Blog

Backpacking 101: National Park Backcountry Permit Cheat Sheet

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Nizina Lake to Skolai Pass--48.jpg

One of the frustrating aspects of planning a trip into the backcountry of a national park is figuring out how to get your hands on a coveted backcountry permit for each park. Unfortunately there isn’t one uniform process across the whole park system; each park is different. Some parks open up their permits for advanced reservation early in the year, some allow visitors to apply four or six months before their trip date, some open reservations on February 15 while some wait until March 15. A few parks enact a lottery system while others allow the first applier to be awarded with their desired itinerary. You can see how this can get muddled and confusing. All of the parks have this information on their website but I have yet to find a place where all this information is laid out together so I decided to create such a space. I hope this helps you with your trip planning, I know it will help me when I plan trips out next year!

Since not all parks offer advanced reservations (or even have a backcountry) I am going to lay this post out in three sections. The first section will contain an alphabetical list of all the parks that offer advanced reservations and everything you need to know about the reservations. The second section will contain a list of all the parks that have a backcountry but only offer walk up permits and the price of those permits. The final section will be a list of those national parks that have no backcountry at all.


PARKS THAT OFFER ADVANCED RESERVATIONS:


CANYONLANDS (Utah)

Date to apply for permit: 4 months prior to trip date (eg. If my trip was June 4 I could apply for the permit as early as February 4)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $30/group (Group size limited to: 7 people in Island in the Sky, 7 people in The Needles, 5 people in The Maze)

Cost of walk-up permit: $30

Reservation link: https://canypermits.nps.gov/

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/backcountrypermits.htm


Channel Islands National Park-10.jpg

CHANNEL ISLANDS (California)

Date to apply for permit: 6 months prior to trip date (eg. If my trip was June 26 I could apply for the permit as early as December 26)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $15/night

Cost of walk-up permit: Permits must be reserved ahead of time

Reservation link: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232499

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/chis/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm


Cracker Lake1.jpg

GLACIER (Montana)

Date to apply for permit: March 15 for groups of 1-8 people, March 1 for groups of 9-12. Advanced reservations are accepted only for trips beginning between June 15 and September 30 (unpredictable snow conditions make reservations for trips outside these dates unfeasible, however you can receive walk up permits for these dates if the conditions allow)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 50%

Lottery or first to apply: Lottery for all permits submitted on opening day, first to apply for all submissions received after 11:59:59 MST on opening day

Cost of advanced permit: $40 reservation fee paid upon submission + $7/night/person paid upon permit pickup (you will receive a $30 refund if your permit cannot be granted)

Cost of walk-up permit: $7/night/person from May 1 - October 31, winter permits are free

Reservation link: https://pay.gov/public/form/start/74000984

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack to Cracker Lake


Grand Canyon National Park-7.jpg

GRAND CANYON (Arizona)

Date to apply for permit: 4 months prior, use the below chart to find the “earliest consideration” time frame for your desired trip date

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: The website says a “limited” number of sites in the popular corridor campgrounds (Indian Garden, Bright Angel, and Cottonwood Campgrounds) are available for a walk up permit on the day of/prior to your trip

Lottery or first to apply: Lottery if the permit is received in the “earliest consideration” time frame, first to apply for all submissions received after

Cost of advanced permit: $10/permit + $8/person/night for sites below the rim, $8/group/night for sites above the rim

Cost of walk-up permit: $10/permit + $8/person/night for sites below the rim, $8/group/night for sites above the rim

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/permit-request.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm


Teton Crest Trail-32.jpg

GRAND TETON (Wyoming)

Date to apply for permit: First Wednesday in January at 8AM Mountain Time through May 15

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 33%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $45 non-refundable reservation fee

Cost of walk-up permit: $35

Reservation link: https://www.recreation.gov/permits/249986

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bcres.htm

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack the Teton Crest Trail


GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS (North Carolina)

Date to apply for permit: 30 days prior to trip

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $4/person/night with a max fee of $20/person

Cost of walk-up permit: $4/person/night with a max fee of $20/person

Reservation link: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/index.cfm?BCPermitTypeID=1

Park website’s backcountry page: https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/index.cfm?BCPermitTypeID=1


HAWAI’I VOLCANOES (Hawaii)

Date to apply for permit: 7 days prior to trip

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $10

Cost of walk-up permit: $10

Reservation link: https://pay.gov/public/form/start/75788798

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/hike_bc.htm


Dusy Basin Kings Canyon National Park-28.jpg

KINGS CANYON (California)

Date to apply for permit: March 1 at 12:01AM Pacific Time for trips between May 24 to September 21 (trips outside these dates are not subject to trail quotas and you can pick up a self-registration permit at the trailhead)

Number of permits saved for walk-ups: Varies between 5 and 10 people depending on the trailhead. Check this planner for exact numbers.

