There’s a reason why national parks are often referred to as America’s best idea. They are natural wonders that have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of people, from the awe-inspiring vistas of the Grand Canyon to the majestic sequoias of Yosemite. Theodore Roosevelt once said that the national park system was created “for the enjoyment of the people.” But with that enjoyment comes responsibility. That’s why national parks implement permit systems for certain activities, recognizing that the natural beauty of these places must be protected for future generations. We’re sharing everything you need to know about national park permits, including which parks require permits for certain activities and how to be a responsible steward of these magnificent places.
National Park Permits
Some of the most sought-after hikes in the national parks require permits, such as Angels Landing in Zion National Park and the Half Dome summit in Yosemite National Park. These hikes offer stunning vistas and exhilarating challenges that make the effort to obtain a permit all the more worthwhile. Requirements for park reservations and permitted hikes vary by park, and the list is updated regularly. It’s essential to check the National Park Service (NPS.gov) for the park you plan to visit and make reservations or apply for permits in advance at Recreation.gov.
How to Obtain National Park Permits
Some national and state parks require visitors to make a reservation for timed entry in addition to using the America The Beautiful National Park Pass or paying the park entrance fee. 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 the vehicle registration is required in addition to the timed entry reservation. This is the case for some of the most popular national park roads, like Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier or Cadillac Summit Road in Acadia.
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. Planning ahead is vital if a permitted hike is part of your bucket list adventure since lotteries typically run months in advance. However, if you’re lucky, it is possible to secure a last-minute permit 2-7 days before the permit date. And it’s always a good idea to carry a printed copy of your permit inside the park for the rangers to check. Apply for permits at Recreation.gov.
National Parks That Require Reservations and Permits in 2023
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park doesn’t require a reservation to enter the park. Still, it’s important to note that a reservation is necessary if you want to drive along the stunning Cadillac Summit Road and witness the nation’s first sunrise. From May 25 to October 22, a fee of $6 is required for the drive, which includes a $4 admission fee and a $2 reservation fee. Make your reservation on Recreation.gov to secure your spot on this scenic road.
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park is a breathtaking destination that requires a reservation for entry. If you plan on visiting between April 1 to October 31, 2023, between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., you must use a reservation system to select your desired date and time of visit. To secure your spot, a $2 reservation fee per vehicle must be paid in advance. However, if you are still looking for availability for the day you want, don’t fret! Every day at 6 p.m., you can book reservations for the next day, as long as any are available. Remember that permits are required for canyoneering and are highly recommended for rock climbing. These permits can be obtained at a self-issued station outside the visitor center. If you plan on hiking the Fiery Furnace, you must obtain a self-guided hiking permit or join a ranger-guided tour.
Glacier National Park, Montana
To ensure a smooth entry into Glacier National Park, there’s a reservation system in place for three areas of the park, including the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you plan to access the road via the West Entrance, you must make a reservation between May 26 and September 10, 2023. If you’re accessing the road via the St. Mary Entrance, reservations are required from July 1 to September 10, 2023. For both entrances, you can visit the park between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. MST. Reservations must also reach the North Fork between May 26 and September 10, 2023, between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Additionally, to visit the Two Medicine and Many Glacier areas, you’ll need a reservation to access these areas between July 1 and September 10, 2023, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost of these reservations is $2 (non-refundable) and is valid for 1-3 days. Booking slots open about 120 days in advance and can be made on Recreation.gov. If the reservations are sold out on a particular date, you can book for the next day starting at 8 a.m. MST.
Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
Haleakalā National Park on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, home to the dormant Haleakalā Volcano, has implemented a reservation system for visitors wishing to enter the park between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to witness the stunning sunset. Due to the high number of people who visit the park during this time, the park authorities decided to limit the entries to ease congestion. It’s important to note that the reservation fee is charged per vehicle rather than per person and costs $1, which is non-refundable.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park is a natural wonderland that will leave you breathless with its majestic alpine views, abundant wildlife, and extensive network of hiking trails. Take a drive on Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the U.S., and soak up the unparalleled panoramic vistas of mountains and valleys. The park has implemented a reservation system from May 26 to October 22 to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit. Choose from two reservation options depending on the areas you want to explore, with the first providing access to the entire park and Bear Lake Road from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the second allowing access to the park without Bear Lake Road from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. A limited number of permits are available the day before your visit starting at 5 p.m., accounting for about 40% of the total permits. Secure your reservation on the park’s website for a non-refundable fee of $2 from Recreation.gov.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park offers visitors the chance to explore breathtaking landscapes and wildlife, including black bears and deer. In 2022, a reservation system was implemented for a portion of the park. To hike the popular Old Rag Mountain, visitors were required to purchase a one-day reservation for $1 through Recreation.gov. Regulations for 2023 have yet to be made available, so we recommend checking back on the NPS website before planning your trip.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is a must-visit destination that no longer requires park reservations, except for visiting Horsetail Falls in February, when it undergoes a stunning transformation into a glowing red river when struck by sunlight. If you plan to hike Half Dome, a world-renowned trail leading to a summit, you must obtain a permit. For day hikers, a limited number of permits are available by lottery in March, with a small number of permits available two days in advance. While hiking to the Sub Dome, which is approximately 0.5-miles before the Half Dome summit, no permit is required.
Zion National Park, Utah
Most areas of Zion National Park do not require a permit or reservation for entry, making it easy to explore this natural wonder at your own pace. However, to experience the thrilling adventure of Angel’s Landing, one of the park’s most famous trails, you must obtain a permit through a lottery system. Apply for the lottery at Recreation.gov and select your desired hike date. Flexibility increases your chances of winning the permit, which costs $6 per entry (non-refundable). If you secure a permit, a $3 fee per hiker will be charged automatically. Availability is posted on the website about two months before your selected date.
Sustainability: Preserving our Parks
National park permits improve the experience of visitors to U.S. national parks, especially during peak summer months, and preserve these precious places. Permit systems help manage the impact of visitors on the environment and infrastructure, protecting natural resources and ensuring the safety of visitors.
Leave No Trace Principles
You can help ensure that America’s national parks are preserved and protected for future generations and the wildlife that calls them home by following the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace on your visit (and anywhere you venture in the great outdoors!):
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Be careful with fire
- Respect wildlife
- Consider other visitors
The national park system is a true treasure that we’re all privileged to enjoy, but it’s also our responsibility to preserve it. By obtaining permits, practicing Leave No Trace principles, and supporting sustainable companies like Under Canvas, we can ensure that these natural wonders are protected for future generations. So, let’s go out and explore while cherishing and respecting the natural beauty that surrounds us.
*Please note that the information provided in this list is accurate at the time it was written. However, park regulations and reservation systems can change, so we recommend that you always check the official National Park Service (NPS) and Recreation.gov websites for the most up-to-date and accurate information before planning your visit.