How to Apply Grand Canyon Permit 2024

Grand Canyon Has a New Permit System: How to Apply (2024)

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I have written a handful of posts about how to apply for a Grand Canyon backcountry permit via the National Park Service’s competitive permit lottery, but these posts are now outdated. The Park Service announced in summer of 2023 that the old permit lottery system is being replaced with a new system for hiking trips occurring in January 2024 or later. This is supposed to cut down on confusion for the applicants and on excessive workload for the rangers; I think it will be a good thing!

If you are a day hiker, it is not necessary to secure a permit to hike in the Grand Canyon. A permit is necessary if you are doing an overnight hike where you’ll need to tent camp below the canyon rim. Therefore, hikers attempting the popular Rim to Rim or Rim to River routes would need permits, unless they stay at Phantom Ranch (which has its own lottery system) or try to hike their entire route in a day. Read tips about these treks in my 10 Common Questions About Hiking Rim to Rim post and my Ultimate Grand Canyon Hiking Guide post.

If you’re new to my site, I used to work at the Grand Canyon and I have also worked for a guided trekking company that runs trips in the canyon.

how to apply for grand canyon permits
South Kaibab Trail

What was the Grand Canyon’s old permit lottery system?

Old Grand Canyon Permit Application Process

Up until now, applicants needed to complete a permit request form and then mail or fax it to the Backcountry Office for review. Your application had to be submitted four months in advance by the first of the month. For instance, if you wanted to hike in October 2023, you would submit your application by the deadline of June 1, 2023 (the earliest you could submit was May 20th). Once all applications were submitted, a computer randomized them and the Park Service processed them in this randomized order. This prevented any sort of favoritism and made the lottery luck-based. Throughout the month of June, the Park Service would process hundreds or thousands of applications by hand. Winners would be notified towards the end of the month, and then any remaining permits (if any) for October could be sold to the public starting on July 1st. This process started all over again from scratch every month. The November deadline was July 1st, the December deadline was August 1st, and so on.

Old Cost of a Grand Canyon Permit

A permit was priced at $10 per permit plus $12 per person or stock animal per night. Denied applications did not incur a charge. Successful permits were not ever refundable, though permits canceled at least four days in advance received hiker credit (minus $10) valid for one year.

Contingency Plans

If you missed the permit lottery deadline or were not successful in the lottery, you could call the Backcountry Office periodically to see if another group canceled their permit so that you could scoop it up. You could also check the Corridor Availability Report online, though it’s only updated a couple times a month.

They also have a waitlist system, and this will not change in 2024. If you are physically onsite at the South Rim, you can go into the Backcountry Office the day before you want to camp and ask for a waitlist number. Then you’ll return the next morning to see if they’ve had any spots open up. Usually only one or two might open, so if your waitlist number is 16, your chances are incredibly slim. But, at that time you could trade your number in for a closer number. Maybe on the second day, you trade number 16 in for number 12. The next morning you come in again and do the same process, and eventually you might be number 1, 2, or 3 and be able to grab a permit. It’s a numbers game and for the best results you start playing about a week in advance. If you’re coming from out of town and don’t have time for all that, you’re better off applying via the regular lottery process.

new grand canyon permit system
River Trail

What is the Grand Canyon’s new permit lottery system for 2024?

Remember to always check the Alerts and Conditions and Critical Backcountry Updates pages on the National Park Service website. Some trails are occasionally closed for maintenance.

New Grand Canyon Permit Application Process

Permit applications for Grand Canyon backpacking trips occurring in January 2024 or later are now being processed via Recreation.gov. Since the January lottery deadline was September 1, 2023, this new system has officially launched.

This is going to be a huge relief for the park rangers, who were previously processing all of the requests manually. Recreation.gov is already where most National Park Service drive-in campsites around the country can be booked, including Mather Campground at the top of the South Rim, as well as some backcountry sites in other parks. So the change is that now the below-rim hike-in backcountry campsites in the Grand Canyon will be booked through this platform too.

