National parks are the crown jewels of America. Over 100 years ago, the U.S. set out to preserve the natural wonders, wildlife, and historic sites that make these parks special and allow for the enjoyment of future generations. Some parks require permits or reservations to prevent overuse and overcrowding of their extraordinary landscapes so you can enjoy a meaningful connection with nature. Permits give direction on where, when, and how to experience these areas in a sustainable way. This guide will help you navigate the permit system and enjoy the highlights of these parks without leaving a trace.
Top Permitted Hikes in National Parks
Zion National Park
Zion is home to some of the most famous and sought-after permit hikes. With permits in hand, visitors can venture to remote corners of the park and discover emerald pools, hidden vistas, and technical terrain. The Subway, The Narrows, and Angels Landing are permitted hikes you must add to your Zion bucket list if you’re looking for a challenging adventure.
Yosemite National Park
Hiking Half Dome is an incredible feat you’ll never forget. Rising 5,000-feet above the Yosemite Valley, the Half Dome Cable Route is an exciting and strenuous 10-12 hour hike with a steep 400-feet ascent along metal cables to reach the summit where hikers are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the High Sierra.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
The Wave of Coyote Buttes was a well-kept secret that achieved bucket list status in recent years when Windows 7 used a mesmerizing photo of it as a desktop wallpaper. Now, hikers and photographers travel across the country to enjoy the impressive sherbet-colored swirls of slickrock. To preserve this precious land and habitat of the endangered California condor, only 64 people per day can hike The Wave. With so little traffic, it should be easy to capture perfect photos while you’re there.
Grand Canyon National Park
Embark on an epic adventure when you set foot on the permitted Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike. Over the course of nearly 24-miles, hikers descend below the level of the rim, cross the mighty Colorado River, and climb back up the other side. It’s challenging, exhilarating, and a truly unforgettable experience. People who have done it will tell you the real magic lies below the rim.
Before securing a permit and setting out for adventure, it’s important to research the terrain, know the abilities of the people you’re with, and pack the necessities. By doing this, you can minimize waste, reduce risk, feel more confident and enjoy a deep connection with the canyon.
National Park Entry Permits
Acadia National Park
Acadia is among the top ten most popular national parks in the U.S. You can experience the highest peak in the park by obtaining an entrance pass and vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road. Along the three-mile drive, visitors can stop at several scenic overlooks of the Gulf of Maine, Frenchman Bay, and Bar Harbor. Rise before the sun to witness a Cadillac Mountain sunrise and be among the first to see the sun come up in The States.
Arches National Park
Famous for the largest collection of natural stone arches in the world, it’s no wonder people come from all over to experience Arches. To manage traffic and provide an unforgettable experience, the park has implemented a temporary timed entry program. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be made three months in advance.
Glacier National Park
Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must during your visit to Glacier. The scenic road spans 50-miles and crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Along the way, you’ll see impressive glaciers, valleys, cascading waterfalls, mountains, and kaleidoscopic wildflowers. You’re also bound to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats that call Montana’s wild landscape home. Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor vehicle reservations are valid for three consecutive days and can be made in advance online. Another popular area of the park, the North Fork Area, features majestic hiking terrain, opportunities for fishing, kayaking and canoeing among other things. This area also requires vehicle reservations that are valid for one day.
It’s important to respect the wildlife you encounter on your national park visit. A good rule of thumb to ensure that you’re leaving enough space is to give a ‘thumbs up’ with your arm fully extended in front of you. Then close one eye and try to completely cover the animal with your thumb. If you can still see it, you are too close. This is a great Leave No Trace Principle for kids to learn how to safely enjoy wildlife. And for adults, too!
How to Obtain National Park Permits
Permit programs vary by park so it’s important to check the National Park Service (NPS) website for the park you plan to visit to learn how to obtain a permit. Most hiking permits are issued as part of a lottery system where you apply for select dates and will be notified by email if you are awarded the permit. If a permitted hike is part of your bucket list adventure, it’s important to plan ahead since lotteries typically run months in advance. If you miss the advance lottery, you might find your dates available in the one-month advanced reservations system if there are cancellations or open spots during shoulder season. It’s possible to secure a last-minute permit 2-7 days before the permit date, but it’s best to plan ahead.
Pro tip: always print a copy of your permit to carry on your hike for park rangers to check.
The Recreation.gov website is the best resource for entry permit details for each park. Typically, time entry reservations are released in one-month blocks three months in advance, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead to secure your entry into the park. Oftentimes a limited number of entry tickets are available the day before entry, but these tend to sell out fast. It’s important to check if vehicle registration are required in addition to the timed entry reservation. For some of the most popular national park roads like Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier or Cadillac Summit Road in Acadia, this is the case.
When you stay at one of our 10 Under Canvas locations, you can experience the “best of” the nearby national parks. After booking a stay at your location of choice, our Adventure Concierge will reach out to help you plan the perfect outdoor adventure.