Wilderness Use Permits are required for all Red Rock Canyon usage (including day-use) and are only available through the reservation lottery system.
Access into Red Rock Canyon is by permit only. Continued access to this area depends on visitors’ respect and responsibility while traveling through an active grazing allotment and within the canyon. Park regulations and leave no trace principles apply to Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock Canyon Route
The route begins as hikers travel through an active grazing allotment for the first mile on a double-track dirt road. All permit holders must stay on the double-track road for this initial mile. The end of the road will converge with the trailhead where permit holders must pay the necessary entrance fee along with depositing a copy of their permit into the pipe safe. Human waste bags (WAG Bags) are available at this location to use in the canyon and pack out when leaving.
The route continues into Red Rock Canyon along a shallow creek. The area could be prevalent with livestock as the creek is their main source of water. Do NOT drink from this same water source. The route is relatively clear to follow for the next mile; however, mid-way down, the route begins to resemble the routes as found on the north and south rims. Numerous stream crossings are necessary and can make route finding a challenge. There are no maintained or marked trails. From mid-way to the bottom, poison ivy is prolific. Hikers are expected to find their own way and to be prepared for self-rescue, if necessary. We advise that while descending, study the route behind, as this will make the return easier when confronted with a choice of routes and stream crossings. Upon approaching the Gunnison river, two campsites (one upstream, the other downstream) will become visible. Remember to always practice the “leave no trace” rules.
Distance: 3.4 miles (5.4 km) one way
This trailhead is accessed from a small parking lot. Permit holders are allowed to park one car per group. A Red Rock Canyon parking pass (provided with permit) must be visible on the dashboard of the vehicle.
2021 Reservation Lottery System
Applications must be received by the Elk Creek Visitor Center, Curecanti NRA, 102 Elk Creek, Gunnison, CO 81230 between December 26, 2020 and March 1, 2021. Applications can be sent by mail, fax, or may be hand-delivered; applications sent by e-mail will not be accepted. Mailed applications must be postmarked on or before March 1, 2021 and arrive to our offices no later than 4:00 p.m. on March 6, 2021. Hand-delivered or faxed applications will be accepted until 4:00 p.m. March 1, 2021. Applications received outside of these dates will not be eligible for the lottery.
All sections of the reservation form must be filled out unless labeled “optional.” Failure to complete any section of the application may result in the disqualification of your permit request. Providing inaccurate information on the application will result in the disqualification of the permit request and may affect future eligibility for receiving a permit. Please utilize the provided fillable PDF to complete the application before printing. Illegible applications may be disqualified.
The group leader’s full name and address must be submitted on the application. Group leaders must be 18 years of age at the time of application to enter the lottery. Duplicate requests will not be included in the lottery and will disqualify all lottery submissions from that individual.
Please use one of the application forms below to submit your permit request:
If you have questions about the lottery process, you may call us at (970) 641-2337 ext. 205, or email us
Rules and Regulations
After the close of the lottery, lottery applications will be randomly drawn and assigned a priority number. The following week, park staff will begin to contact applicants in order of their priority number. If one of the applicant’s first three choice dates is available, we will call to confirm and issue a permit. Applicants must complete a first, second, and third choice date in order to qualify for flexible dates and group size. If the applicant completed all three date choices, none of those first three choice dates are available, and it was indicated on page 1 of the application form that the applicant is interested in flexible dates or group size, we will call to discuss what is available at that point in the lottery. If the applicant is not available or unreachable at the time of the call, a phone message will be left and, if e-mail address is provided, an e-mail may be sent. The applicant will be given a deadline to respond. After which if the applicant has not responded, staff may move to the next person on the list. Once a permit is issued, directions to the trailhead and further information will be provided. Due to the number of applications received in recent years, it is not practical for us to contact every lottery entrant regarding the outcome of their application. All lottery winners will be contacted by April 15th, 2021. If applicants have not been contacted by this date, it is due to all permits being issued to the winning parties. We anticipate that all available permits will be issued through the lottery.
Obtaining Cancelled Permits
Though extremely rare, cancelled or unactivated permits may become available throughout the Red Rock Canyon season. More information »
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why is there a lottery?
A. Red Rock Canyon is accessed via an active grazing allotment. Future access to the canyon depends on visitors respect and responsibility.
Q. If a party enters Red Rock Canyon to go either up or down stream to exit by another route, would that count towards the 8 users that day?
A. YES, even though they may only be in the Red Rock Canyon for a short time that will still constitute use and will be counted towards the daily total.
Q. What about kayakers who begin their trip at East Portal and spend time or overnight in the Red Rock canyon area?
A. NO. Generally, kayakers seek more isolated sections of the canyon for campsites, and are less likely to choose the Red Rock Canyon sites for this reason. Since the use is infrequent (and difficult to control), the users will not be considered part of the reservation/permit process and their use will not be counted towards the daily totals. Kayakers are required to have a wilderness use permit, which they can obtain at East Portal or the South Rim Visitor Center.
Q. Will the visitors who enter the Red Rock Canyon area from the west side or other routes be expected to make a reservation?
A. YES. They will need a reservation and their numbers will count towards the 8 user per day totals. The west access crosses private land and NPS does not have an arrangement with those landowners. In addition to obtaining a reservation from the NPS, hikers must obtain permission from the landowners to use the west access.
Q. Can I hire someone or ask a friend to carry our gear down (they won't stay)?
A. NO. Commercial use is prohibited. Therefore, you may not hire someone to carry your gear. However, if you ask for assistance from someone for no pay, they may carry your gear ONLY if they are part of your permit. This individual would count towards one of the parties in the permit. For example, if there are 4 people on your permit, you may not have a fifth person pack equipment down, even if they do not stay the night.
Q. Can I use pack horses or other pack animals?
A. NO, horses and other pack animals are not permitted in the inner canyon.
Q. How did the NPS establish a total limit of 8 users per day for Red Rock Canyon?
A. This is based on past usage, observed impact on park resources, and accommodating usage patterns to maximize the number of people who can enjoy a wilderness experience.
Q. What about visitors who want to hike into Red Rock Canyon before May 19th and after October 7th? Do they have to make a reservation?
A. NO. Public access will not be permitted outside of the reservation period.
Q. Where can additional cars park?
A. Leave extra vehicle(s) at the Gunnison Point parking lot on the South Rim of the Black Canyon National Park, or at the small park (Lions Park) at the junction of U.S. Highway 50 and CO Highway 347
Q. If users have previously paid the park entrance fee; do they have to pay again?
A. Entrance fees paid at either South or North Rims are valid at Red Rock Canyon for 7 calendar days.
Q. Why are lottery requests only accepted by mail, fax, and in person, but not by e-mail or phone?
A. A federal regulation restricts the National Park Service from accepting forms and collecting information by email or via the Internet. Phone requests do not allow for applicants to sign and acknowledge the terms of the permit.
Q. Sometimes users are told that reservations are full and their group cannot add people or days, but when they get into the canyon they find themselves alone and no one else has been in the canyon for a week. Why is this?
A. In addition to daily limits, there is a monthly limit on user days. Once a monthly limit is reached, there are inevitably days with only one group using the canyon, and several days with no users. This preserves the Wilderness character of this route and ensures that the canyon has an opportunity to recover from such concentrated use through the season.
Last updated: November 30, 2020