Red Tape

Documents you need to enter a wilderness area
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Wilderness Permit Wilderness Rules Fishing License
Wilderness Permit Wilderness Rules Fishing License

To enter a wilderness area you must have a permit. There is no charge for permits, but this is the Forest Service's way of ensuring that you are aware of the rules in effect. They staple a copy of the rules to the permit and require that you carry the permit with you while in the wilderness. If you are going to fish, you also need a fishing license.

When you apply for the permit, the rangers note your planned itinerary and ask you to place a copy of the permit on the dashboard of your car where they can see it. That way if you don't come out on time they'll know where to start looking. You are not required to adhere to the itinerary, but if you don't and you become immobilized in a remote area, they might not find you.

Popular wilderness areas (such as Desolation near Lake Tahoe) have visitor quotas and require a reservation. There are no quotas or reservations for Emigrant, however.


Placing the permit on the dash was recommended at the time I made this trip in September, 2000. Some time later, however, the Forest Service decided that placing one's entry and exit dates in plain view could pose a security risk. Consequently, they no longer ask people to do it.