It is still a lottery and the four-months-in-advance deadline has not changed. Now, instead of having to mail or fax your application by the deadline, you’ll need to create an online lottery application on Recreation.gov by the deadline. You’ll know the results on the 2nd of the month (if the lottery deadline was June 1st for an October trip, you’ll know the result on June 2nd). If your application is successful, you’ll be assigned an “Early Access” date and time when you can log back in to Recreation.gov to book your preferred campsites. The Park Service says this Early Access booking time will be assigned to you with “limited competition” so other hikers aren’t stealing spots out from under your nose while you’re trying to read the calendar.

“The alternative without a lottery would be a frantic system where thousands of applicants might rush against each other to attempt to claim permits. By using a lottery system for a highly competitive reservation process, Grand Canyon National Park hopes to create a calmer experience where each applicant will have a bit more time to understand what is available, consider options, and carefully make decisions.”

NPS

Being awarded a time slot in the lottery doesn’t mean every campsite you want will be wide open. The Early Access time slots will be doled out to 750 lottery winners. The Early Access time period takes place over 10 days, with 5 time slots per day. You may be awarded a time of 4pm on June 14th, while someone luckier is awarded a time of 8am on June 4th. You’ll have to log in and see what’s still available for you when your time slot rolls around.

This new system is in place for the standard campsites used for a classic Rim to Rim or Rim to River route, including Havasupai Gardens, Bright Angel Campground, and Cottonwood Campground. Also included, except in the summertime, are Threshold trail campsites such as Hermit Creek, Monument Creek, and Horseshoe Mesa. You can see a full list of which campsites are included here

More experienced hikers looking to use very remote campsites not listed on Recreation.gov will need to call the Backcountry Office for assistance when their Early Access lottery time slot arrives.

New Cost of a Grand Canyon Permit

It still costs $10 per permit plus $12 per person or stock animal per night. You pay the $10 upfront to create your lottery application. If your application is accepted and you successfully book a permit, consider the $10 already paid for; now you just need to pay the additional $12 nightly charge. If your application is not successful, the $10 is not refundable.

Refunds of the $12 nightly charges will replace the Hiker Credit system. To be eligible for a refund, cancellations must be made via Recreation.gov before the backcountry permit is printed and at least 30 days before the permit start date.

Contingency Plans

If you get your lottery application in by the deadline but are denied and do not get awarded an Early Access time slot, you’ll be allowed to book whatever is still available on the 20th of the month. The general public who didn’t apply for the lottery at all will have to wait until the 1st of the following month.

For example, for an October trip which had a lottery deadline of June 1st, those denied Early Access can try to book on June 20th, and then any remaining permits go on sale to the public on July 1st.

Booking will continue to be possible online after that, so there’s no need to call the Backcountry Office on the phone to ask if there’s been cancellations. I would assume if another party cancels a permit through Recreation.gov, it will show up as available to rebook almost instantaneously.

You can still try to get a last minute permit in-person by visiting the Backcountry Office the day before the start of your hike, because they will be holding a limited quantity of permits back for walk-ups. Read about walk-up permits here. You can still get a waitlist number for the following morning as well.

Grand canyon permit lottery
Bright Angel Trail

What is NOT changing about the Grand Canyon permit lottery system?

Permit applications must still be submitted four months in advance by the first of the month, though you can now submit as early as the 16th rather than the 20th. For example, you can register for the lottery between May 16-June 1 for an October trip.

Permits still cost $10 per permit plus $12 per person or stock animal per night.

A computer is still going to randomize all the applications so that the lottery remains impartial. The 750 people who get awarded Early Access time slots are randomly chosen. No-one will even be prioritized because they were denied in a previous month’s lottery.

There are still two permit sizes, a 1-6 hiker permit or a 7-11 hiker permit. There are many more campsites sized for 1-6 people than there are for 7-11 people, so the large group permit is still more competitive to get.

There are still rules about how you can be disqualified from the lottery or have your permits revoked if you try to use sneaky tactics to enter the same lottery multiple times, or if your group tries to book multiple campsites at the same campground for the same night. Read up on these regulations here.

