Even though those warm summer days may feel far away, if you're planning to visit a US National Park, you need to some calendar alerts for the coming weeks.
As some National Parks in the United States have recorded record traffic, several of them have introduced reservation and permitting systems in order to control crowds and offer visitors a better experience. Many of those permits and tickets for the busy summer travel season actual go up for grabs now.
Reservations and permits for most of these experiences are made through the National Park Service’s website Recreation.gov. Make an account in advance so you’re ready to go the day the permit or reservation is made available.
These often book up quickly so set a reminder, not just for the date but also for the designated time to make sure you are online in advance and don’t miss out.
Acadia National Park: February 24, 2023
New England's beloved Acadia National Park is one of the ten most popular national parks. One of its most spectacular experiences is seeing sunrise from the summit of the its highest peak, Cadillac Mountain. To get there, you'll have to drive Cadillac Summit Road and from mid-May to October that requires a reservation.
Reservations are tentatively scheduled to open to the public on a rolling basis starting February 24, 2023.
Angels Landing: Starting January 20, 2023
Angels Landing in Zion National Park draws in hikers from around the world for its reputation as a dangerous trail not for the faint-hearted. The trail climbs 1,488 and the last section requires hikers to navigate a narrow section by holding on to chains.
Since that area can bottleneck, the Utah park now requires a permit to access its iconic chained portion of the hike.
The park will close its first seasonal lottery of the year for permits from March 1 through May 31 on January 20 with the results available on January 25. The park will open its next lottery for applications from April 1 - 20 for hike dates between June 1 through August 31. Permits will be selected and issued on April 25.
Entrance to the lottery requires a non-refundable $6 fee. If you are chosen for a permit on January 25, you’ll then pay an additional $3 fee per person listed on the permit. The NPS says this fee is to help pay to administer the program, as well as for the rangers who will check permits and help visitors on the trail.
If you didn’t get a permit through the initial lottery for your dates, don't despair. You can try to enter a second lottery the day before you plan to hike. The lottery will open each day at 12:01 am. Mountain time and close at 3 pm. Rangers will draw permits at 4 pm Mountain time.
Arches National Park: Starting January 10, 2022
Arches National Park near Moab grew 66 percent over 10 years bringing in an estimated 1,659,702 visitors in 2019. Now, the parks trying to balance people's desire to see its red rock arches with the added pressure of more visitors on the park. The park has seen increased entrance line wait times, parking lot congestion, and crowding on trails.
To better manage crowds, the park will pilot a new seasonal reservation system for all visits between April 1 through October 31, from 6 am and 5 pm. The tickets are released 3 months in advance in monthly batches. Here is the current schedule according to the park:
January 10 at 8 am MST: April reservations (April 1–30)
February 1 at 8 am MST: May reservations (May 1–31)
March 1 at 8 am MST: June reservations (June 1–30)
April 1 at 8 am MDT: July reservations (July 1–31)
May 1 at 8 am MDT: August reservations (August 1–31)
June 1 at 8 am MDT: September reservations (September 1–30)
July 1 at 8 am MDT: October reservations (October 1–3)
The reservation costs $2. Visitors will need to show this reservation, a photo ID as well as an America is Beautiful park pass to enter the park.
Mt. Whitney: February 1, 2023 - March 1, 2023
The tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney has grown in popularity partially due to the fact it can be summited as a day hike. This is a challenging hike and the altitude can make it difficult for even the most experienced hikers.
For those wishing to summit, from May 1 through November 1, a permit is required for hiking Mt. Whitney.
There are two separate permits available. One requires you to summit as a day hike (midnight to midnight). There are 100 people allowed this permit per day.
The other permit allows you to do it over multiple days as an overnight hike. There are 60 people allowed entry under this permit each day.
The lottery is open from February 1 through March 1, 2023. The results are announced on March 15. If you don’t get a permit, you can circle back on April 22 at 7 am PST when they make any unclaimed permits from the lottery available.
