Important Backcountry Permit Dates for 2020

Where are you hiking this year?


If you have your eye on a specific hike this year, pay close attention to the deadlines and processes in this blog post. Nothing is worse than getting all of your gear, getting ready for this big hike and finding out you need permits that you don’t have.


If you’re aiming for really popular permits, be flexible on your dates and apply mid-week if you can and apply in smaller groups. This will increase your chances of getting permits.


Popular trails like and overnight trips require permits based on a quota that limit how many people enter the wilderness on any given day during the summer months. This minimizes human impact in the wilderness. We’ve all been on those overcrowded Disneyland hikes. That’s anything but enjoyable. Permits help prevent that.


Please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace when visiting these places. Pack out all trash including toilet paper, don’t litter, don’t play load music, be respectful of wildlife, delicate ecosystems and waterways, and follow established rules.

Havasupai, Arizona

Waterfalls in havasupai in arizona

Permits open up on Feb 1 at 8am Arizona time. They sell out FAST. By fast I really mean FAST. In 2019 their site crashed and people spent hours trying to get them. Typically the only dates left are for Feb.


To stand the best chance of getting a Havasupai permit is to register for an online account at HavasupaiReservations.com and add your payment into so you can act quickly!


If you can, be flexible on dates, see if you can go during spring or fall months when people go back to school, or middle of the week.


Starting in 2019, the permits are for 3 nights and 4 days. Of course, you can leave sooner if you’d like. It’s actually the perfect amount of time to explore this area. One day for hiking in, two days for exploring, and one for hiking out.


The cost of permits is:

  • $100 per person per weekday night
  • $125 per person per weekend night (Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights)


So, you’re looking at $300 to $375 for the permit per person for the whole trip.


Other things to keep in mind is that the full payment is due at time of booking, you can only use one credit card for the charges and there are no refunds.


Starting 2019 you can now transfer your permit to someone if you need to cancel. Or if you didn’t get to snag a permit on Feb 1, you can now get one from the transfer/cancellation system.


For more tips on Havasupai read through my blog post!

John Muir Trail, California

Woman backpacking on a trail in california

John Muir Trail permits are some of the hardest to get!


If you’re starting from Yosemite heading SOBO (Southbound), you apply online through a lottery system 170 days before your desired start date. Then every day for 21 days, Yosemite enters your application into a lottery and lets you know through email if you received a permit or not. If you don’t get one in those 21 days, you can reapply. You can also call in and try to get canceled permits.


You can also section hike it either SOBO or NOBO (Northbound) by getting permits through recreation.gov. 


Getting JMT permits is one of the hardest and more stressful aspects of planning this thru-hike. For more tips on how I got this hard to get permit (for August no less) and other alternative ways to get a JMT permit, read through my blog post.

Mt. Whitney, California

Mountain Whitney view on sunrise at Alabama Hills

Mt. Whitney is another hard permit to get, but it’s doable!


February 1st: Permit lottery registration opens on recreation.gov.


March 15th: Permit lottery closes. Enter before this date!


March 24th: Lottery results are announced. Winners can choose to accept their dates and pay or release their permits to the pool.


April 1st: Whatever permits were not taken from the lottery go on sale. These are just the permits that were not given away in the lottery, not the permits people cancelled.


April 30th: Deadline to pay for the lottery awarded permit.


May 1st: All cancelled/not paid for permits are released to everyone! After this date, check back regularly if you don’t see your ideal permit date. Cancelations always happen.


For more tips on how to get a Mt. Whitney permit, read my blog post.

Half Dome, California

There are only 300 permits awarded per day, 225 for day hikers and 75 for backpackers. The preseason lottery application is open from March 1st to March 31st and winners are announced mid-April. The permit is $10 per application and if you win a permit, you’ll have two weeks to pay the $10 per person for the permit. Apply through recreation.gov. 


If you want to backpack Half Dome instead of day hike it, you’ll need to request a Half Dome permit with your wilderness permit application. You submit a wilderness permit application through their website up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance and up until two days before your hike. The NPS has a chart that shows you which day to apply depending on your ideal start date. https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermitdates.htm

Yosemite National Park, California

View of Yosemite Falls from the bridge

Camping reservations open up on the 15th of every month at 7am PST. Reference the chart to see the dates that campground reservations open for your ideal travel dates. During the summer months, campgrounds go fast! So get online early and refresh and try to get it right at 7am PST. A minute late and you could miss all your options.


For backpacking permits, apply 168 days in advance of the date you want to start hiking. Apply through Yosemite’s online application. Click here to apply.

Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI), California

Hiker in Sequoia national park in California, USA

Backpacking permits for SEKI open on March 1st at 12:01am. Email your PDF application on or after March 1 at 12:01 am to the SEKI wilderness office (seki_wilderness_reservations@nps.gov). Emailed applications before that date will not be processed. It takes them a couple of weeks to get back to you because they go through all of the emails manually and award dates based on a first come first serve basis of when the emails come in. Then they will email you which dates you were awarded and a link to submit payment and you’re done with that!


Campgrounds inside the part become available 6 months before your desired arrival date on recreation.gov.

Zion National Park, Utah

view of the Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park - Utah

Permits for backpacking trips, canyoneering, overnight climbing bivouacs, and river trips open on the 5th of every month three months in advance of your travel date at 10am MST. So if you want to hike in May, you apply on March 5th at 10am MST. Book online here. There’s also a Last Minute Lottery that opens up 2 days before your desired trip. This includes hikes like the Subway.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Bear Lake Sunset at Rocky Mountain National Park

Permits open on March 1st at 8am MST. Click here and go to the “Most Recent Wilderness Campsite Availability List” to apply for permits. The link becomes available after the permit application opens.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon Landscape

A backcountry permit is required for overnight camping outside of Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, and North Rim Campground, overnight camping in all sites at Tuweep Campground, overnight camping anywhere on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park between Nov 1 – May 14 (includes ski-camping), off-river camping by river trip participants, overnight camping with private stock outside of Mather Campground or outside of North Rim Campground (May 15 – Oct 31), packrafting, other than that which occurs under a river permit.


Click here to get the PDF to apply for permits. It typically takes 3 weeks to hear back on your application. See the chart below to see when to apply.

Enchantments, Washington

February 15th: Permit lottery opens at 7am PST


February 29th: Permit lottery closes at 11:59 PST


March 7th: Lottery results are announced at 1:55am PST


April 1st: Unclaimed permits are returned to the reservation system at 7am PST


Permits allow overnight camping in one of the permit zones within the Enchantments area, see the map here for the zones. Permits are booked through recreation.gov.


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