Backcountry Permits: Navigating Logistics and Disappointment in the Modern Technological Age
Jul 24, 2023 at 10:59 am #3785727Mark WetheringtonBPL Member
@markwethLocale: Western Montana
Companion forum thread to: Backcountry Permits: Navigating Logistics and Disappointment in the Modern Technological Age
Different land management agencies have different difficulties obtaining a permit, to plan and enjoy a backpacking trip.Jul 24, 2023 at 12:22 pm #3785731Terran TerranBPL Member
There’s a lot of BLM land in the west. Getting access isn’t always possible and in many cases virtually impossible without vast local knowledge. Without groups like the Wildlands Conservancy and such, we would be completely cut off from most of it.Jul 30, 2023 at 9:10 am #3785958Scott ChandlerBPL Member
@blueklisterLocale: Reno area
Two additional frustrations: the “free” permit you have to drive an additional hour over the mountain range to an obscure ranger station to get it. Remember the days you could at least request a permit my mail? The second frustration is the reservation fee we’re all paying, resulting in a private company raking in millions of dollars. A Freedom of Information request was denied because the contract with the company was “private.” A lawsuit against the company for charging us “junk fees” was dismissed because the government sets the fees, yet won’t tell us if they’re overcharging us. Something stinks in all of this privatization movement.Jul 30, 2023 at 9:55 am #3785960
I can remember when you could just drive to the trail head at Onion Valley (Kearsarge Pass)… the ranger would show up at 8am in the small ‘A-Frame’ shack (it’s still there) and issue permits. No advanced reservation required. If there was a quota, they never (or rarely) hit the limit. And I’m not sure there was any fee… though I do seem to remember at some point it was $2.00. There were not computers or Rec.gov involved… it was relaxed and easy, and few people on the trails..lJul 30, 2023 at 10:12 am #3785961DanBPL Member
I have never applied for or needed a permit. Unless a fishing license counts.Jul 30, 2023 at 11:52 am #3785972James RBPL Member
A big frustration in my part of the world (Seattle) has become that permits secured by others online are very often not used. I have more than once gotten one of the last permits, from the ranger, for an area that has been reserved nearly full, and then found myself alone in some very desirable location. The recreation.gov system needs some better way to incent cancellation when the winners ultimately do not use their reservations. Simply refunding part of the fee is not working.Jul 30, 2023 at 12:14 pm #3785976Mark SBPL Member
Few would dispute the need to regulate the number of people on the trails in the heavily trafficked backcountry areas. As the number of permit applications has continued to grow, I think switching to Recreation.gov from slow, antiquated, labor-intensive systems was inevitable.
The way the permits are administered is still the decision of the management agencies, not Recreation.gov. In California, for example, Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings National Parks wilderness permits are operated as a weekly lottery (very fair, in my opinion), whereas the very popular BLM-managed Lost Coast Trail releases the entire year’s permits at 7am on October 1st creating a free-for-all, favoring the tech-savvy with fast internet. Both of these systems, one good and one bad, are implemented on Recreation.gov.
In the cases where it’s implemented properly, which in my experience is most of the time, I find Recreation.gov to be a really good planning tool.Jul 31, 2023 at 1:59 pm #3786018AK GranolaBPL Member
I finally gave up trying to get permits for Grand Canyon and paid big bucks ($1600 for a 4 day hike) to go with a guided trek. It was worth it, but not everyone can afford such a thing. I will probably never get Mt Rainier permits, nor a JMT, Yosemite exit permit. It’s hardly worth trying. I recently managed to get permits for the CDT in Glacier National Park, by doing a walkup and being totally flexible.
Strategy and ability to plan, having a loose itinerary/schedule, are all critical for success in popular areas. In the end it’s worth it if you get to go. But I echo the comment, “Something stinks in all of this privatization movement.” Rec.gov is raking in the dough for permit applications and then giving nothing for all that money when the attempt is unsuccessful. As with all concessionaires for our national parks, the companies only have to provide the minimum service and don’t really give a darn about the visitor experience at all. We need to demand better services from NPS and other agencies or nothing will ever improve.Jul 31, 2023 at 2:39 pm #3786022
“Rec.gov is raking in the dough for permit applications and then giving nothing for all that money when the attempt is unsuccessful”
My guess: The park service is saving a LOT of money by not having to have the park employees do these reservation/permitting functions in these popular areas. With all the increased demand for permits, and likely not enough park funding, it might be a complete pandemonium mess if Rec.gov was not handling this. So… in effect, I suspect that the park service has found a way to fund this function without getting more money from congress: the permit applicants creating the demand are now funding the process…. Positives might be: we are getting a much more efficient process with Rec.gov than the underfunded parks could provide. Negatives: we are having to pay… even when we don’t get a permit… maybe think of it as a kind of tax supporting the parks???Jul 31, 2023 at 3:01 pm #3786024
I have not found Grand Canyon permits all that hard to get… if you are willing to pick the less popular trails… and those trails are also amazing! And fall is easier than spring. And you have the ability to apply for several options/dates all at the same time. And… they do have cancellations so sometimes it is possible to email or call the rangers and put together a trip on short notice.
Rainier holds back a percent of the permits for walk-up… and if you can be flexible re the camps, it is often possible to show up at the ranger station early in the morning and get on a trip the next day… I did that for the Wonderland once and it worked out great.
Yosemite out of Happy Isles is brutal… you can pay the 10.00 fee week after week and get nothing… but, again, there are less popular trails… maybe think outside the box and don’t need to do the exact JMT route out of Yosemite… much easier then to get a permit…Jul 31, 2023 at 3:19 pm #3786025
Another trick with Rainier… When a weather forecast looks bad, there will be a lot of cancellations… sometimes that weather report changes quickly back to good and that is a great time to show up at the ranger station to get a walk-up permit. Of course, that requires being close… maybe camping out and doing day hikes until you get a good situation for a walk-up permit… Go to the ranger station every morning for a walk-up… if you don’t get one, go for one of the many great day hikes…. repeat process until you get your permit…
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