Plan your hike: Hiking Mt. Whitney
Rocky Mountains National Park backcountry: March 1, 2023
Rocky Mountains National Park plans to pilot another timed entry system for peak season (May 26 through October 22) this year. Reservations will go online starting May 1 at 8 am MDT and will release on the first day of each month for the following month. So, if you go online on June 1, you'd be able to make reservations for the month of July as well as see any remaining reservations for the current month.
You'll also need a permit if you plan to do backcountry camping. Those permits are released to the public starting March 1 at 8 am (MDT).
Campers wishing to reserve a spot must pay a $36 non-refundable administrative fee for reservations from May 1 through October 31. Reservations can be made online through Recreation.gov.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park: March 1-31, 2023
During the summer months, typically late May to mid-October, Yosemite National Park rangers put up chains so fearless hikers can summit Half Dome. Rangers permit 300 hikers daily (225 for a day hike, 75 as backpackers).
These permits are in high demand with the preseason lottery opening from March 1-31.
Those who enter can apply for up to six permits and those who enter the lottery receive an email with the results by mid-April.
If you don’t land a permit during this period, don’t despair. You can also try to get one of the small number of permits available through the daily lottery. That lottery opens two days prior to the hiking date and rangers provide notification to those who are selected late that same evening.
Plan your trip: How to spend your first visit to Yosemite National Park
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park: February 1, 2023
An epic 50-mile winding road through the heart of Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun will once again require a reservation to enter in 2023. On February 1 at 8 am MT, the park will make its first block of reservations covering May 26 through June 30.
Glacier will release the remaining reservations as follows:
- March 1, 2023 for July 1 through July 31
- April 1, 2023 for August 1 through August 31.
- May 1, 2023, reservations will be available for all areas for September 1 through September 10.
In previous years, the initial batch of tickets has gone very quickly so make sure to have an account with Recreation.gov established in advance.
Tickets are only required from May 26 through September 10, 2023, and are good for three days after the reserved date. The fee to reserve the ticket is $2. In addition, you’ll have to pay the $35 park entry fee or show your America is Beautiful park pass on the day you enter the park.
If you miss out or your plans aren't certain yet, the park releases the second batch of tickets the day prior to admittance. So, a ticket for July 1 would be available on June 30.
Granite Park and Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park: January 9, 2023
Built in the spirit of the architecture of Switzerland, there are two historic chalets in Glacier National Park that you can only reach by hiking through the backcountry.
Reservations will open January 9, 2023, at 8 am MDT. According to the chalets, they had a record-breaking volume of requests for reservations in 2022, booking for the entire season almost immediately. Cancellations do sometimes happen so check in often on the website to see if one pops up. If you spot one, grab it quickly. They don't last long.
Ongoing reservations throughout the year
There are three other spots with ongoing reservations year-round.
The Wave: Four months in advance: There are just 64 permits daily to do the 6-mile roundtrip hike to the Wave. Of those, 48 are available in advance and 16 of them are available the day before.
With sometimes more than 300 applications, it can truly be like winning the lottery to snag one of these spots. Still, if you’d like to try your luck, the lottery opens 4 months in advance.
Phantom Ranch: 14 months in advance for lodge: Built in the 1920s, Phantom Ranch is the place to stay if you want to make the long hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and relax a bit before making the trek back out. Phantom Ranch opens its lottery for spots in its cabins and dorms on the 15th of the month 14 months in advance. So, if you logged on January 15, 2022, you’d find the lottery available for March 2023 reservations.
You can access the lottery through the Phantom Ranch website. It’s been even more difficult to land a reservation in recent months as only the cabins have been available due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Plan your trip: Hiking South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch in detail
Shenandoah's Old Rag: 30 days in advance: A strenuous 9.2-mile hike that climbs more than 2,000 feet above the Shenandoah Valley, Old Rag Mountain Loop has become the most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park. The park is located about 75 miles from Washington, D.C., and Old Rag has grown in popularity as a challenging hike not far from the US capital.
As part of a year-long pilot program to manage the crowds, hikers who wished to summit Old Rag Mountain between March 1 and November 30 needed a day-use ticket in addition to an entrance pass. The park is not currently requiring permits as it is reviewing how the program operated in 2022 to see if it should be continued in 2023.
This story originally was posted February 2022 and was updated January 4, 2023.