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $10/permit + $5/person in quota season

Cost of walk-up permit: $10/permit + $5/person in quota season

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/upload/2017-Wilderness-permit-application-Email3.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm

*Note: These regulations apply to trips that start in Kings Canyon National Park. For trips starting outside the park (even if you will spend the first night in the park) are subject to the regulations in that wilderness area. For example, although Dusy Basin is located in Kings Canyon National Park the trailhead is located in Inyo National Forest and thus subjected to their regulations.


Wonderland Trail Mt Rainier-67.jpg

MOUNT RAINIER (Washington)

Date to apply for permit: March 15

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 70%

Lottery or first to apply: Lottery for all permits received between March 15 and March 31

Cost of advanced permit: $20 non-refundable (even if you don’t secure the permit)

Cost of walk-up permit: Free

Reservation link: The application link will go live on March 15. The link will be provided on this page: https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-permit.htm

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-permit.htm

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack the Wonderland Trail


Sahale Glacier-4.jpg

NORTH CASCADES (Washington)

Date to apply for permit: March 15 to April 30 for trips between May 15 and September 30

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 70%

Lottery or first to apply: Lottery for permit requests received between March 15 and March 31, the remainder will be processed in the order in which they were received

Cost of advanced permit: $20 non-refundable fee (even if your permit isn’t able to be filled by the park)

Cost of walk up permit: Free

Reservation link: The application will go live on March 15. The link will be provided on this page: https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/backcountry-reservations.htm

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/backcountry-reservations.htm


OLYMPIC (Washington)

Date to apply for permit: February 15 for trips between May 1 and September 30

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: For quota areas: 100% for Ozette Coast, Royal Basin/Lake, Lake Constance, Upper Lena Lake, Flapjack Lakes. 50% for Grand and Badger Valleys, Seven Lakes Basin, Hoh Lake, Hoh River Trail. The rest of the park is considered non-quota and permits can be picked up the day of/prior to your trip.

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $8/person/night for every party member older than 16 (denied requests will not be charged)

Cost of walk up permit: $8/person/night for every party member older than 16

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/upload/OLYM_Permit_Request.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservations.htm

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack from Third Beach Trailhead to Toleak Point


ROCKY MOUNTAIN (Colorado)

Date to apply for permit: March 1 at 8AM Mountain Time

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $30 for trips between May 1 and October 31

Cost of walk up permit: $30 for trips between May 1 and October 31

Reservation link: https://pay.gov/public/form/start/68498987

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/wild_guide.htm


SAGUARO (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park --2.jpg

Date to apply for permit: 2 months prior to trip (eg. If my trip was June 4 I could apply for a permit on April 4)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $8/campsite/night

Cost of walk up permit: $8/campsite/night

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/upload/Saguaro-Wilderness-Modified-for-2015-7.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm


Climbing Mt. Whitney-23.jpg

SEQUOIA (California)

Date to apply for permit: March 1 at 12:01AM Pacific Time for trips between May 24 to September 21 (trips outside these dates are not subject to trail quotas and you can pick up a self-registration permit at the trailhead)

Number of permits saved for walk ups: Varies between 5 and 10 people depending on the trailhead. Check this planner for exact numbers.

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Sunrise from Mt Whitney-1.jpg

Cost of advanced permit: $10/permit + $5/person in quota season

Cost of walk up permit: $10/permit + $5/person in quota season

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/upload/2017-Wilderness-permit-application-Email3.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm

*Note: These regulations apply to trips that start in Sequoia National Park. For trips starting outside the park (even if you will spend the first night in the park) are subject to the regulations in that wilderness area. For example, although Mt. Whitney is located in Sequoia National Park the trailhead is located in Inyo National Forest and thus subjected to their regulations.


VOYAGEURS (Minnesota)

Date to apply for permit: November 15 for following year

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: May 1 to September 30: $10/reservation + $16-$28/night depending on type of camp site reserved (see chart below)

Cost of walk up permit: Same as above

Reservation link: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/249981

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/tent-camping.htm


YELLOWSTONE (Wyoming)

Date to apply for permit: January 1

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: The park’s website says that “a portion of the park’s 300+ backcountry campsites may be reserved in advance” but they do not specify the exact amount so they recommend being flexible with your itinerary.

Backcountry trip planner: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/bctrip-planner_2018.pdf

Lottery or first to apply: Lottery for reservations received between January 1 and March 31, reservations received after March 31 will be processed in the order in which they were received

Cost of advanced permit: $25 (permit requests that cannot be filled will not result in a charge) + $3/person/night (max of $15/night for the whole group).

