Permits, visa and other boring stuff for the PCT

Preparations for a thru-hike cannot be all fun. There are some necessary permits and other boring stuff that one needs to acquire before starting the hike. In this post I will go through what permits and visas I acquired before my hike.

Visa

As a foreign hiker the primary thing is to get permission to stay in the U.S. for the duration of the hike. As a citizen of Denmark visiting the U.S. I would normally take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program and travel to the U.S. with an approved ESTA. This method is easy and does not require a visit to an embassy. This method is also only valid for stays up to 90 days, 90 days is a bit on short side for a thru-hike of the PCT, so a proper Visa is required.

The Visa people normally get is the B1/B2 visa which allows stays of up to 6 months for each trip. The expiry of the visa itself depends on the nationality it is issued for. My particular visa expires in 10 years which allows me to make additional trips to the U.S. using the visa.

The process of getting the visa was really quite simple: first you start by filling out a DS-160 form, and secondly you use the filled form to sign up for an interview at your U.S. embassy, you then pay for the interview, lastly you show up at the embassy for the interview.

As mentioned above filling out the DS-160 form is the first step in applying for a visa. The form is quite long and ask extensive questions about the applicant and family. Some of the required information might take some time to dig up, in particular:

  • All former visits to the U.S.
  • Contact details on a U.S. contact, this can be friends or family in the U.S. or one can possibly enlist the help of some friendly trail angles
  • Approved photo, can be attached digitally Sending the form took several tried for me as it kept giving errors. Suddenly one day it managed to send without any changes, so if you get unexplained errors perhaps try again another day.

Next I booked my embassy interview and at the same time I paid the fee.

Lastly I went to the embassy interview which is where they actually decide if your application is approved or not. There is a lot of documentation one must bring including passport, all documented on the official pages. Besides the required documentation I decided to bring a lot of information regarding my plans for the PCT. This included a rough timeline of the hike, gear list and also information tieing me to Denmark like lease and work contract.

I ended up not needed any of the information as my Visa was approved without any trouble. I imagine the process of getting a Visa varies a lot from country to country so check with your local U.S. Embassy. After the approval my passport which now included a visa was sent to me within a few weeks.

Permits

When I tell people about my plans for hiking the PCT the last thing they expect is that permits are necessary to hike the trail. The reality however is that certain permits make the hike a lot easier and sometime the permits are strictly necessary.

The main source for information about permits for the PCT is the permits page on the PCTA.

To summarize the following permits are usually acquired by hikers before thru-hiking the PCT:

  • PCT Long-distance Permit: An interagency permit that allows passage through all the national parks the PCT passes through. Furthermore it allows camping outside campgrounds along the PCT.
  • California Fire Permit: Necessary if you want to have campfires in California, campfires are still only permitted in certain places and situations. The permit is acquired through a questionaire.
  • Canada PCT Entry Permit: A permit from the Canadian borger agency to cross into Canada along the PCT. This is probably the most involved permit to get but mine went through without issues.

Luckily I have acquired all the permits for my thru-hike, so I am pretty much ready to go.