For a long time I dreamt of backpacking the Grand Canyon, but rumors taught me that obtaining a permit was near impossible. That was, until I learned a few tricks! 

In December 2016, I began feverishly scouring the internet for how to obtain a Grand Canyon backcountry permit. I heard through fellow hiking friends that getting permits was extremely difficult and you should be prepared to not get them on the first try. According to the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center, they receive 30,000 permit requests per year while only issuing 13,000 permits. This statistic was quite intimidating at first, however I knew enough people who were backcountry guides that I began asking around for advice. Although obtaining permits is a competitive process, I want to share a few tips I learned so that others can experience the unparalleled beauty of the Grand Canyon.

APPLICATION PROCESS

Before I jump into the application process, I want to say that you don’t need a permit to hike into the Grand Canyon. You only need a permit if you plan to camp overnight. The park does not recommend hiking to the bottom and back up in the same day, however you can do many amazing hikes without needing to go through the permit process. Now that doesn’t stop many people from attempting rim to rim hikes, however if this is your first time I highly recommend day hikes or obtaining permits for your multi-day trip.

Ready to go backpacking? The Grand Canyon backcountry permit application process is actually quite simple. Follow these steps:

  1. Identify when you want to hike.
  2. Fill out the backcountry permit request form(s).
  3. Submit the forms by fax, (928) 638-2125, to the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center during the application window (see schedule below).
  4. Keep your fingers crossed until you hear back in the next three weeks.

For the most up to date forms and information, you can learn more from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Office website or reaching them by phone at (928) 638-7875.

The first step is to identify when you want to hike. This will determine the date range applications are being accepted for your desired month (approx. 4 months in advance). This is critical because if you do not submit within that date range you will only be considered after all of the initial applications are reviewed.

Below is a table that outlines when you need to apply based on the hike start date.

Month You Want to Hike Apply During This Time
No priority for getting it in early.
In-Person Requests Accepted
January Aug 20 and Sep 1
(by 5pm MST)
Oct 1
February Sep 20 and Oct 1
(by 5pm MST)
Nov 1
March Oct 20 and Nov 1
(by 5pm MST)
Dec 1
April Nov 20 and Dec 1
(by 5pm MST)
Jan 1
May Dec 20 and Jan 1
(by 5pm MST)
Feb 1
June Jan 20 and Feb 1
(by 5pm MST)
Mar 1
July Feb 20 and Mar 1
(by 5pm MST)
Apr 1
August Mar 20 and Apr 1
(by 5pm MST)
May 1
September Apr 20 and May 1
(by 5pm MST)
Jun 1
October May 20 and Jun 1
(by 5pm MST)
Jul 1
November Jun 20 and Jul 1
(by 5pm MST)
Aug 1
December Jul 20 and Aug 1
(by 5pm MST)
Sep 1

*Table retrieved from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information website located here. Check website for most up-to-date application requirements.

TIPS & TRICKS

There were two key bits of advice that I received that seemed to be the most helpful throughout the application process.

The first is to provide the most flexible dates possible when submitting your application. I have no doubt this contributed to my success in obtaining a permit on the first try. I basically submitted for the entire month, minus one weekend, to allow them to fit us in wherever they could. They even called me to make sure it was ok if it bled out into a date I hadn’t put on the application. The backcountry office staff were friendly, extremely helpful, and as flexible as they could be to accommodate so many requests.

The second is to evaluate the time of year you are interested in backpacking. This can have a huge effect on your trip and the number of applicants for that given month. For example, I applied for permits in the month of June, one of the hottest months of the year. At first I was a bit nervous, but I knew the group I was traveling with could handle the heat and that month would increase our chances of getting a permit. This tactic could also apply to winter months, however remember even though Arizona has desert areas, it is cool and often snowy at the Grand Canyon in wintertime.

In the end I was successful in obtaining the permits and we lucked out with an unseasonably “cool” week for our trip. Hiking the Grand Canyon was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and hopefully these tips will help better your odds at obtaining a backcountry permit in the future.

Blue skies and happy trails!