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When looking for trail permits for a particular trail at recreation.gov, I almost always see the status "W: Available at the Facility" for today and the next day, and rarely anything available for 2 or more days in advance.

Does this "W" status really mean that you can be pretty sure to get a permit when you drive there, or is it rather "If there are any permits left, then they are at the facility and not online"?

  • Is this for a national park? – Ben Crowell Aug 5 '14 at 0:32
  • It's the Mount Whitney trail – helm Aug 5 '14 at 0:34
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In areas with quotas on permits, often only a certain percentage of permits can be reserved. The remainder are available on a first-come first-serve basis at the ranger station.

For Mt Whitney, there is definitely a quota. There's likely to be a lot of competition to get a permit for such a popular trail at such a popular time of year. I would recommend getting to the ranger station at least an hour before it opens. There could already be people in line even then.

There may also be limits on how far in advance you must reserve a permit. It's possible that the reason you only see permits for the next couple days is because people cancelled reservations, and now those permits are available on a first-come basis in-person.

  • The last paragraph is definitely true, I've read about that. The big question for me is whether on-site permits are within these strict limits, too, or whether they might be a bit more lenient. – helm Aug 5 '14 at 16:16
  • @HelmHammerhand they're going to be equally strict either way. There are hard quotas in that area, and they can be filled by reservations or in-person permits, but the quota's the same either way. There are so many people in those areas that they need to be quite strict. – nhinkle Aug 5 '14 at 18:11
  • Then I have to assume that despite of what they write there, there are actually no permits available at the facility. If those won in the lottery had not been claimed, as far as I can see they would have been made avaiable on the Internet a few days prior. – helm Aug 5 '14 at 18:38
  • @HelmHammerhand if you call the appropriate ranger station they can give you a more detailed answer, too. – nhinkle Aug 5 '14 at 18:44

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