Backcountry Permit Change

Effective February 1, 2010

Questions and Answers

The National Park Service is making a change to the backcountry permit system at Grand Canyon to help ensure all permit requests receive equal consideration no matter how submitted. Currently, applications made in person receive an immediate answer while written requests receive answers later as time allows. Effective February 1, 2010, this distinction will no longer apply; in person "initial month" requests will only be accepted in written format and will be placed for consideration with other written requests received on that same date. ("Initial month" permit requests are requests made within the earliest allowed month for the requested trip start date.) This change is not expected to affect levels of backcountry use or the number of backcountry permits issued by the park's Backcountry Information Center (BIC).

The press release announcing this change was released on November 20, 2009 and is located in the News Release section of this website.

When can I request a backcountry permit?
Requests still may be submitted in person, by fax, or by mail anytime on or after the first of the initial month (the month that is four months in advance of the requested trip start date -- see following chart). The change means that in-person requests made within the initial month will no longer get consideration ahead of written requests received earlier in the same month.
For hike dates during the month of: Submit written permit request on or after: In-person verbal requests allowed on or after:
January September 1 October 1
February October 1 November 1
March November 1 December 1
April December 1 January 1
May January 1 February 1
June February 1 March 1
July March 1 April 1
August April 1 May 1
September May 1 June 1
October June 1 July 1
November July 1 August 1
December August 1 September 1
Will this affect me if my request is made within three months of my proposed hike?
No, this change will not affect requests made within three months of the start date. It applies only to requests submitted within the initial month. Requests received in later months will continue to be prioritized as they have in the past: in person requests will be given immediate consideration and written requests will be prioritized by date received and responded to as staffing time allows. It is best to not wait until those later months to apply; your chance of obtaining the permit you desire is best if you apply within the initial month. After the initial month, permit availability for popular sites is greatly diminished.

How will initial month permit requests be prioritized for consideration?
Regardless of how they are submitted, initial month permit requests will be prioritized and considered based on the date received. In addition, all of the initial month permit requests received by 5 p.m. on the first of the month will be placed in random order by computer and considered in that new order before the next day's requests are considered. This randomization allows the BIC to receive faxes throughout the day rather than having many hundreds of individuals try to fax their requests at the same time early in the morning.

Why is this change necessary?
The past practice of giving immediate consideration to in-person requests made within the initial month served those individuals well but greatly disadvantaged everyone else. It meant that every in-person request made on the first of the month received consideration before any of the written requests received consideration. On later days of the initial month it also meant that new in-person requests received consideration before written requests which had been received on earlier days but had not yet been evaluated. Simply put, this did not live up to basic fairness standards or to the intent behind the existing Backcountry Management Plan.

In the past, how many permits were claimed in person on the first?
The walkup crowd present on the first of the month grew to the point that in one month of 2009 a total of 221 permits were issued before any written requests could be considered. This resulted in most of the space for Cottonwood, Bright Angel, and Indian Garden Campgrounds being booked before any written requests could be considered. This change is meant to address this situation and streamline the permitting system in anticipation of the future addition of an online permitting system.

Why does this change apply to the whole initial month?
Keeping this change in place for the whole initial month will provide us the time we need to fully consider all written requests received during this highly competitive time period.

How will this change affect me if I apply on the first day of the initial month?
Most applications submitted on the first day of the initial month will continue to result in permits. Those who used to apply in person on that day and now apply in writing will no longer have their requests considered first, so they may see a decreased chance of obtaining the permits they desire. Others who apply in writing on that day will see their chances increase.

Can requests for backcountry permits be submitted by email?
No. Unfortunately, email is not secure enough for sending private information such as payment information.

Has the park considered creating an internet based reservation system?
The park is in the process of developing an internet based reservation service for backcountry permit requests and hopes to complete this step within months. The next step will be to obtain all the necessary approvals and undergo thorough testing.

Where do most of Grand Canyon's backpackers come from?
The following charts show where trip leaders come from. Most permits are claimed by Americans. Arizonans claim the highest percent (data is from 2008).
Country Total Permits USA States Total Permits
United States 88.1% Arizona 29.9%
Canada 3.1% California 10.6%
Germany 2.5% Colorado 3.7%
France 1.5% Texas 3.2%
United Kingdom 1.2% New Mexico 2.1%
All Other 3.6% All Other USA 37.8%

How are Arizonans affected by this change?
Most Arizonans who apply in the initial month already apply in writing, so these Arizonans will only see a benefit. Arizonans who previously applied in person within the initial month will still have good odds for success, but those odds will be less than what they previously enjoyed.

How many locals used to apply on the first day of the initial month?
This year a total of 696 permits have been issued to people who applied in person on the first of the initial month. 536 of these were issued to Arizonans. The following chart shows the breakdown:
Permits to Arizona Locals on First of Initial Month
What about the Grand Canyon Field Institute?
The Grand Canyon Field Institute (GCFI) is not affected by this change. GCFI is a non-profit entity co-sponsored by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Association to provide educational hikes and service trips to the public. Their courses must be approved by a team of managers from the NPS, and trips are advertised within the Trip Planner. In 2009 they were noncompetitively awarded 44 backcountry permits so they could provide these NPS mandated services for visitors.

What is the overall success rate for requests submitted within the initial month?
The following chart shows how many initial month requests are approved and how many are denied (2008 data).
Table of Backcountry Requests Considered in Initial Month
What if I want to walk in and get an immediate answer?
You can still walk in and get an immediate answer to your request any time after the initial month (see the chart at the top of this page). However, if you know what you want, our advice is to apply in writing during the initial month; your chance of obtaining the permit you desire is best if you apply within the initial month. After the initial month, permit availability for popular sites is greatly diminished.

Are any other backcountry changes being implemented at this time?
In addition to this operational change to the backcountry permit system, park managers are placing a moratorium on the number of Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) issued for guided backpacking services effective immediately. This moratorium is being put into effect to allow park managers to better understand and adapt to growing demand for CUAs. Anyone offering commercially-guided (for profit) backpacking services in Grand Canyon National Park is required to obtain and maintain a CUA.

Will we have the opportunity to comment on this change?
Grand Canyon National Park always welcomes your interest and ideas, however this change represents the park's efforts to be consistent with the 1988 Backcountry Management Plan. When Grand Canyon National Park developed the present plan, there was very strong public support for a system that provides equal access to backcountry permits for all users. The park received and considered many comments at that time. Any major changes to the management of Grand Canyon National Park's backcountry areas, including redistribution of use, would need to be reviewed in a new backcountry planning process.

When will the park work on a new Backcountry Management Plan?
Within the next few years, the park expects to begin the process of developing an updated Backcountry Management Plan (BMP) which will address, among other things, commercial use in the backcountry. The BMP planning process will include periods of public comment during which the NPS will seek to learn more about public demand for, and the impact of, commercially guided backpacking and about many other issues as well.

Are there any backcountry use statistics I could look at?
A PDF file with statistics showing backcounty use comparison across multiple years (2001-2009) can be found here.

Additional questions?
Additional questions may be sent by email to the Backcountry Information Center.

Last updated: April 25, 2013

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Grand Canyon, AZ 86023


(928) 638-7888

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