Tips for Scoring a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit

by Michael Lanza - The Big Outside

The first time I backpacked in Yosemite National Park, more than 25 years ago, I applied months in advance for a permit to start at the park’s most popular trailhead, Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley—and I got it. I had no idea at the time how lucky I was. I’ve since been shot down trying to get permits for popular hikes in parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Glacier. But I’ve also learned a few tricks for landing coveted backcountry permits in those flagship parks—which all receive far more requests for permit reservations than they can accommodate.

Following these 10 tips won’t guarantee you get the permit you want, but I’ve had pretty good success over the years using these strategies. And when you’re frustrated over being denied a permit for the hike you really wanted to take, keep this in mind: The permit system in parks imposes quotas on the number of backpackers in order to protect the landscape from overuse and give you an uncrowded, better wilderness experience. It’s a good thing.

A friendly warning: Don’t backpack without a permit. Backcountry rangers might issue you a citation for camping without a backcountry permit, which could involve a fine and a court appearance. The more immediate problem with lacking a permit for where you’re trying to camp is that all established campsites there could be occupied, leaving you the only option of camping illegally in a potentially uncomfortable spot and causing damage to a sensitive area. That’s not cool.

If I were to add an eleventh tip, it would be: When your first attempt fails, find another trip to do that year instead, and try again the next year. Wherever you go, the effort to plan and pull off that adventure will pay off.

Get Michael’s tips here…

 

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