|| National Parks Crash Course Series ||

The U.S. National Parks system is an amazing natural resource and protects some of America’s most prized natural treasures. With over 61 national parks, and many more national monuments and protected areas, the NPS system is vast. As a visitor, there are many rules, regulations, and procedures that are useful to know when planning a visit.

The purpose of this Crash Course series is to provide some small insights learned from personal experience that may make your next visit to a national park easier, faster, and a bit more enjoyable.

|| Permits, Reservations, and Deadlines ||

Each national park has its own system for permits, reservations, and other fees. I have tried to make a comprehensive table for all national parks including:

  • Hyperlinks to respective permit and reservation pages
  • Overview of the timeline if advance permit or reservations are possible
  • Information on the price of the permit or reservation

As of January 3, 2020, the information included is the most up to date. I will try to periodically update the page, and include below that last update date.


If you find that any of the information is not current or incorrect, please comment or send me an email at sam@engineeredforadventure.com. I am human. . .

Name of National ParkPermit Information?Timeline for Permit Reservations?Price of Permit? Max Group Size?
Great Smoky Mountains, TNREQUIRED:
Overnight camping and backpacking; reservations made through online portal
Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance$4 per person; 8 person MAX
Grand Canyon, AZREQUIRED:
Overnight Camping
Special Use
Varies based on permit; for general backcountry permits, 6-7 months in advance$10 per permit plus $8 per person, additional fees may apply depending on permit
Rocky Mountain, COREQUIRED:
overnight camping
other commercial uses
Permit reservations open on March 1; reservations must be made 3 days before trip$30 per permit; 1-7 for individual sites, 8-12 for group sites
Overnight Backpacking
Overnight Climbing
River Trips
Backpacking– 2 months;
Canyoneering — 3 months;
Overnight Climbing — 3 months;
River Trips — Day Of
Varies based on permit
Yellowstone, WY/MT/IDREQUIRED:
Overnight camping
Horseback riding
Special Use
– Reservations accepted Jan 1 to Oct 31; random lottery starts Apr 1
Permits can be obtained in person 48 hours in advance

