at this early hour, only 14 slots were still available for this year's trailhead (Cottonwood Lakes). At first, although the system displayed the quota number still available for the trailhead, it would not let me proceed -- it kept giving me a message saying, "it's a popular trailhead and today's quota had been filled." I tried over and over again and then finally the gates opened and I was able to proceed with the reservation process. Once I started the reservation process, it took about 15 minutes, including the payment routine.

It's a crappy system and I hope they iron the kinks out soon. It would be nice if they included in their online FAQ information about what time of day new dates are released to the system. It also appears there is a lot of sandbagging going on, where quotas for passes are filled up in minutes by a a few group leaders who have no idea how many people will actually hit the trail with their group.

Mike








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tweederjohnson
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Re: 2021 trips booked?

Post by tweederjohnson » Thu Feb 11, 2021 8:12 am

Thanks for this tip, Mike! Got on at midnight, only to see that permits weren't posted. Did a quick search for release times and came across your post. Went back to bed, back online at 7 am, and got my 2 permits for North Fork Big Pine Creek (for which I've had a trip cancelled due to fires the previous two years--fingers crossed this time!). As soon as I completed the purchase, I searched the same trailhead to see how many were left and they were all gone.

Again, much thanks.

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Mike M.
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Re: 2021 trips booked?

Post by Mike M. » Thu Feb 11, 2021 1:19 pm

hanks for this tip, Mike!
Tweeder, you are most welcome!

I originally posted this as a new thread, but it was moved (and buried in this long thread) for some reason and I was worried nobody would see it.

I think it would be helpful to start a new thread about the ins and outs of getting wilderness permits this year using recreation.gov.

Mike

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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov

Post by SNOOOOW » Thu Feb 11, 2021 6:06 pm

Mike M. wrote:
Wed Feb 10, 2021 8:00 pm
I secured my wilderness permit this morning via recreation.gov and wanted to share my experience.

Bottom line: the site has been improved a little but not much.

At first, although the system displayed the quota number still available for the trailhead, it would not let me proceed -- it kept giving me a message saying, "it's a popular trailhead and today's quota had been filled." I tried over and over again and then finally the gates opened and I was able to proceed with the reservation process. Once I started the reservation process, it took about 15 minutes, including the payment routine.

It's a crappy system and I hope they iron the kinks out soon. It would be nice if they included in their online FAQ information about what time of day new dates are released to the system. It also appears there is a lot of sandbagging going on, where quotas for passes are filled up in minutes by a a few group leaders who have no idea how many people will actually hit the trail with their group.

Mike
I have been on every morning this week attempting to get permits for a small group with 0 luck everyday. By 7:01am I would say that 85% of all permits are snagged up that were just released. It is pretty crazy, I have been putting this group together in August for maybe 10 years now and I have never seen the permits get snatched up like this. And the walk in process as mentioned above doesn't help any of the locals who have been walking in and getting permits same day or day before for years. This permit grab is crazy. I cannot wait to see what trailhead parking is like this summer. Good luck everyone :drinkers:
Without a People's army, the people have nothing.

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Mike M.
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Re: 2021 trips booked?

Post by Mike M. » Thu Feb 11, 2021 6:19 pm

SNOOOOOW,

Don't give up. I think the system is displaying an erroneous message when it gets overloaded. At 7:01 am the day I tried, it showed that 14 of 22 permits were still available for Crabtree Lakes. When I clicked to book, it kept on telling me all the spots were filled. I kept on trying and finally got in. It took me about 8 tries. I was thinking to myself, screw it -- I'll just go in without a pass. It's a really bad system.

Mike

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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by TurboHike » Fri Feb 12, 2021 9:46 am

My experience, yesterday and today.

Yesterday: I was on recreation.gov at 7 am Pacific, trying to get a permit for Kearsarge Pass for August 11th. I saw the allocation appear, but I was too slow and did not get a permit. By 7:01 am, all permits for Kearsarge Pass were gone. Wow. :(

Today: My entry date was flexible, so today I tried for August 12th. I was also better organized. I had the time.gov clock open in a separate browser. When it ticked 7:00:00 am Pacific, I refreshed my browser that I was using for recreation.gov. But, after entering the group size and clicking for a non-commercial trip, the allocation did not appear. I refreshed again, re-entered group size and non-commercial, still nothing. Finally, on the third try, the allocation for August 12th appeared. I scrolled down, clicked Kearsarge Pass, and clicked Book Now. A message appeared that the system was too busy to process the request. I re-clicked Book Now, and I got the same message. For sure, given yesterday's experience, I thought I was toast. But the third time worked. The permit was added to my cart, and I checked out. Success! :)

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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by michaelzim » Fri Feb 12, 2021 10:05 am

After discovering that Sierra National Forest was moving to rec.gov for permits in 2021 I was motivated to find out more, as the reports of the system for the east side entries (Inyo NF) and SEKI were not encouraging. I have been going to the high country via the Prather ranger station for 35 years and have never had any problems getting walk-in permits (for one or two people) picked up on the day I was driving in. I choose my departures almost solely by the expected weather forecast for next 5 days so can mostly avoid iffy periods. Booking a trip 6 months in advance seems kind of bizarre to me as who knows what weather and smoke/fire conditions will be like then?!

To find out how the Sierra NF rec.gov version is going to be I have been having a back and forth email exchange with Alex Olow, public affairs/media specialist for Sierra NF at the Clovis station. I have shared my concerns (and those of other backpackers I have talked to) with him, especially the difficulty of getting same day "walk-in" permits if they are now open for getting 2 full weeks in advance! How that is a "walk-in" is beyond me. I am not optimistic that the Sierra NF system will be any different than the Inyo system and the grabbing up of permits within minutes, whether long term advance or "walk-in".

