How to Get a Permit to Backpack in the Grand Canyon

By Michael Lanza

First-time backpackers in the Grand Canyon quickly absorb two lessons about this one-of-a-kind place. Foremost, the canyon’s infinite vistas and deceptive scale, the beauty of desert oases and wildflower blooms, the peacefulness and quietude of some of the best wilderness campsites you will ever enjoy—all of these qualities will hook you forever.

And you learn how difficult it can be to get a permit for backpacking there.

In fact, so many people apply for Grand Canyon backcountry permits that high percentages of them get denied every year—including up to 75 percent of applications for the three most popular trails, the Bright Angel and South and North Kaibab.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.


A hiker on the Grand Canyon's North Kaibab Trail.
David Ports hiking the Grand Canyon’s North Kaibab Trail. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

This story will explain how to obtain a Grand Canyon backpacking permit through reserving one in advance or getting a walk-in permit and share the specific strategies I have used to secure permits for several multi-day hikes in the Big Ditch—which I’ve revisited many times over more than three decades of backpacking, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

And if you want to reserve a permit in advance to backpack in the Grand Canyon you must submit an application by 5 p.m. MST on the first of the month four months in advance of the month you’d like to go in—for instance, by Dec. 1 for a trip anytime in April or June 1 for October.

Click on any photo to read about that trip. Please share your questions or experiences about backpacking in the Grand Canyon in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Do your Grand Canyon hike right with these expert e-guides:
The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon
The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon
The Complete Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim.”

Backpackers on the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon.
Todd Arndt and Mark Fenton backpacking the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon. Click photo to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Decide Where You Want to Hike

First step: Research your route in advance, including how far you will hike each day and where you’d like to camp. A Grand Canyon permit requires specifying a camp location for each night, identified by the location name (such as a creek) and either a specific campground code or backcountry camping zone code shown on the interactive map at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/useAreaMap.pdf.

A campsite near Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.
A campsite near Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.

The backcountry permit application form allows you to list a first choice itinerary and one or more alternate itineraries.

Keep in mind that many of the canyon’s trails are rugged and feature significant elevation gain and loss; many people find their hiking speed slower here than in other places, especially anytime you have to carry extra water weight, and hot days can force you to hike very early and late and hunker down in shade during the heat of the day. Plan daily distances that make sense for your group.

Know where to find water sources, which are scarce and sometimes seasonal.

Find descriptions of the park’s Backcountry Trails and Use Areas, including water sources, at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/campsite-information.htm.

See all stories about backpacking in the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside (which require a paid subscription to The Big Outside to read in full, including my planning tips for each trip) and check out my downloadable e-guides to some of America’s best backpacking trips, including “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon” and “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.” Those contain detailed hiking itineraries, expert planning and gear advice, on-the-ground knowledge, tips specific to getting a permit, and myriad other details relevant to taking a trip into the canyon.

See also my story “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips”  and all stories with expert backpacking and outdoor skills tips at The Big Outside.

Want my expert help custom planning your trip to ensure it’s as good as it can be? See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you.

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Backpackers on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
Backpackers on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

Know When to Apply

Especially if you’re traveling a long distance for the trip, to avoid the disappointment of failing to get a permit, it’s best to reserve a permit in advance. Apply by 5 p.m. MST on the first of the month four months prior to the month in which you want to start a trip—for example, by Dec. 1 for a hike beginning in April—especially if seeking camps on any corridor trail. You can submit it up to 10 days prior to the first and all applications received before 5 p.m. on the first are processed in a computer-generated random order.

The application form must be submitted via fax (recommended), mail, or in person and a response can take a few weeks. The fee is $10 per permit plus $12 per person or stock animal per night.

Find more information, including a chart outlining dates to apply for a permit, at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm, and the backcountry permit request form at nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/permit-request.pdf.

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A backpacker hiking the Tapeats Creek Trail on the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop in the Grand Canyon.
Chip Roser backpacking the Tapeats Creek Trail on the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop in the Grand Canyon.

Submit Multiple Itineraries and a Range of Dates

As I suggest in my “10 Tips for Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit,” if you want to backpack in the Grand Canyon during its peak seasons of spring and fall, the single most-effective strategy for maximizing your chances of getting a permit is to include at least two itinerary choices and a range of starting date options spanning a week or more. Consider starting midweek instead of on a weekend and selecting a less-popular or remote or difficult route for your first or second choice.

You can also improve your chances by checking the boxes indicating you would accept similar or nearby campsites, reversing your itinerary, or a flexible itinerary, and providing a minimum group size that’s smaller than your first choice for group size.

In the Grand Canyon, some 75 percent of people who apply for a permit to backpack some combination the Bright Angel and South and North Kaibab trails are denied. But you will find it easier to get a permit for the 29-mile hike from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Grandview Point, the 25-mile hike from Hermits Rest to Bright Angel Trailhead, or any much more rugged and remote trip, like the 15-mile hike from New Hance Trailhead to Grandview Point, the 25-mile Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop, the 34.5-mile Royal Arch Loop, or any of the itineraries possible along the route I write about in my story “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

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Wildflowers along the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon.
Wildflowers along the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon. Click photo to read about that trip.

Try For a Last-Minute Permit

You didn’t reserve a permit early enough and you’re trying to plan a last-minute backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon? Although it’s not easy to obtain, the park does issue a limited number of last-minute backcountry permits for camping at Indian Garden, Bright Angel, and/or Cottonwood campgrounds along the popular Bright Angel and North Kaibab corridor trails.

Along the Tonto Trail at Horn Creek in Grand Canyon National Park.
Along the Tonto Trail at Horn Creek in Grand Canyon National Park.

Those permits are issued only in person, no more than one day in advance, at both the South Rim (open year-round) and the North Rim (open May 15 to Oct. 31) Backcountry Information Center. The hours for both are 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, including holidays. You might not obtain a last-minute permit the first time you visit a Backcountry Information Center; you may have to return the next day. Use the wait list to guarantee your position in line.

Note that the park doesn’t issue last-minute permits for all three of those backcountry campgrounds. Getting a last-minute permit on the North Rim gives you priority access to Cottonwood Campground but you will likely not be able to obtain a permit for Indian Garden Campground. Backpackers obtaining a permit on the South Rim will have priority access to Indian Garden and likely not be able to obtain a permit for Cottonwood. Permits issued from either rim allow access to Bright Angel Campground.

That means that if you want to attempt a rim-to-rim hike over two or three days, you’ll have to get a permit that includes Bright Angel campground and/or Cottonwood and you must have the stamina (and a light-enough pack) for at least one big day hiking from Bright Angel to either the South Rim or the North Rim.

See my e-guides “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon” and “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,” all stories about backpacking in the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside, and “How to Get a Last-Minute, National Park Backcountry Permit.”

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2 thoughts on “How to Get a Permit to Backpack in the Grand Canyon”

  1. Hi Michael,
    I just received a congratulations email from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Office with our approved backpacking permit for the Escalante Route in mid-November. I appreciate your blog on tips for getting a permit and used them with our successful application. Your beautiful trip photos and videos inspired us to go for it. And The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon E-Guide will also be helpful in our trip planning and logistics.
    We are looking forward to a great experience. Thanks!

    Reply