The Grand Canyon Backcountry Guide
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The Permit Process
A Backcountry Permit is required for all camping or overnight hiking in Grand Canyon National Park. Exceptions include the campgrounds on the South Rim, North Rim and at Tuweep, or if a reservation is held for Phantom Ranch cabins or dormitories. Reservations for Phantom Ranch can be obtained through Xanterra Parks & Resorts, but they are hard to come by on short notice and need to be obtained well in advance. The permits are obtained from the Backcountry Information Center (a.k.a The Backcountry Office).
As of February 1, 2010 the backcountry permitting process rules have changed. Applications are accepted four months prior to the month in which one wants their permit (see table below). However, only written requests will be considered during that fourth month out. This means that you can no longer appear in person at the Backcountry Office on the first day of the fourth month out and have a permit issued with a verbal request. All permit requests on that fourth month out are required to use a completed request form and be submitted by fax, mail or hand-delivered. Each day's application receipts will be entered randomly into the computer and will be considered for permits in that resulting order. The next day's receipts will be processed in the same fashion, but not before each of the previous day's applications have been considered for permitting. This process will be applied for each of the days in that fourth month out. Verbal in-person permit requests will be allowed beginning the third month out and continuing through to the actual hike date.
For information on obtaining permits for backcountry travel on Native American tribal lands, see the section below.
When to Apply
How to Apply
Click here to obtain a Backcountry Permit Request Form (Click here for an Excel version). Complete the form ensuring ALL information has been clearly entered. If you have trouble opening the Request Form, click here for the latest free version of Adobe Reader. Be sure to include the following information in your Permit Request, otherwise, your permit will be delayed:
Completed Backcountry Permit Request Forms can be submitted as follows:
Hand Delivered: Drop off the form at the Backcountry Information Center. There are Backcountry Information Centers at both the South and North Rims. The South Rim Backcountry Information Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). See Map for location. The more remote North Rim Backcountry Information Center is open mid-May through mid-October from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). Beginning in mid-October, the North Rim office is open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. It remains open until November 30th or snowfall closes Route 67. Once closed, it does not reopen until mid-May.
Fax: Fax the completed form to the Backcountry Information Center at 928-638-2125. The office receives faxes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. High fax volume on the first of the month may result in getting a busy signal, so keep trying.
Mail: Completed forms can be mailed to the Backcountry Information Center/GCNP, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ, 86023.
Permit requests ARE NOT ACCEPTED by phone or email.
How Long Can You Stay?
Camping in the Corridor, Hermit, Monument, Horseshoe Mesa and Tapeats Use Areas is limited to two nights, consecutive or non-consecutive per trip. During the period from November 15 through February 28, up to four nights is allowed in Corridor campgrounds.
Trips to Use Areas designated for "At Large" camping are limited to a maximium of seven nights per Use Area, however, overall trip length are not limited.
Click here for Backcountry Use Area Code Information.
How Big Can Your Group Be?
Permits come in two sizes: Small Groups (1-6 people) and Large Groups (7-11 people). There are more Small Group permits available than Large Group permits.
Given the Park's Backcountry Management Plan, groups larger than 11 are prohibited from camping in the same campground or Use Area. In the event that a group combines multiple permits for the same campground or Use Area for the same night, Park regulations stipulate that all these permits become void.
No more than four large groups or eight small groups that are affiliated with each other may camp within the backcountry on the same night. In these instances, no two groups may camp in the same campground or Use Area on the same night.
Tips for Getting the Trip Itinerary You Want
There are no guarantees when seeking to obtain a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit. The following suggestions can help your chances of getting the itinerary that you're seeking:
Permit & Park Entrance Fees
A fee of $10 is charged for each permit, plus $5 per person, per night camped below the Rim. The $10 permit fee is non-refundable. There is also a Frequent Hiker program that costs $25 per year. Frequent Hiker membership waives the $10 per permit fee for 12 months from the date of purchase, regardless of the number of permits obtained during that time-frame.
A credit card is the preferred method of payment for permit fees. It is important to enter the maximum amount you are authorizing the Backcountry Information Center to charge to you card so that your longest trip option can be considered. Personal checks or money orders against a U.S. bank are accepted when written in the correct amount. Cash IS NOT accepted by mail.
Grand Canyon National Park also has a $25 per vehicle fee that is charged upon entering the Park. The Havasupai Tribe also charges backcountry travelers a fee for crossing through their Reservation. This fee is encountered when accessing the South Bass and Pasture Wash trailheads.
Responses to Permit Requests
All responses to Permit Requests are sent to applicants via the U.S. Postal Service. No other methods are currently available. Receipt of a Permit Request will not be confirmed until their processing has been completed. Allow at least three weeks for processing.
If space is available and all fee requirements have been met, a permit will be issued and mailed to the Trip Leader. Permits are not transferable to other Trip Leaders.
If your Permit Request is denied, you may be able to obtain "Walk-In" or "Last Minute Walk-In" permit. See the section below.
Walk-In Permits, Last Minute Walk-Up Permits, The Waitlist & Other Last Ditch Efforts
If your plans are flexible and you are willing to travel to the Park and take a chance on obtaining a Backcountry Permit as a walk-in, it is possible to get one. It may not be one for the exact trail and itinerary you had in mind, but face it, any trip into the Grand Canyon backcountry is preferable to an experience at the Rim alone. Here's a run-down on how it works:
Walk-In & Last Minute Walk-Up Permits: Because cancellations can create permit availability a walk-in to the Backcountry Information Office as soon as they open in the morning can score a permit that could start that day. A walk-in also allows you to explore trip options with the office staff. Many times odd itineraries and trips to less traveled sections of the Park will create an opportunity to put together a permit. There are also a limited number of "last minute walk-up" permits available for Corridor Campgrounds (i.e., Indian Garden, Bright Angel and Cottonwood Campgrounds). These permits are issued in person only, include a one or two consecutive night itinerary and are only available one day prior to the start of the hike. These opportunities can create quite a line of people waiting for the Backcountry Office to open in the morning, but it is just as likely to arrive after the morning rush and get served immediately. To help manage the morning rush, a Waitlist process has been created.
The Waitlist: You can visit the Backcountry Office at any time during their hours of operation and request a "Waitlist Number" for the following day. The number defines priority of service the following morning when the office staff will call Waitlist Numbers. When called you can request a permit, ask questions or exchange your Waitlist Number for a new number for the following day. Once all that day's Waitlist Numbers have been called, priority of service is on a first-come-first-served basis. There is no limit to the number of days you can work this process.
Remote Site Permits: While being a less likely proposition, last minute permits are sometimes available from rangers at the Tuweep, Meadview and Lees Ferry ranger stations. These permits are for a limited number of Use Areas in those vicinities. Ranger availability can be an issue when seeking these permits. Other remote sites where permits might be obtained include: Pipe Spring National Monument (near Fredonia, AZ) and the Bureau of Land Management office in St. George, Utah.
Permits for Use Areas on Native American Tribal Lands
Access to several Use Areas requires additional permits from Native American tribal agencies. These include:
Navajo Tribal Lands: The following Backcountry Use Areas require additional permits from the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department: BA9 (Palisades); SF9 (Eminence Break); SG9 (Shinumo Wash) and SI9 (Jackass). Current permitting information and other regulations specific to these areas can be obtained by clicking this link - Navajo Parks & Recreation Department.
Havasupai Tribal Lands: Backcountry travel into the Havasupai region of the Park does not require a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit, however, reservations need to be made through the Havasupai Tribe. Current reservation information and other regulations specific to these lands can be obtained by clicking this link - Havasupai Tribe Reservations.