How to get a grand canyon permit
Hermit Trail

Is this a good or bad change?

I think the new Grand Canyon permit lottery system is a fantastic update. While technology-illiterate people may complain at first, it’s really going to be much more straightforward for trip planning purposes. 

With the old snail-mail system, you had to know all of your potential availability in advance while filling out your application. You had to list all possible date ranges and all possible itineraries you might be interested in, in case your first choice was not available. People did not understand how important it was to list a wide range of backup dates and backup itineraries. If you don’t list it, the Park Service can’t grant it. If your application said, “I prefer October 13-16 but my backup date range is Oct 17-20”, and the Park couldn’t grant anything within either of those exact date ranges, they’d just deny the permit. If they could have granted Oct 21-24, you’d never know.

Now, you do not have to provide any itinerary information when you create your lottery application. You just pay the $10 and submit your name. If you are awarded Early Access, then during your time slot you can look at the availability calendar yourself and see all the campsites and trip start dates that are possible, and book whatever works for you. If your first choice dates and campsites are not available, you’ll see that on the calendar and can choose an alternative at that time.

This system is also going to be much quicker. It will only take one day to find out if you got Early Access, and then depending on your time slot, you will know what permit you can book much earlier than you would have via the old system, which took a whole month.


If you’re wondering how to apply for a Grand Canyon backcountry permit for your upcoming below-rim camping trip, pretty much every other blog post on the internet is going to be outdated on this topic for the next few months until people start to catch up on the new information. If you find instructions on the National Park Service website and are wondering why it doesn’t match up with other sources, this is why. Obviously go with whatever the Park Service says, and take other resources on the internet with a grain of salt (even mine!). That said, if you are finding the wealth of information NPS has provided to be confusing, I hope my breakdown on the new Grand Canyon permit system has helped you wrap your head around things.

Happy hiking!

🏨 Are all the in-park hotels already booked out? Find budget hostels near the Grand Canyon here, and standard hotels in Tusayan here.
✈️ Coming to Arizona from further afield? Use an Airalo eSIM for affordable international cell data and don’t forget to protect your investment with travel insurance.

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5 Comments

  1. Bohemiana says:

    My husband and I did a simple backpacking trip from the South Rim, to the old Indian Gardens CG for one night, then down to Bright Angel CG for 2 nights and back up to the South Rim in one day. It was a really easy handwritten permit application and we got the dates we wanted. From what I’ve read on Rec.gov the new system seems like you can only apply for one campground at a time. October 2024 we want to go from the North Rim to a night at Cottonwood CG, then down to Bright Angel for 2 nights, back up to Cottonwood for one night, ending back at the North Rim. Maybe when I actually start filling out the application it will become obvious how to do this online. Can you confirm that multiple campgrounds are possible on one permit?

    1. Sounds like a great itinerary! Yes, you can book multiple nights of campsites at the same time. I just went to recreation.gov myself and pretended I was interested in booking Bright Angel Campground for Feb 13-16, 2024, Cremation for Feb 16-17, and Clear Creek for Feb 17-18, and it let me select all of these at once.

  2. Walt Keyes says:

    TDE, all you say comports with what I know and have heard.

    Yesterday we got our Backcountry Permit. Yup–required a phone call–and took half an hour of their and our time to get the deed done. The time aspect is not a ‘plus’ for this new system.

    I believe it is confusing that there is nothing evident when you are attempting to create an itinerary that one needs to phone the office to effectuate the process. Yes, it’s in the fine print describing the process. But in plain view in the itinerary builder (my term), you can see whether a Use Area is available nor not. ‘Walkup’ is often an option–but that’s ALWAYS been and option (and still is), and it means something different than ‘phone the office’.

    I’m fairly knowledgable about this whole thing but I have never seen an approximate percentage of under the Rim backcountry reservations (not Phantom) that are Corridor and the areola of designated campsites–all basically the ‘training wheels’ of the Canyon, versus the rest of the backcountry. The rest of the backcountry requires the phone call from what I can tell–the aforementioned areas don’t. Any clue?

