In 2009, the Park Service received nearly 19,000 applications and issued 13,616 permits. You can increase your chances of landing a permit by being thorough on your application and paying attention to timing.
In order to complete an application, you’ll first need to establish an itinerary. Take advantage of the park’s Trip Planner—available online, in person, or by mail (Backcountry Information Center/GCNP, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon AZ, 86023, www.nps.gov/grca ), as well as the information available on the park’s website detailing use areas, camp types, and stay limits.
Permit requests must include the trip leader’s contact information and credit-card information, group size, license plate numbers of cars to be left at the trailhead, and a proposed itinerary. The itinerary must show dates and use areas for each night of the trip. If your application is complete and accurate, you’ll increase your chances of getting a permit.
Popular hikes book quickly, as do popular seasons. Summer, despite deadly temperatures, is the most popular time to hike the canyon. Late spring and early fall are next. Although few people apply for winter permits, inner canyon temperatures are moderate at that time of year. Being flexible about starting and ending dates, or about locations, helps increase your permit chances.
The sooner you apply for a permit, the more likely you are to get your chosen dates and location. Permit requests can be made on the first of the initial month, that is, the month that is four months prior your trip’s start date. For example, if you want to start your backpacking trip on May 15, you can send or fax your permit request on January 1.
Memorize this phrase: initial month permit request.
For years, canyon insiders knew their best shot at getting a permit was by bringing an application in person to the backcountry office the first day of the initial month (a.k.a. “fourth-month-out”) or, if they were unable to travel to the canyon, to fax the application first thing that morning. But when first-of-the-month crowds at the doors of the backcountry office began to resemble the scene at a rock concert ticket booth and the fax line was relentlessly busy, the policy was adjusted.
Walk-in applicants are no longer given immediate assistance during the initial month. You can still personally deliver an application on the first day of the initial month, but it will be ordered randomly by computer with all other applications received by 5 p.m. that day. In other words, during the initial month, all applications have an equal shot at the end of the day, no matter how or when they came in.
The preferred method for submitting a permit application is by fax. You can fax (928/638-2125) your application anytime day or night. You can also mail your request—but since mail-in requests must be postmarked no earlier than the first day of the initial month, you’ll be late to the gate. The gate remains closed for applications by phone or email—don’t even try it. (However, the park does plan to work with online requests at some future date.)
In case you aren’t confused yet, note that the updated policy applies only to initial month permit requests. If you walk into the backcountry office with an application for a date three months hence (or less), your application will be considered immediately, before any mailed or faxed applications received that day.
No matter how you applied for a permit, if you land one, you’ll be notified by U.S. mail. Allow a minimum of three weeks for the response. Your credit card will be charged up to the amount you specified on your application. Fees are $10 per permit plus $5 pp per night if you are camping below the rim, or $5 per group if you are camping above the rim.
If your application is denied, you can try to get a permit for one of the corridor campgrounds (Indian Garden, Bright Angel, or Cottonwood Camp) by placing your name on a waiting list when you arrive at the canyon. You must be present at the Backcountry Information Center at 8 a.m. to obtain a last-minute permit for that day. If none are available by the time your number is called, you can add your name to the next day’s waiting list (and repeat as necessary). Even during popular seasons, last-minute permits are possible.
Trails described below include routes that start and end inside the canyon as well as day trips from the river. Even if you’re only venturing a few hundred yards from camp, it’s safest to travel with companions. Also remember that the Navajo, Hualapai, and Havasupai tribes hold land surrounding the park. Be sure to apply for permits from tribal offices if you will be hiking into or across Indian land.