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Grand Canyon Backpacking Permits

Backpacking
May 2016
Hikers descend into Grand Canyon valley on backpacking trip

Grand Canyon is an iconic destination for backpackers. Not only is it one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, its expansive land area and massive variation in elevation and life zones offer practically unlimited options for routes and adventures. Any camping expedition into the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park below the canyon’s rim requires a backcountry permit, obtained from the Backcountry Office of the National Park Service. Some popular areas are very difficult to get permits for, these are typically the most easy to access, while others are neglected to the point that the Backcountry Ranger issuing the permit is likely to give you a solid eyebrow raise. If you’re not sure which style of Grand Canyon camping trip is right for you, click here to learn about all options for camping at Grand Canyon. If you already know you are planning a backcountry trip, this article will explain how to successfully get your permit.

Decide Which Trails You Prefer

If you’re planning to backpack below the rim, it’s time to think about which trail you will be hiking and where you want to camp. There are three types of trails in the Grand Canyon These are designated by the National Park Service based on expected daily use of a trail, level of management, maintenance, and patrol by park personnel:

Grand Canyon Corridor Trails

These are the most used trails in the park. They are heavily used by visitors and by the mule trains operated by park concessionaires. Because of this heavy use, the National Park Service regularly patrols and maintains the Corridor Trails to maintain safety. The Corridor trails include Bright Angel Trail, North Kaibab Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Plateau Point, and the River Trail.

Threshold Trails

These receive lower visitation than the Corridor Trails, but more than Primitive Trails. The NPS does not regularly patrol or maintain these, but reconstructs sections damaged by environmental forces, or to prevent further trail erosion. Maintenance will also be done to protect historical features along Threshold Trails. The Threshold trails include Clear Creek Trail, Dripping Springs Trail, Grandview Trail, Hermit Trail, Thunder River Trail, and Waldron Trail.

Primitive Trails

These receive the least amount of visitation of all trails. Just as with Threshold Trails, the NPS does not regularly maintain these. They will make repairs when a hazard is present, or to prevent severe erosion, but otherwise the park service will leave these trails untouched. Primitive Trails include such routes as Beamer Trail, Boucher Trail, Deer Creek Trail, Nankoweap Trail, North and South Bass Trails, Tanner Trail, Tonto Trail, and others.

 

If you prefer a higher degree of comfort and a low degree of risk when backpacking, we suggest you stick with the Corridor Trails. Corridor trails offer amenities like picnic tables, restrooms, running water, and easy access to park rangers. If you are fine with digging “cat holes” and treating your own water, your trail options are much more extensive! If you’re new to backpacking, we recommend sticking with the Corridor Trails to begin with, then moving into the Threshold Trails as you gain experience and confidence. All trails below the rim of Grand Canyon National Park are challenging by nature, with steep ascents and descents. Keep in mind that even backpacking on the corridor trails requires preparation and training.

 

Consider Going Guided

AOA’s guided backpacking trips operate on both Corridor and Threshold trails. They are a great introduction to the Grand Canyon for experienced backpackers or even for fit and dedicated first timers. A guided trip will go through the permit process for you so that all you have to do is train, show up, and enjoy the canyon! There are many benefits to going guided, but the biggest ones are around safety, ease of logistics, and the educational component that comes from exploring the canyon with a professional guide who knows it well.

Learn about AOA’s guided backpacking trips:

 

Apply for a Backcountry Permit

To apply for a permit, you’ll need to fill out an application. Applications are accepted as early as the first day of each month, 4 months prior to your proposed start date. 

Click here for the application.

Permit Cost

$10 per permit, plus $8 per person

Group Size

There is a limit of 6 people per site or you can apply for a group site, which would be for parties of 7 to 11 campers.

Reserving Group Sites

7 to 11 campers. Group sites are very limited in number.  Applications for group sites are only accepted by fax at (928) 638-2125, in person at the Backcountry Information Center inside Grand Canyon National Park, or by mail.

In applying for your permit, you will need to designate the backcountry “use area” (camping area) by its 3-digit code. You can see these at the bottom of this page. Read all instructions on the application and contact the Backcountry Office with any questions before you send in your application at (928) 638-7888.