– $25 for advance reservations
Fees vary based on time of year
Overnight Camping and Backpacking
Half Dome
Special use
– special permits for John Muir Trail
Wilderness Permits — 24 weeks; after that, first-come first-serve or phone reservation$5 per reservation plus $5 per person
Acadia, MENOT REQUIRED for normal use;
only required for special use, weddings, and commercial photography
Special Use onlySpecial Use only
Grand Teton, WYREQUIRED:
Overnight Backpacking and Camping
Special use
Reservations can be made in advance January 8 – May 15; after May 15 walk-up only$45/reservation for advance made through Recreation.gov
$35/permit for walk-up
Overnight Backpacking and Camping
Commercial Photography
Special use
For overnight backpacking and camping, up to 6 months in advance; made on a rolling basis$6 reservation fee plus $8/person/night
Overnight backpacking and camping
Special use
Reservations open March 1 – March 15$40/reservation pus $7/person/night
Joshua Tree, CAREQUIRED:
– Backcountry Camping
– Bolting Rock Climbing routes
– Filming
– Commercial Guiding
– Special Use
NO ADVANCE RESERVATIONS NEEDEDVaries, but NO FEE for backcountry camping
Bryce Canyon, UTPermits are only required for special use and researchSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Cuyahoga Valley, OHPermits are only required for special useSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Gateway Arch, MOPermits are only required for special useSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Indiana Dunes, INPermits are only required for special useSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Death Valley, CAREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping, but self-issue
Backcountry camping
Fiery Furnace day-use
– Special use
Backpacking: 7 days before
Fiery Furnace: in-person, 7 days in advance
$7 per person for backpacking
Fiery Furnace: $6 adults, $3 children
Mt. Rainier, WAREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
Mountaineering above 10,000′
Special Use
– For backcountry camping, reservations open March 15– $20/reservation
– Climber Recovery Fee: $50 (year long, only for above 10,000′)
Hot Springs, ARNot required unless campingOnly for campingOnly for camping
Shenandoah, VAREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
– Special Use
– Backcountry permits can be obtained in-person or in advance via mail– Backcountry Permits: FREE
Sequoia, CA
*jointly operated with Kings Canyon NP
Backcountry Camping
Research and Special Use
Mt. Whitney
– In-advance: starting March 1 AND at least 2 weeks before start date
Walk-up, in-person
– $10 plus $5/person
Capitol Reef, UTREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Rock Climbing
Special Use
In-person at the Visitor Center
– HAYDUKE: email the park
Hawai’i Volcanoes, HIPermits are only required for special useSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Haleakala, HIREQUIRED:
Sunrise viewing
Wilderness Cabins
Wilderness Camping
– Sunrise Viewing: online 60 days in advance
– Wilderness Cabins: 180 days in advance
– Wilderness Camping: first-come, first-serve
– Sunrise Viewing: $1/vehicle
– Wilderness Cabins: $75/night
– Wilderness Camping: FREE
Badlands, SDPermits are only required for special useSpecial Use onlySpecial Use only
Overnight hiking and camping
Overnight horseback riding
Special Use
*NOTE: Permits after 2/1/2020 will be issued on Recreation.gov
BEFORE 2/1/2020:
Up to 2 months in advance
Theodore Roosevelt, NDREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
Frontcountry Camping (through Recreation.gov)
Special Use
– Backcountry Camping: in-person– Backcountry Camping: FREE
Canyonlands, UTREQUIRED:
Backcountry day-use for White Rim Road, Elephant Hill Road, Lavender Canyon Road, and Peakaboo/Horse Canyon
Overnight Backcountry camping
River Use
Horseback Riding
Needles Campground
– Day Use: 24 hours in advance
Backcountry: 4 months-2 days in advance or walk-up
River Use: 4 months – 2 days in advance or first-come first-serve
– Day Use: FREE
– Backcountry: $30
– River Use: $30 plus $20/person
– Horseback Riding: FREE
Crater Lake, ORREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
Special Use
Backcountry: 1 day in advance or in-personFREE
Kings Canyon, CA
*jointly operated with Sequoia NP
Backcountry Camping
Research and Special Use
Mt. Whitney
– In-advance: starting March 1 AND at least 2 weeks before start date
Walk-up, in-person
– $10 plus $5/person
Backcountry Camping
Cave Tours
Special Use
– Backcountry Camping: in-person
– Cave Tours: 30 days in advance
– Backcountry Camping: FREE
Petrified Forest, AZREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Special Use
Backcountry camping: in-personFREE
White Sands, NMREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
Horseback riding
Special Use
– Backcountry Camping: first-come first-serve
Horseback Riding: in-person or at fee station
– Backcountry Camping: $3/adult, $1.50/child
– Horseback Riding: FREE
Glacier Bay, AKREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Private Boating
Special Use
– Backcountry camping: in-person
– Mountaineering: in-person
– Kayaking: in-person
– Private Boating: 60 days in advance
Everglades, FLREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Frontcountry camping
Backcountry camping: in-person ONLYFREE
Backcountry camping / Backpacking
Bus tour
Campgrounds in the park
Backcountry camping: in-person ONLY
– Mountaineering: 60 day pre-registration
Bus tour: Vary
Campgrounds: Vary
Backcountry camping: FREE
Mountaineering: $375
Bus tour: Vary
Campgrounds: Vary
Special Use
Only for Special UseOnly for Special Use
Mammoth Cave, KYREQUIRED:
Backcountry Camping
– Cave Tours
– Photography/Filming
– Special Use
Backcountry Camping: in-person
Cave Tours: in advance on Recreation.gov
– Backcountry Camping: FREE
– Cave Tours: $3/ticket
Lassen Volcanic, CAREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Stock use
Special Use
Commercial Filming
Backcountry camping: in-person or email
Stock use: email 2 weeks in advance or in-person
Special Use
Commercial Filming: “sufficient time”
– Backcountry camping: FREE
– Stock use: FREE
Special Use: $75
Commercial Filming: $75 plus additional fees
Backcountry camping
Frontcountry camping
Special use
Backcountry camping: in-person no more than 24 hours in advance
Frontcountry camping: “in advance” on ReserveCalifornia.com
– Backcountry camping: FREE
Frontcountry camping: varies
Biscayne, FLPermits are only required for special useSpecial use onlySpecial use only
Carlsbad Caverns, NMREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Backcountry caving
Cave tours
– Backcountry camping: in-person only
Backcountry caving: at least 1 month in advance
– Backcountry camping: FREE
– Backcountry caving: FREE
Great Sand Dunes, COREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Frontcountry campgrounds
Special use
Backcountry camping: in-person only– Backcountry camping: FREE
– Backcountry camping
– River use
– Stock use

