How to Reserve a PA Backpacking Permit

Looking to head out on trail in Pennsylvania? Make sure you have all the permits you need by following my step-by-step guide on how to reserve a backpacking permit!

All smiles because we snagged a shelter permit in Oil Creek

Why Reserve a Backpacking Permit

I love backpacking. When I started in 2022, I never thought I would begin an obsession with a new sport in my 30’s. However, there are rules to participate and it’s vital to get appropriate permits when heading out in our Pennsylvania State Parks.

Permits are required to backpack in all state parks. Hikers can be reserve permits at PA Reserve America by searching for backpacking permits by park. In my opinion, this process is a bit tricky and took me some time and research to figure out how to do (which I why I put together this step by step guide on how to reserve them!)

As of 2024, Pennsylvania residents pay an overnight fee of $4/person per night for a shelter or a tent site. Non-PA residents pay $5/person per night for a shelter or $5 per night for a tent site. Compared to the Trans Catalina Trail, this is super reasonable!

Park Rangers will occasionally visit the shelters to check permits. Rangers have checked my permits about half of the time I’ve been on trail so make sure you reserve a site or you could get booted!

Read on for step by step directions on how to reserve a backpacking permit!

Prepping for dinner in a shelter in Oil Creek State Park
Looking for Pennsylvania State Parks that allow backpacking? Check out my guide to Backpacking in PA State Parks!

How to Reserve a Backpacking Campsite or Shelter

In this example, I walk you through how to reserve a shelter for the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Laurel Ridge State Park. However, these steps work for any backpacking permits needed in a park. While the steps are similar, these are not the steps to reserve any sort of non-backpacking campsites.

Step 1: Have your itinerary planned out with a list of the shelters you want to stay at written down.

Psst, if you're stuck on how to plan which shelters or sites you want for your trip...I have recommended itineraries for backpacking in Oil Creek State Park, Raccoon Creek State Park, and the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

Step 2: Go to PA Reserve America reservation site

Step 3: Sign in if you already have an account or create one if you do not. If you skip this step, you will need to sign in later or you won’t be able to reserve a permit.

Step 4: Enter “Laurel Ridge State Park” under “Where” and click “Backpacking and River Camping” under the “Interested In” drop down box.

    Step 5: Laurel Ridge State Park should come up first in the search results. Click “Check Availability”

    Step 6: Under “Find Permits” on the left, click the dropdown that says “Backpacking Permits”. Further dropdown menus will appear on the left. Enter your trip information in the dropdown.

    Step 7: The site will pop up an alert with important information about backpacking and river camping safety. Read through and click “I am an experienced backpacker or river camper!”

    Looking for more information about backpacking? Check out all of my guides!
    - Must-Have Backpacking Gear
    - Backpacking Clothing Guide
    - How to Plan for a Backpacking Trip

    Step 8: The site will then take you to the reservation calendar. Available sites are marked with a blue “A”. Click on the site you want to reserve for the date.

    Step 9: Once you click the site you want, the A will turn yellow. Click “Add to Itinerary” above the calendar grid. A pop up will show up in a left hand inset window showing your itinerary, with the site you selected, dates, and number in your group.

    Step 10: Then go back to your search in the left hand window and put in your next shelter.

    Step 11: Click the date you want again following the above steps until all of your dates are added to the itinerary inset window. Then click “Book Now”.

    Step 12: Enter your information, including vehicle information (make, model, license plate), direction of travel, emergency contacts, and alternate leader information in the requested fields. Read through the information at the bottom of the page about the trail, firewood rules, shelters, etc. Click the check box and continue to shopping cart.

    Step 13: Pay for your permits and your trip is reserved! You’ll receive an email with your reservations.

    Pro Tip: I recommend taking a screenshot and saving to an "Important Documents" folder on your phone. That way it will be easy to reference which shelter you reserved when you're staggering into camp at the end of a long day! I also recommend saving those details in your backpacking trip Google Doc (which you should also screenshot).

    Have any questions about how to reserve a permit? Comment below or send me a DM on Instagram at @torytalkstrails!

    Updated May 30, 2024

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