How to Get a Permit
How to get a Permit
This chapter includes information on how the Grand Canyon National Park lottery works. (Updated October, 2015)
Beginning in 2006, Grand Canyon National Park transitioned (read got rid of) the Waiting List, a First-Come First-serve list that had grown to over 8,000 waiters waiting up to 20 years for a launch date, to a lottery system, a new form of waiting list you now may never win. In 2005 the National Park Service estimated the time it will take someone to win the new lottery system is as long as the old waiting List. Go figure.
As in the old Waiting List system, there is less demand for "off-peak" travel, and the NPS is having a tough time giving away December and January permits, as always. It IS cold down there in the dead of winter, so your chances of wining the lottery with 5 points is much better in those months. If you only have one point, your chances of winning the lottery over very very small.
One point? Five points? The new lottery permit system is set up to award permits 1) To the folks who have waited the longest in the Waiting List System and 2) to people who want to be permit holders who have not rafted through the Canyon in the last FIVE years.
Lotteries for cancellations are occurring throughout the year, and the yearly big lottery for the following year is in February for the noncommercial trips launching in the NEXT calendar year. Because the lottery rules and procedures are very complex, RGC has put together a download of NPS web page examples for you to study. The download is here.
The graph to the right shows how the time of year impacts when people are applying for the lottery. Note the huge spike after the END of the motorized tour boat season. (RRFW thanks Dave Delagarza for compiling this information)
The following Questions and Answers exchange will also help noncommercial river runners understand the registration/application time frame, rules and procedures.
We have also included details that the National Park may not include when describing the Grand lottery. We hope this helps. Feel free to contact any of us who edit this site (see the home page for contact info) if you have specific questions.
How does the Grand lottery application work?
The Grand lottery is a two-step process. You must first register (free), then, once registered, you must submit an application ($25).
Where do I register?
Grand Canyon National Park has posted a page on their website for you to register. Here's the link https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/login.cfm Look for the Create New User Profile button on the right side of that page to set up your user profile.
When can I register for a Lottery?
You have to be profiled first. You can do this at any time on-line, by mail or by fax. Once registered with a Profile, you will be assigned a Username and Password. Again, here's the link to set up your Profile:  https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/login.cfm
Once I have set up a Profile with a Username and Password, then what do I do?
There will be Lottery application periods throughout the year. These lotteries will include a once-a-year Main Lottery for the following year, and any number of smaller follow-up cancellation lotteries throughout the year. Only during these lotteries can you apply using your assigned Username and Password.
How do I know when there's a Lottery?
The NPS only sends out invites to folks who have already set up a Profile and checked off the "notify me of future lotteries" box. River Runners For Wilderness also posts the lottery announcement on the RRFW Facebook page whenever RRFW hears there will be a lottery. The RRFW Rafting Grand Canyon Facebook page is here.
How many dates can I apply for?
You can apply for no more than 5 of the available permits.
Ok, I have heard there are regular group size and small groups size trips in the lottery. What is the group size limit?
You can only have 8 folks max in the small trips and 16 folks max in the large trips. The River Concessionaires get 32 folks, but never mind looking behind the curtain...
How many of each type of trip are there?
In the 2015 Grand lottery for the year 2016, there were 4,911 applications competing for 472 launch opportunities available for calendar year 2016: 74 of these were for small size (1 to 8 person) trips and the rest (398) were for standard size (1 to 16 person) trips. In the 2015 lottery for the 2016 season, 227 full sized trips of up to 16 people are in the winter season October through March. There are 171 full sized trips open in the six summer months, with the already mentioned 74 summer trips for small groups only, of 8 people or less. Once ALL the Waiting List folks who have dates assigned to them through are used up, there will be 503 permits available each year, 185 in the summer, 199 in the shoulder season, and 120 in the winter. The River Concessionaires get 476 trip starts in the summer, 122 in the shoulder season, and they don't boat in the winter. That's what is behind the curtain.
How many of us that were on the old Waiting List did NOT get a permit through the phase out of the waiting list Stages I and II?
There were roughly 2,806 waiting list participants still left in 2013 waiting to get a permit. The NPS estimates the Waiting List will be finally empty in 2029 t0 2033.
Yes, this is from NPS data posted here.
Ok, I am on the old Waiting List and did not obtain a launch date in either the Stage I or Stage II transition. Can I apply for the next lottery?
It doesn’t matter if you were on the Waiting List or not, anyone can apply to the next lottery once they have set up a User Profile.
I am NOT on the old waiting list and did NOT participate in the Stage I and Stage II transition. Can I apply even though I am NOT on the old waiting list?
You bet! It doesn’t matter if you were on the waiting list or not, anyone can apply to the next lottery once they have set up a User Profile.
How many times can I apply to the lottery?
Your name can appear only once per lottery. You can apply only once, or be listed on someone else’s trip as an alternate trip leader, Only Once per Lottery.
How many river trip dates can I list on my one application?
Up to five only, in order of most to least desirable.
I’ve heard that this is a weighted lottery, similar to some hunting license lotteries. Does that mean that whenever I apply and lose, that will increase my future chances of winning?
