The temperatures are brisk. Your gloves and scarves are still in rotation. That must mean it’s time to start thinking about summer? No, not just wistfully, but seriously. As crazy as it may seem, the annual deadlines for summer hiking and rafting permits are upon us and now is the time to secure your spot for summer fun. The rules for permits vary depending on what where you want to go and what you want to do. To help you plan, here is what you need to know.
Start by shopping around and learning about your options.
A good place for that is recreation.gov, which is a single point of access for gathering information and making reservations for multiple federal agencies. Once you know what you’re interested in, get your ducks in a row by checking the individual park’s website and familiarizing yourself with their application rules. Then make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to make your reservation.
4 popular permit deadlines to write on your calendar:
Here are a few popular permit deadlines that are coming up. Many places offer both pre–reserved lottery permits and last–minute permits, but we recommend trying for a spot in advance. All charge application fees in addition to the permit fees themselves.
Half Dome, Yosemite (California):
The application process for climbing the iconic granite monolith’s cables gets an update this year when a lottery system replaces the first–come, first–served format that was abused by scalpers last year.
Permit window: March 1–31
Submit: Visit recreation.gov.
Mount Whitney (California):
The highest summit in the Lower 48 at 14,505 feet elevation, Mount Whitney has good reason to be popular, and this is the first year that applications are online rather than snail mail.
Deadline: March 15
Submit: Visit recreation.gov.
Coyote Buttes North, Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona/Utah):
The photogenic "Wave" is a popular destination for photographers, but permits restrict the number of people in the area to 20 per day to accommodate the limited number of people who can comfortably fit there at one time.
Deadline: 4 months in advance of desired dates. The most difficult months are April, May, September, October, when chances of winning lottery are 10%.
Submit: Visit BLM.gov.
Even though the original lottery deadline ended on January 31, any reservations unconfirmed by March 15 will become available again on March 16.
Deadline: March 16
Submit: Visit or 877/444-6777" target="_blank">recreation.gov.
Camping reservations can be extremely competitive in the most popular parks during the summer. In Yosemite, reservations open up four months in advance on the 15th of the month on recreation.gov, and are usually filled within minutes on the first day they become available! Yellowstone Park, however, is one park that doesn’t offer campground reservations on recreation.gov—it runs its own reservation system through Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Apply online or call 866/439-7375.
It can feel like a lot of work to plan this far ahead for summer, but before you get frustrated by the application process, keep in mind that permits are just a part of what keep the beautiful scenery beautiful. Anthony Bobo, Acting Deputy Division Chief, National Recreation and Visitor Services of the Bureau of Land Management, explains it this way: "Permits are used to protect natural resources and to insure high quality recreational experiences for public land visitors. They are a necessary tool for managing use in popular places."
Once the dates are set, the months leading up to your trip are invaluable for other reasons, such as training, budgeting, and catching the off–season equipment sales—not to mention the daydreaming that gets you through the rest of the winter.
Do you have any summer travel planning tips? Share them below!
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