CDT Thru-Hiking: What Permits Are Needed & When To Get Them

If you are looking to hike the continental divide trail but aren’t sure if a…

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If you are looking to hike the continental divide trail but aren’t sure if a permit is needed, we have all the information for you.

The Continental Divide Trail stretches from Mexico to Canada and covers roughly 3,100 miles, so do you need a permit to hike the continental divide trail?

There is no long-distance permit for the CDT, unlike the PCT. You will need to acquire four required permits along the trail: New Mexico State Trust Lands Recreational Access Permit, a Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife Recreation Permit, and backcountry camping permits for Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.

Now that you know the four required Continental Divide Trail permits, we can explain more about what you need to do and where you can gain access to the permits while out on the trail.

Below I go over each required permit and also where you can apply and more information to make your planning and preparing much simpler.

Glacier National Park Entrance Sign

CDT Permits

While there is no specific long-distance permit that covers the CDT itself, you are still required to get specific permits for specific sections of the trail where you travel through.

While you may be able to hike a section and avoid many of these parts for a thru-hike you will pass directly through these four, so you will need to get them on the journey.

Some may not have the option to get ahead of travel, and this will require some flexibility on your part to be prepared to make the changes and requests while out on the trail, so knowing what towns and where to fill them in can be vital.

If you hike the entire length of the CDT, then you will need to plan. You will have to get 4 permits:

  • A New Mexico State Trust Lands Recreational Access Permit
  • A Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife Recreation Permit
  • A backcountry camping permit for Yellowstone
  • A backcountry camping permit for Glacier National Parks

While these big four require actual permits, there are many kiosk areas along the trail where you will need to complete self-service permit applications which are free but can only be completed on the trail.

New Mexico State Trust Lands Recreational Access Permit

The Continental Divide Trail runs through a large amount of state trust lands in New Mexico, any type of recreation on these lands requires a permit that costs $35.

The New Mexico State Lands Office has given the CDTC the authority to issue these permits on behalf of hikers hoping to complete the Continental Divide Trail through New Mexico.

Fill out the form and rules at the link above, and remember that camping and building campfires are banned on State Trust Lands.

Blackfeet Nation Fish & Wildlife Recreation Permit

The required permit for the Blackfeet Reservation is because the CDT passes through many miles of the trail at the southern end of Glacier National Park, which intersects.

Backcountry Permit Glacier National Park

To access Glacier National Park you need to have a backcountry permit, this permit is required as the park is incredibly popular with backpackers and hikers.

This permit costs $7 per person per night, so knowing the time it will take you to cover the ground will help you get the costs right.

You need to be flexible on your trip details around this area, as you can’t get your permit until you reach the park area. You need to know the exact dates for when you will be there.

There are specific campsites while inside the park, so you may have to travel much longer days or shorter days to finish at these spots.

Much of this is to help cut down on Grizzlies and other animal issues and disturb the environment the least.

For most NOBO hikers, you will have only an approximate time that you will be at the park, so you won’t be able to get a permit ahead of time.

As a NOBO you will need to obtain the permit as a walk-up or on the phone the day prior to entry.

The number to reach them is (406) 888-7801 to get their permit sorted.

A nobo wanting to get a walk-up permit can decide to instead hike the 10.5 miles to Two Medicine Campground.

Here you will be able to camp permit-free and also do your request for permits at the ranger station.

Sobo hikers will basically start at the Visitor Center for Glacier and can get a permit there with little pain and suffering other than knowing the pace they will have to maintain to exit the park on time.

Backcountry Permit Yellowstone National Park

You also require a backcountry camping permit when you enter Yellowstone National Park, the cost for this permit is $3 per person per night, and you need to obtain it in person.

This permit can’t be acquired in advance of your arrival as it can’t be purchased more than 48 hours before the start of your trip into the park, so you need to time the purchase based on your speed.

The only other thing you need to consider is when you can get your permit, as the ranger stations and visitor center will be open seven days a week from June to August from 8 to 430pm.

If you are outside of these months, you will want to contact the Central Backcountry Office at the phone listed, which is (307) 344-2160.

They will then provide more details on where you can obtain your permit to travel within the park.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Permits in the CDT

The CDT trail is a very long trail that crosses many state trust lands and national parks, so it’s important to know the rules about permits before you start your journey.

Take time to follow the rules, as being caught permitless is a severe offense, and you could face fines or even jail time.

Also, make ensure you are properly geared for the weather when hiking the Continental Divide Trail as you will face many changes over sections!

The most important thing to remember is that in many cases permits, especially for the National Parks they are only good for the times you established with them prior to entry into their parklands.

Josh Koop

I turned 40 and realized I needed to change my life from being a desk-bound IT worker slowly dying in a cubicle. I have been working on ways to build my knowledge and skills, along with gear. I have plans to do a thru-hike on the Lone Star Hiking Trail, Ouachita Trail, and Pinhoti Trail in the next year.


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