Backcountry permits for Zion National Park
March 7, 2017 12:03 PM   Subscribe

For people who are familiar with obtaining wilderness permit for Zion: It's too late to reserve wilderness permit online for Zion. What are my chances of securing one once arriving at the park itself?

I plan to be at Zion National Park on the weekend of May 5th to May 8th. I really want to do some backpacking there. However stupid me didn't get online reservations for the wilderness permit in time and they are all gone for the areas that I want to explore. According to the website I can still get walk in permits the day prior, but I am sure this is competitive.

So for those of you with experience with this, if I show up at Visitor Center early morning of May 4th and get in line, is there a good chance I can land a wilderness permit for May 5th to 8th?

If the chances of securing a wilderness permit is low, then I think I will camp outside the park and do day hikes instead.
posted by Pantalaimon to Travel & Transportation around Utah (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried calling the park and asking the people who give out the permits?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:24 PM on March 7, 2017

It's a hard/impossible question to answer. The walk on permits are usually a lottery - show up, put your name in and hope it gets drawn. I don't think any NP does it "first come" basis. They usually reserve some permits for day of, so you're not just counting on no-shows. Anyway, your odds will depend on how many others want a permit and how many are available because of holdbacks and no-shows.

Anecdotally, my friends and I have had pretty good luck with walk on permits, though I haven't tried at Zion. That being said... May is a great time to be out here, and weekends are more popular. Showing up on the 4th will probably be more fruitful than the 5th or 6th, so you're on the right track there.

I'd give the park office a call and see what they say - they'll know better than me - but I don't think you are totally screwed.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

In Yosemite NP, walk-up permits are distributed on a First Come, First Served basis (see item #4 on the attached link).

Zion's page is not as specific as Yosemite, so to be sure you should call.
posted by elmay at 2:42 PM on March 7, 2017

I've done this -- three friends and I did an overnight hike in the Narrows (which requires a backcountry permit) last July, and since like you we hadn't made reservations ahead of time we had to get walk-in reservations.

We were successful, but that's because we went EARLY to get permits. I would say we probably got to the Visitor Center sometime around 6:30 or 7 am (I don't remember exactly, but it was around or shortly after dawn), and there were already a couple of people in line ahead of us. If it's important for you to get these backcountry permits -- and there is some absolutely gorgeous scenery in the park -- I would get up as early as you can bear and drive to the visitor center. (Note that we went in July, which is pretty much peak Narrows season -- YMMV depending on when exactly you go and what permits you have in mind.)

Regarding the first-come, first-serve vs, lottery, check with the park, but I don't believe Pogo_Fuzzybutt is correct, at least for the Narrows. When we got there it was definitely a first-come first-serve system.

You can see on the linked page they have (1) advance reservations, (2) last-minute drawing/lottery, and then (3) walk-in permits. In other words, the last-minute lottery (2-7 days in advance) is not the same as the walk-in permit (1 day in advance). But check with the park.
posted by andrewesque at 4:56 PM on March 7, 2017

For context, note that the Zion visitor center normally opens at 8 am -- we definitely got there well before it opened and by the time it did, a line (I'd guess maybe 7 or 8 parties behind us, 2 to 3 ahead of us) was present.
posted by andrewesque at 5:00 PM on March 7, 2017

Response by poster: Mr Knows It Some: I tried, they are not answering their phones. I emailed them and they gave very vague and non-committal answers.
posted by Pantalaimon at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Regarding the first-come, first-serve vs, lottery, check with the park, but I don't believe Pogo_Fuzzybutt is correct, at least for the Narrows.

It was true for Coyote Bluffs and Canyonlands, when I last needed walkin permits, and I had been told that the lottery was how all NPs were doing it. But, I tried to hedge on that, because, yeah... Procedures can and do vary.

I was talking with an acquaintance who is a ranger for the FS last night, and she was relating that everyone is terrified they won't have jobs soon. Maybe you won't need a permit.....
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:50 PM on March 8, 2017

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