Visitors hoping to hit local trails in the national forests of the Eastern Sierra may now book their wilderness permit reservations online as the Forest Service has turned the task of making reservations over to an outside contractor. File photo
Inyo National Forest is catching up with the times by offering reservations for wilderness permits online through the contractor Reserve America.
Reservations can now be made online at http://www.recreation.gov, www.recreation.gov or by phone at (877) 444-6777.
Though reservations are no longer being made through the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office, Forest Service Public Information Officer Nancy Upham said there will still be a Permit Office locally, which will be available to answer questions and direct reservation seekers to the appropriate websites and phone numbers.
‚ÄúCustomers who need extra assistance for trip planning will still be able to call the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office for more information,‚ÄĚ Upham said.
Up until Dec. 9, customers wanting to make reservations had to call, mail or fax a request to the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office.
‚ÄúWith the move to the National Recreation Reservation Service, customers can now make advanced reservations online anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,‚ÄĚ a press release from the INF states. ‚ÄúFor those visitors who do not have computer access or prefer not to use the Internet, reservations can be made through a call center.‚ÄĚ
The new system allows for changes to reservations on the website and through the call center up to two days ahead of an entry date. Customers will still convert their reservations to a wilderness permit as they have in the past by stopping at an Inyo National Forest visitor center.
Overnight permits are required and quotas are implemented May 1 through Nov. 1 in the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, and from the last Friday in June through Sept. 15 in the Golden Trout Wilderness, as those are some of the most heavily visited wilderness systems in the nation.
A lottery is in place to reserve main Mt. Whitney Trail overnight and day use permits. Mt. Whitney permits are 100 percent reservable, while all other quota trailheads are 60 percent reservable, 40 percent first-come, first-served available at Inyo National Forest visitor centers one day before the trip.
Reservation fees are remaining the same at $5 per person for quota trailheads and $15 per person for the Mt. Whitney Zone. A transaction fee of $6 is tacked on to each reserved permit to cover the cost of the online service.
The reservation fees are collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act with 95 percent of reservation fees being retained by the Inyo National Forest. Those funds can be used for wilderness ranger patrols, visitor information services, educational programs, trail maintenance, restoration work and staffing the Wilderness Permit Office.
‚ÄúThe recreation fee program provides the additional funding needed to offer quality services to the public and protection and restoration of the wilderness resource,‚ÄĚ The Forest Service noted in a press release. ‚ÄúThe $6 transaction fee will be retained by the NRRS to cover the cost of providing the online reservations.‚ÄĚ
Along with the new online service there are some changes to the process for modifying reservations after they have been made, as well as the refund policy.
According to the Forest Service, last-minute changes can be made when permits are picked up if space is available.
Refunds will not be made for changes to reservations for the main Mt. Whitney Trail or Mt. Whitney day use, however refunds will be allowed for other entry trails if reservations are cancelled or party sizes reduced at least 22 days prior to an entry date. The $6 transaction fee is non-refundable.
For more information, call the NRRS Call Center at (877) 444-6777 or the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office at (760) 873-2483.