Grand Canyon National Park is proposing a change to the procedure for reserving backcountry permits for overnight wilderness camping in the Canyon.
Under the current system users who are able to show up in person at the Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim when permits first become available get first shot at reservations, ahead of those who mail or fax their requests to the office. Reservations are made available on the first day of the month, four months before a user’s proposed trip start month.
For example, October is one of the two most popular months for wilderness outings in the Canyon, and permit reservations first become available four months earlier on June 1st. A couple of years ago I drove to the South Rim on a June 1st to get an October trip reservation, and was very surprised to find myself in line with well over a hundred people jockeying for the opportunity to get the permit they desired. There were plenty of locals in line but I talked to others who had come from as far away as Seattle! Permit requests that were arriving in the office on that June 1st via fax and mail were ignored by the reservation staff until all of the people present in person had an opportunity to place their requests.
The Park Service thinks this is unfair (I do too, even though I currently have the “local advantage”), and is proposing a change that will put all users on a more equal footing for getting the permit they desire. The Park wants to eliminate in-person requests during the first month of the four month early reservation period. So, in the first of the four months prior to a trip start, virtually all users would have to apply via fax or mail, and all such applications would be processed in the order received by the reservation office. In months two, three and four, walk-up users would again have an opportunity to be “first in line” on days they might show up in person at the office.
Commercial users and locals probably won’t like the proposed change, but I think its a good way to go. The Park is considering implementing this system or something like it as early as February, 2010.
Grand Canyon National Park describes these changes on this web page. Information about the current reservation system is available on the Park’s Backcountry Permit web page. You can also read more about this in an Arizona Daily Sun article.