Pay Attention: Rules Are Changing For Getting Backpacking Permits at Grand Canyon National Park

Rules for obtaining a backpacking permit in Grand Canyon National Park are changing come February. NPS photo of backpacker on South Kaibab Trail.

Grand Canyon National Park long has run its backpacking permit operation with a four-month lead time. In other words, you could walk into the backcountry office on February 1 and ask for a permit for a date in June and receive it. Well, the rules are changing friends.

With intentions of adding fairness into the system for those folks who can't simply walk into the backcountry office with a permit request, come February all requests for a permit for trips four months down the road will have to be in writing. While this might sound onerous or overly bureaucratic, it's not. It merely levels the playing field for, say, those who live too far from the park to simply pay a visit four months out to fill out their permit application.

And don't worry about a drop in the number of available permits. Grand Canyon officials say the coming changes will not affect overall levels of backcountry use or the number of backcountry permits issued by the park’s Backcountry Information Center.

Why the change? Read on.

You've long been required to obtain a permit to head into the park's backcountry for an overnight say. These permits were most often obtained in advance by submitting a request either in writing or in person. And under the current program, no matter how you submitted a request you had to wait until the first day of the month four months prior to the start date of your trip to apply for a permit. For example, if you're planning a trip for April 2010, you can put your permit request in, either in writing or in person, no sooner than December 1, 2009. For a trip in May 2010, the first day you could submit your request either in person or writing would be January 1, 2010.

And, currently, all requests submitted in person receive immediate consideration.

But...park officials say consideration of written requests can take up to three weeks due to the large number of requests received in writing, especially on the first day of that fourth-month-out window of opportunity. And since many of the park’s visitors travel from across the country and around the world to take a backcountry trip, they are put at a disadvantage because they are unable to submit their advance permit requests in person.

On top of that, the number of people coming to the backcountry office to make in-person backcountry permit requests on the earliest day possible (the first day of the fourth-month-out) has been steadily growing, increasing the disparity for those who cannot apply in person and resulting in long lines and the need for additional personnel to manage the growing numbers of people.

To address these concerns and to streamline the permitting process in anticipation of the future addition of an online permitting system, beginning on February 1, 2010, Grand Canyon officials will consider only written requests during the fourth-month-out lead time. Those written requests may be submitted by fax, by letter, or by hand delivery as before. Regardless of how they are submitted, written requests are considered based on the date on which they are received, and all of the requests received by 5:00 p.m. on the first day of the fourth-month-out window will be placed in random order by computer and considered in that new order before the next day’s requests receive consideration.

This procedural change will mean that advance backcountry permit requestors will no longer be able to walk in and have their requests receive immediate consideration during the fourth-month-out window, say park officials. Instead, these requests will be added to the written requests received on that day. That said, permit requests made in person one-, two- and three-months prior to start-of-trip will continue to be considered immediately.

So, beginning in February, if you want to head out into the park backpacking in June 2010, the first day to submit a permit request in writing will be February 1. Now, you can still show up at the backcountry desk, say, on March 1 and ask if there are any openings in June, and if so they will be happy to process your request immediately. To extend the example, if you want to backpack during specific days in July 2010, you can submit a written permit request on March 1, or walk in on April 1 and see what's available.

Now, park officials want to remind you that permit requests are not accepted by telephone or by e-mail. However, it is expected that in the future it will be possible to submit backcountry permit requests online. These online requests will be included with written requests in the consideration process outlined above.

In addition to this operational change to the backcountry permitting system, a moratorium has been placed on the number of "commercial use authorizations," or "CUAs," issued for guided backpacking services. This moratorium has been put into effect until park managers can better understand and adapt to growing demand for CUAs.

Over the next few years, the park expects to continue 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. This moratorium will remain in effect until the BMP is completed.

For additional information on the backcountry permitting process, please visit the park’s web site at www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm . Questions about backcountry permits may be e-mailed to or sent to Backcountry Information Center, Grand Canyon National Park, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023. You may also call the backcountry Information Center at 928-638-7875 between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.

If you have additional questions regarding CUAs, please contact Molly Schroer, Concessions Management Specialist, at 928-638-7707.

Comments

I think the new policy is great! I hiked in 2008. I submitted for June but, because of the commercial guides, I was not able to hike until July. I would go again in July but I would much rather have the chance of going when vacation time allows. I am thinking of going again and feel like I will get a fair shot at getting a favorable time. If you have not hiked the Canyon it is the most amazing thing you will ever do!! Now the Park Service is trying to make the permit application equitable.

So when is Grand Canyon going to start charging a fee to guarantee a wilderness permit? If you think that isn't going to happen, it will. But hey, the powers that be never used to charge a fee to enter Grand Canyon, so charging a fee to guarantee you can backpack is the next logical step. And then we'll graduate from a single fee to backpack to a daily fee when in the back country, kind of like staying at a motel: every day you stay you pay. And that's when we make backpacking inclusive to only those who can afford to pay. In other words, screw the poor. Oh well, you can always look at Grand Canyon on the Internet; should be just as exciting as hiking it. LOL.