Alex Olow
Public Affairs/Media Specialist
Fire PIO
U.S. Forest Service
Sierra National Forest
p: 559-297-0706 x4999
f: 559-294-4809
alexander.olow@usda.gov

1600 Tollhouse Rd
Clovis, CA 93611
www.fs.fed.us

Now it looks as though the details have not been finalized yet - SO I ENCOURAGE HST MEMBERS TO GIVE THEM INPUT!
Really, if enough people email or express reservations about the reservation system, they may tweak it enough to be quasi acceptable. I know that if govt. agencies do not get any feedback they just do whatever. So give it a whirl!

P.S. If interested I can post the email exchange I have had so far here on HST - let me know!

Best ~ Michaelzim

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mort
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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by mort » Fri Feb 12, 2021 12:40 pm

Hi Michaelzim,
I too am worried about Sierra Forest permits. I'll let them know my concerns. I would be interested in seeing your emails if they shed any light on how Sierra expects the new system to work. In the past we have gotten our permits "same day" at the Dinkey Creek ranger station, but getting a reservation wouldn't be impossible. We will go even if the weather turns, but not into fires.
I have camped in this part of the Sierra several times over many years. When I was young the total cost of a backpacking trip was a serious consideration, and if there had been $20 reservations and $5 per per person fee we couldn't have gone.
-mort

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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by Pietro257 » Fri Feb 12, 2021 12:58 pm

michaelzim wrote:
Fri Feb 12, 2021 10:05 am
To find out how the Sierra NF rec.gov version is going to be I have been having a back and forth email exchange with Alex Olow, public affairs/media specialist for Sierra NF at the Clovis station. I have shared my concerns (and those of other backpackers I have talked to) with him, especially the difficulty of getting same day "walk-in" permits if they are now open for getting 2 full weeks in advance! How that is a "walk-in" is beyond me.
Michael, thanks for doing this. I, too, am curious how you will obtain walk-in permits if Covid is still raging this summer. It sounds like the policy will be identical to the 6-month in-advance reservations, only the walk-ins will be two weeks in advance. As you say, two weeks in advance is not really a "walk-in."

Is this two-week policy a result of Covid restrictions or is it to be permanent?

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Re: Wilderness Permits via recreation.gov 2021

Post by michaelzim » Fri Feb 12, 2021 4:15 pm

OK, I have an update on the update I was going to post - which was to be the info in emails from Sierra NF in Clovis.

I have more accurate information now c/o a long and fruitful talk with the Inyo NF supervisor today. She has been a key coordinator for the the transition to rec.gov for them, and is in cahoots with advising the transition at Sierra NF. Apparently Inyo NF and Sierra NF are pretty much tied at the hip. What one decides to do re Wilderness Management, the other will do too, or close to it. This goes for how they decide to use any quirks or deviations in the rec.gov process - which should end up being almost identical with both these NF agencies.

Here is what I found out so far, in point form:

# All is still being evaluated and likely to be some changes once Covid not as big an issue.
# Inyo & Sierra NF are linked re overall wilderness management & likely permit strategies.
# The 2020 Covid work load for permits was huge so changes had to happen from the old system.
# Still issuing 60% of all permits for long term advance booking & 40% for walk-in.
# The transition to rec.gov is being thought through carefully for best user experience – appreciate feedback!
# Changes had to be made due to Covid and people standing in lines for permits, etc.
# Night boxes for permits also had to stop due to the “touch” fear, etc.
# Even after Covid many aspects of these permit changes will stay.

- The long term 6 months & 2 week advance permits are liked by a lot of people.
- A reminder email sent to all long term permit holders 2 weeks before to confirm reservation.
- Trying to change software to give refunds up to 12 days before trip date to reduce last minute no refund cancellations.
- Long term permits that are cancelled near trip date are added to the “W” walk-in quota.
- Walk-in “W” permits now issued 2 weeks in advance & can go fast for popular trailheads.
- “W” permits are posted online at 7:00 am 2 weeks in advance. (Rolling daily? Or rolling weekly? = not clear yet!)
- “W” permits are automatically confirmed as are within 2 weeks of trip/permit date. (I think?)
- Permits not confirmed within time period of 2 weeks prior, to 10:00 am on day of trip, become No Show.
- Those 6 month permits grabbed “just in case” and not confirmed by 10:00 am on permit date become available as No Show.
- No Show permits only issued at 10:00 am day of entry, so only good if can confirm & get to trailhead in time.
- No Show same day permits not really any good if have super long distance travel to trailhead.
- Still looking at this 10:00 am day of trip No Show deadline to see if can adapt it somehow.
- Trying to find some way to make permits available 24 hours in advance for more spontaneous trips.
- (There could be some flexibility to change or issue last minute permits by phone or email)?

That was it for now as Sierra NF may decide to tweak a few things like the No Show deadline time, etc. I'm not sure how much flexibility they will have as the rec.gov system has to work for multiple different locations nationwide. Seemingly there are some regional variances possible, but changing the software can apparently be a slow process.

I did get the sense that trying to make a system that works is getting a good effort, though seems to be skewed for (forgive me!) "city dwellers with jobs" who have to make vacation reservations many months in advance and stick with them. The spontaneous nature of being able to just drop everything an go, is getting harder - especially if live 12 hours drive from somewhere like Bishop and the east side trailheads. No way I can get a No Show permit online at just after 10:00 am, pack-up, and drive all the way over there to trailhead by midnight. That's asking for a car crash falling asleep at the wheel or instead falling into the creek trying to pitch a tent at 1:00 am after a horrible long drive! There must be a better way...hence give feedback to the NF Service!

Best ~ Michaelzim

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