If you are unsuccessful in your attempt to get your preferred permit, try again. The more flexible you can be with your desired dates and camping areas, the higher your chances are of getting a permit. If you are backpacking the Corridor Trails, and especially if you are wanting to go in May through October, you may have quite a challenge ahead of you…and I don’t mean the hike. These permits are highly valued commodities so be flexible with your dates and, if possible, aim to explore where or when others choose not to.

Walk-up Permits

If you still are unable to get a permit, your final option is to go after a “walk-up permit.” A limited number of these are available at the North Rim or South Rim Backcountry Information Centers for Corridor Trail campgrounds only. These are only issued in person. They are available for one or two consecutive nights and cannot be purchased more than 1 day prior to your start date. The center is open daily from 8:00am – 12:00pm and 1:00pm – 5:00pm (MST).

Insider tip: Walk-up permits are not always available and you could find your trip delayed indefinitely even after travelling to the Grand Canyon with bells on and permit fee in hand. We suggest asking for a waitlist number when you’re at the Backcountry Information Center. Based on your number, you will get a phone call from a Backcountry Ranger the following morning during which you can choose to request a permit, exchange your number for a new waitlist number good for the following day, or simply ask questions. Waitlist numbers are weighted to those who are already on the waitlist. This means that if it is Monday and you request a permit for Tuesday that is unavailable, you can ask for a waitlist number; let’s say you get #10. On Tuesday, a Backcountry Ranger will call 9 other people, then you. You’ll ask about your permit again and if it is still unavailable, you should ask to be put on tomorrow’s waitlist. You’ll be given a new number that is lower than your first; maybe you get #2 in this example. On Wednesday you’ll get another call and since you are so high on the list, you’ll likely get your permit and be backpacking Grand Canyon by Thursday! In high season and when backpacking on the Corridor Trails, this may be your only option for experiencing the adventure you’ve planned. But, as you know if you’ve read this article, it’s well worth it.

Send Permit Request By Mail:

Grand Canyon Permits Office

1824 S. Thompson Street, #201

Flagstaff, AZ 86001

 

Backcountry Use Area Codes

Code Use Area Name Mgmt. Zone Camping Type
AH9 Vishnu Wild At Large Camping
AJ9 Cheyava Wild At Large Camping
AK9 Clear Creek Threshold At Large Camping
AL9 Greenland Springs Wild At Large Camping
AP9 Phantom Creek Wild At Large Camping
AQ9 Trinity Creek Wild At Large Camping
AR9 Scorpion Ridge Wild At Large Camping
BE9 Hance Creek Primitive At Large Camping
BF5 Horseshoe Mesa Threshold Designated Sites
BG9 Cottonwood Creek Primitive At Large Camping
BH9 Grapevine Primitive At Large Camping
BJ9 Cremation Primitive At Large Camping
BL4 Horn Creek Threshold Designated Sites
BL5 Salt Creek Threshold Designated Sites
BL6 Cedar Spring Threshold Designated Sites
BL7 Monument Creek Threshold Designated Sites
BL8 Granite Rapids Threshold Designated Sites
BM7 Hermit Creek Threshold Designated Sites
BM8 Hermit Rapids Threshold Designated Sites
BN9 Boucher Primitive At Large Camping
CBG Bright Angel Corridor Campground
CCG Cottonwood Corridor Campground
CIG Indian Garden Corridor Campground
NA0 Walhalla Plateau Primitive At Large Camping
NB9 Thompson Canyon Wild At Large Camping
NC9 Ken Patrick Primitive At Large Camping
ND9 Robbers Roost Primitive At Large Camping
NF9 Widforss Threshold At Large Camping
NG9 Outlet Primitive At Large Camping
NH1 Point Sublime Threshold Designated Sites
NJ0 Swamp Ridge Primitive At Large Camping
SC9 Eremita Mesa Threshold At Large Camping

 

Find out information about professionally guided Grand Canyon backpacking trips.

Visit the Park website to learn more about planning a backcountry camping trip at for Grand Canyon National Park, as well as view trail maps, safety tips, and backcountry updates and closures.