What you need to know about backcountry permits

backpackers in Denali National Park

flickr, Paxson Woelber

If spring is making you anxious for outside adventure, then wait no longer to make plans for a wild summer. Many wild lands require permits for those journeys that go beyond the basics and beyond imagination. Here are a few reminders for how to obtain your pass to backcountry exploration at some of America's most popular National Park destinations:

  • Canyonlands (Utah): All overnight trips in the backcountry require a permit. Reservations are not required but are recommended to be made at least two weeks in advance. In addition, permits are required for horseback riding, four-wheel-drive day use and river trips. Their permit process will change in September.

  • Grand Teton (Wyoming): Permits are required for all overnight trips and backcountry permits are limited. One-third of the backcountry campsites and all of the group sites may be reserved in advance and requests are accepted until May 15. The remaining sites are filled first-come, first-served basis at park permit offices no more than one day before the trip begins. 

  • Glacier (Montana): Backcountry travelers are required to camp in the designated backcountry campgrounds, about half of which are reservable (the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis). All backcountry campers are required to obtain a backcountry permit. Advanced reservation requests will be received until April 15 and entered in the lottery. Requests received after April 15 will be processed after all lottery ones.

  • Shenandoah (Virginia): Free permits are required for camping in places other than those that are developed. They can be mailed to you in advance or acquired at park headquarters, visitor centers or entrance stations.

The video below explains how to plan for backcountry camping, using Shenandoah as an example:

  • Olympic (Washington): Reservations for "quota" areas are recommended and accepted by fax or mail starting April 1.

  • Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee): Reservations and permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry and may be obtained at any time up to 30 days in advance.

  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon (California): Wilderness permits are required for all overnight camping outside designated car campgrounds. Permits are issued at the station closest to the trailhead where you begin your trip. About three-quarters may be reserved in advance, and then permits for unreserved spaces are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are accepted at least two weeks in advance by fax or mail.

  • Yosemite (California): Free wilderness permits are required year-round for any overnight stay in the Yosemite Wilderness. Permits are also required for day hikes to Half Dome only, which are distributed by lottery via recreation.gov. Reservations are recommended, 60% can be made up to 24 weeks ahead of time while the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis. It is recommended to make reservations as early as possible.

  • Mount Rainier (Washington): Camping overnight in the wilderness at Mount Rainier requires a permit, which can be obtained at any ranger station in the park. Last month the park received a record 50% increase in the number of requests. The park will still continue to receive requests as well as offer a first-come, first-served option. 

  • Grand Canyon (Arizona)If you wish to camp anywhere outside developed campgrounds, you must obtain a permit from the Backcountry Information Center up to four months prior to your proposed start month. It is recommended to apply the first day possible by fax. Any requests made one to three months beforehand will need to be made in person.

If you plan to visit an area that is not in the list above, be sure to check with permit offices to get details as soon as possible. 


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