Special use
Backcountry use: 24 hours in advance in-person
Fishing: FREE
– Backcountry use: FREE
– Fishing: FREE
Channel Islands, CAREQUIRED:
Transportation to the islands
Frontcountry camping
Backcountry camping
Private boating
– Frontcountry campgrounds: no more than 5 months in advance
– Backcountry camping: “in advance”
Private boating: 15 business days in advance
Camping: $15/night/site
Kenai Fjords, AKPermits are only required for special useSpecial use onlySpecial use only
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, COREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Inner canyon use (including day use)
Backcountry camping: day of, in-personBackcountry camping: FREE
Voyageurs, MNREQUIRED:
Tent camping
Tent camping: calling into phone line or online at Recreation.gov
Houseboat: available beginning November 15 for the next year on Recreation.gov
Tent camping: reservation fee of $10 plus various prices
– Houseboat: $10/night
Pinnacles, CAPermits are only required for special useSpecial use onlySpecial use only
Guadalupe Mountains, TXREQUIRED:
Backcountry use
Special use
Backcountry use: in-person, day ofFREE
Great Basin, NVREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping (*voluntary)
Lehman Cave tours
Backcountry camping: in-person (*voluntary)
– Lehman Cave tours: in advance on Recreation.gov
Caving: at least 2 weeks in advance
Picknicking: at least 2 weeks in advance
– Backcountry camping: FREE
– Lehman Cave tours: see Recreation.gov
– Caving: FREE
– Picknicking: $25 application fee plus $50
Backcountry camping
– Backcountry camping: in-person– Backcountry camping: FREE
Virgin IslandsPermits are only required for special useSpecial use onlySpecial use only
Wrangell-St. EliasREQUIRED:
Off Road Vehicle
Federal Subsistence
Public Use Cabins
Dry Tortugas, FLREQUIRED:
Special Use
Camping: first-come, first-serveCamping: $15/night for individual site; $30/night for group site
Brooks Camp Campground
Fure’s Cabin
*NOTE: permits are not required for Backcountry hiking and camping
Brooks Camp Campground: reservations start January 5 for current year
Fure’s Cabin: same as above
– Brooks Camp Campground: price varies based on season
– Fure’s Cabin: same as above
North Cascades, WAREQUIRED:
Car camping
Backcountry camping
– Car camping: online on Recreation.gov
Backcountry camping: In advance beginning March 15 or in-person, first-come first-serve
– Car camping: prices vary based on site
– Backcountry camping: FREE for in-person first-come first-serve, $20 in advance
American SamoaPermits are only required for special useSpecial use onlySpecial use only
Isle Royale, MIREQUIRED:
Backcountry camping
Cross-country camping
Rock Harbor Lodge and Windigo Camper Cabins
– Backcountry camping: in-person on arrival
Boating: at least 24 hours in advance
– Cross-country camping: in-person
Kobuk Valley, AKPermits are NOT required for individual use; for organized, commercial use contact the head rangersN/AN/A
Public Use Cabins
*Permits are not required for any other activities
Public Use Cabins: online at Recreation.govPriest Rock Cabin: $65/night
Joe Thompson Cabin: $45/night

Gates of the Arctic, AKPermits and reservations are not required for any areas or activities within the park & preserve, except for groups”N/AN/A