    Anyway, hopefully your thorough info and my bit on the phone call will be useful to others.

  3. It is a great service that you describe the new Recreation.gov method for backcountry permits at GRand CAnyon (GRCA) in your site. You are correct that much out there has not caught up to the change, nor will it provide sufficient detail to the uninitiated to navigate the new system.

    I realize that single anecdotes are, in the main, unreliable. But here’s my observation of the new Recreation.gov method now used for Backcountry Permits at GRCA. You should know I’m a long time GRCA backpacker, retired USFS/NPS (two time looser!) engineer, and have used Wrecreation.gov several times prior.

    First, Recreation.gov is clunky. It IS convenient as a one stop shop for ‘shopping’ for locations on federal lands. But who among us, ready for a big hike, thinks, “Hey, let’s see what’s available at some random spot”? We nearly always know darn near where we are interested in, and which land management agency does the admin, and how to contact them. By comparison, the Backcountry Office staff at GRCA have always been top notch in what they do (automatically from the submitter’s standpoint, as well as manually when contacted with questions); wreckreation.gov not so much.

    Second, for GRCA Backcountry hikers NOT wanting a location in the Corridor or at (mostly) designated campsite use areas, you apparently still need to PHONE the Backcountry office. Presumably to provide your bonafides for these more arduous hikes. So it STILL involves staff time plus an extra step for the hiker, all to merely see if there’s availability of Use Areas that should have been evident upon their timeslot coming available.

    Third: Our group of three each submitted a lottery application (that’s allowed). Only one of us ‘won’ a timeslot, but we are way down the list (well beyond the normal group of 750 ‘winners’ consistent this interim period of moving to Recreation.gov). Compare that to the many years I have single-handedly applied for and always received either my first or second itinerary using the old method (often the Escalante route, which is quite popular).

    Any permit system will require some experience to reliably navigate. The first attempt may well be a learning through failure exercise, no matter the system. However I see no advantage to anyone (GRCA staff and especially not for the hikers) with the new system. Additionally, punishing the Backcountry Office folks by forcing Recreation.gov on them is perverse when instead they could have been rewarded by having the permit fee increased to increase staff if needed. I think we’d all happily pay–it’s not like we all ride out bikes to the Canyon for free anyway.

    1. That’s a great point about how they could have just hired more people to help with paper applications, or paid them more. I wasn’t aware that rangers would see it as a punishment.

      From a tour operator point of view, we were definitely seeing that it was becoming more and more difficult for the rangers to get through all the applications each month. The results were coming in later and later and our guests were getting mad at us, like it was our fault. It became a problem because guests needed to know on time if they were denied so that they could ask us to apply again for them for the next month’s lottery – but if the prior month’s results hadn’t come back before the due date of the following month’s lottery, how could they know if they need to apply again? It got real messy.

      We also got calls from people wanting to join our tours because they told us they had tried to apply as an individual via the old style of the lottery 5+ times and had never won it, over the course of many years. It’s awesome that you were successful with your applications via the old style, and a bummer that your recent entry wasn’t as successful, but I’d be curious if there are people who would say the opposite, that the old style was never successful for them and the new style has been. We shall see! I’d imagine we’ll hear both experiences in equal measure, both styles are so luck-based.

      I did mention in my article about how more experienced hikers wanting more obscure campsites still need to call. Do you think that is a frequent enough occurrence to stress out the rangers?

      If your third point (that it’s allowed for multiple people in the group to put in applications) is a correction of my note about disqualifications – my note was in reference to the rule that “it’s not okay for your group to have two reservations for the same campground on the same night. Doing so actually voids both permits because it violates the Affiliated Groups regulation from the permit.” I was also thinking about this rule – “Each individual can submit one application per lottery (i.e., one per month). Recreation.gov has taken precautions to limit users to 1 profile each. Grand Canyon will take additional steps to revoke permits from any individual who finds a way to submit multiple applications under their own name. Reservations revoked for this reason will not be eligible for a refund.”

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