Cost of walk up permit: $3/person/night (max of $15/night for the whole group)

Reservation link: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/YELL-474-BC-Resv-App.pdf

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm


yosemite national park-3.jpg

YOSEMITE (California)

Date to apply for permit: 169 days prior to trip (click HERE for lottery windows)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 100% but the parks assures you there are always other options if the popular trailheads are full (and they likely will be in high season)

yosemite national park.jpg

Lottery or first to apply: Permits are processed by lottery 168 days prior to the start of the hike

Cost of advanced permit: $5/reservation + $5/person

Cost of walk up permit: Free

Reservation link: https://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/yosemite-wilderness-permit-request-form

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wpres.htm


ZION (Utah)

Date to apply for permit: On the 5th (at 10AM Mountain Time) of the month 2 months prior to trip date (eg. if my trip was August 18 I could apply for a permit on June 5)

% of permits that can be reserved in advance: 66%

Lottery or first to apply: First to apply

Cost of advanced permit: $5/reservation + (dependent on group size) 1 to 2 people: $15, 3 to 7 people: $20, 8 to 12 people: $25

Cost of walk up permit: Dependent on group size: 1 to 2 people: $15, 3 to 7 people: $20, 8 to 12 people: $25

Reservation link: https://zionpermits.nps.gov/wilderness.cfm?TripTypeID=1

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/backpackingpermits.htm


PARKS THAT DO NOT OFFER ADVANCED RESERVATION (WALK-UP PERMITS ONLY):


ARCHES (Utah)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: 7 days prior to trip

Cost of permit: $7/person

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm


BADLANDS (South Dakota)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Permits aren’t currently required but it is recommended that you check in at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center before heading out

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/badl/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm


BIG BEND (Texas)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $12

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/bc_usepermits.htm


BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON (Colorado)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/blca/planyourvisit/wilderness_permits.htm


BRYCE CANYON (Utah)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: 48 hours in advance

Cost of permit: $5/person

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/backcountryinfo.htm


CAPITOL REEF (Utah)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/backcountrycamping.htm


CONGAREE (South Carolina)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/cong/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm


CRATER LAKE (Oregon)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/backcountry_camping.htm


death valley national park zabriskie point-1.jpg

DEATH VALLEY (California)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/backcamp.htm


DENALI (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0 but you will need to purchase a bus ticket to get around in the park

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm


EVERGLADES (Florida)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/backcamp.htm


gates of the arctic - 44.jpg

GATES OF THE ARCTIC (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: No permits required

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/planyourvisit/backpackingandhiking.htm


Glacier Bay National Park West Arm Kayaking Camping Trip-87.jpg

GLACIER BAY (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/glba/planyourvisit/camp.htm

Backcountry trip idea: 6 day/5 night Kayak Camping trip in the West Arm


GREAT BASIN (Nevada)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Permits are not required but registration is highly recommended (can be done at trailheads)

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvisit/guidelines-for-backcountry-use.htm


Great Sand Dunes Night Sky.jpg

GREAT SAND DUNES (Colorado)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/hiking.htm#Backpacking

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack the dune field


GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS (Texas)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/bcpermit.htm


HALEAKALA (Hawaii)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping.htm


ISLE ROYALE (Michigan)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/permits.htm


JOSHUA TREE (California)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Self-register at one of the 13 backcountry registration boards (Black Rock, Cottonwood, Covington, Geology, Indian Cove, Juniper Flats, Keys West, North Entrance, Pine City, Pleasant Valley, Porcupine Wash, Turkey Flats, Twin Tanks)

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm


KATMAI (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: No permits required

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/katm/planyourvisit/backcountry-hiking-and-camping.htm


Kenai Kayaking-2.jpg

KENAI FJORDS (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/kefj/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm


KOBUK VALLEY (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: No permits required

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/kova/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm


LAKE CLARK (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: No permits required

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/lacl/planyourvisit/camping-and-backpacking.htm


LASSEN VOLCANIC (California)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/lavo/planyourvisit/wilderness-permit-information.htm


MAMMOTH CAVE (Kentucky)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/maca/planyourvisit/backctrycamping.htm


Petrified Forest National Park-11.jpg

PETRIFIED FOREST (Arizona)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/backpacking.htm

Backcountry trip idea: Backpack the Painted Desert


REDWOOD (California)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm


SHENANDOAH (Virginia)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/campbc_regs.htm


THEODORE ROOSEVELT (North Dakota)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/thro/planyourvisit/backcountry-camping.htm


WIND CAVE (South Dakota)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: Day prior to trip

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/wica/planyourvisit/camping-backcountry.htm


nizina glacier-.jpg

WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS (Alaska)

Earliest you can pick up the permit in person: No permits required

Cost of permit: $0

Park website’s backcountry page: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm


PARKS WITH NO BACKCOUNTRY:

Acadia, American Samoa, Biscayne Bay, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Dry Tortugas, Gateway Arch, Hot Springs, Mesa Verde, Pinnacles, US Virgin Islands


This post is very link heavy. I will try to monitor the links from time to time but if you come across a broken link please let me know using the contact form in the upper navigation and I will fix it! Also, parks are regularly updating their permit processes, I will routinely check to make sure my site has the most up-to-date information but if you notice an inconsistency, please let me know.

Happy hiking!