By Michael Lanza

You really want to backpack in Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Teton, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, or another hugely popular national park this summer—but you didn’t apply to reserve a wilderness permit months ago? Well, you just may be in luck: Most parks have a system for getting a last-minute permit. It requires jumping through some hoops, understanding the system’s ins and outs, good timing, patience, and a bit of luck, but many backpackers get permits without a reservation every year.

This article shares the tricks I’ve learned from numerous backpacking trips to major national parks over the past three decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. These tricks have helped me get a last-minute, walk-in backcountry permit even in very popular national parks like Yosemite, Grand Teton, Glacier, Zion, Grand Canyon, and others.

Follow these tips and you just might go backpacking this year in a classic national park.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker in the Narrows in Zion National Park.
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Nervous about taking your chances on getting a walk-in permit? I’ve also helped many readers of my blog secure a backcountry permit reservation in the midst of the prime season, even after they had tried and failed. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you do that.

Most parks offer walk-in, or first-come backcountry or wilderness permits—which is simply a permit that you obtain, without a reservation, based on availability, no more than a day in advance of starting a multi-day hike. The number of walk-in permits varies between parks, and availability is affected by advance permit reservations. But in general, parks set aside anywhere from 40 percent (in Yosemite) to half (in Glacier) and even two-thirds (in Grand Teton) of available permits or campsites to be issued no more than a day in advance.

For starters, go to any park’s website and find out its procedure for obtaining a walk-in permit—especially where and when to do so. Demand for them can vary even between different areas in the
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