No, this lottery is entirely different from other “weighted lottery” models. Instead of increasing your chances with each subsequent lottery loss, only your number of years AWAY FROM the river will increase your chances in the lottery. All lottery applicants will be awarded points. You earn points based on the number of years it has been since you went on a trip down the Grand, up to a maximum of five points. FIVE points means five lottery chances. Your name is entered 5 times in the lottery for the date you’ve chosen. So, if you floated the Grand last year, you will get 1 point, 2 points if you went two years ago, 3 for 3, 4 for 4, and 5 points if you boated the Grand 5 or more years ago. It matters not if you played and lost in the Lottery every year. You only gain points by NOT GOING BOATING.
Gee. My having more chances of winning the lottery are based on staying away from the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. For up to five years. Is there a similar burden placed on commercial passengers who sign up with a river concessionaire?
The commercial passenger can only go down the river once a year, just like the non-commercials, but they can charter their own commercial trip for a known summertime date year after year.
So let's see, at six years, I get 6 points, right?
No. The “wait” advantage is capped at 5 points, for 5 years away from the river, maximum.
Ok, I can apply for the lottery, and I can get up to 5 points maximum for staying away from the river, depending on my "most recent trip." What about the points I had on the old waiting list?
If you are one of the over 2,500 people still on the Waiting List who have no permit, you get to ADD the years you have been on the Waiting List as well as your accumulation of "most recent trip" points. So, your point “weight” is number of years from the Waiting List + 5 or fewer “most recent trip” points.
Here’s an example:
Person A applies for the lottery, and has 10 years on the Waiting List, and has never been down the river.
Total points then would be 10 points from the Waiting List + 5 “most recent trip” points = 15 points.
Here’s another example:
Person A applies for the lottery, and has 10 years on the Waiting List, and has been down the river 3 years ago.
Total points then would be 10 points from the Waiting List + 3 “most recent trip” points = 13. WRONG This person's Waiting List Points go to ZERO as they went on a trip three years ago. You lose ALL of your points once you go on somone elses river trip.
So I get to claim my "most recent trip" points, and my Waiting List points if I have any. Can I combine with other folks on the Waiting List?
Absolutely...but beware! The NPS wants to get everyone who is still on the Waiting List down the river as soon as possible. Combining two folks listed on the Waiting List gets the list down that much faster.
Why do you say "Beware"?
Consistent reports are showing that a large proportion of river trips who join up two or more Waiting List dates experience higher then usual before and after trip planning and on river conflict. RRFW is only encouraging folks to do this if they KNOW the other Waiting List participants boating style, conflict resolution style, and trip planning style.
So my lottery application will allow me to also list a “Potential Alternate Trip Leaders” or (PATL). What's that?
PATL's are folks that may be assigned your permit should you not be able to go. A PATL can be someone on the waiting list, or anybody over 18, for that matter.
What's the disadvantage of listing a PATL?
If you list PATLs, the NPS will determine your application’s “most recent trip” points by looking at the most recent trip of anyone listed on the application, including the PATLs. If one person listed as a PATL floated the Grand last year, then your application can only have 1 “most recent trip” point. So your total points in the lottery will be determined by combining your Waiting List years, AND the "most recent trip" points, 1 through 5, either yours or your assigned PATL's, whichever number is the smallest.
Here’s another example:
Person A applies for the lottery, and lists two Alternate Trip Leaders B and C
Person A has 10 years on the Waiting List, and has never been down
Person B had 5 years on the Waiting List, but went down 3 years ago
Person C wasn't on the Waiting List but went down 2 years ago
You would think that the total points then would be Person A's (10 + 5) and Person B's (3...remember, they lost their waiting list trip points by going on someone else's trip) + Person C (2) = 20 points, BUT in this case, the actual number of points is 10 + 2, for the Waiting list points and the most recent trip. That’s 10 + 2 = 12 points (10 from the Waiting List, and 2 points from the “most recent trip” list), for a grand total of 12 points. In this case the application would have had more points in the lottery if Person C were not listed as a PATL. Total points in that case would be 10 + 3 = 18. In this case, if Person A applied without any PATL's, they would get 10 + 5 = 15 points!
How many times can a Potential Alternate Trip Leader (PATL) be listed in the lottery?
Once only, on one application.
Ok, let’s say I am on the old Waiting List and did not obtain a launch date in the Stage I and Stage II transition. I want to better my chances to win the new Grand Canyon lottery. I have not gone down the river in the last 5 years. How do I better my chances?
The only way to increase your chances under the current lottery rules would be to list PATLs who were also on the Waiting List and have not been on the river yet. If you don’t know other people who were on the Waiting List, you can ask around on the various online rafting groups. It’s easy to sign up with the RRFW group by sending a blank email to Rafting_Grand_Canyonemail@example.com
Well, what if I want to better my chances to win the Grand Canyon lottery, but I went last year and am NOT on the old Waiting List. How do I do that?
Ask a friend who has not been down the river in the last 5 years to enter the lottery registration and application process. You can offer to come along on their trip if they win.
What do you mean?
Remember that the longer it has been since you went down the river, the more points you get (up to 5, maximum) in your lottery application. The lottery applicant who has not gone boating in Grand Canyon in 5 or more years has a better chance of winning, since they will get the full 5 points! So you should not be the permit applicant since you would only get 1 point. You want a "not-gone-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years" friend to apply so that you get 5 chances to win.
That's still not clear. I thought I needed to apply to the lottery. So what should I do to go boating with this new lottery?
It's simple. Have someone who has "not-gone-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years" register and then apply. They will have better chances of winning than you. If they win, bingo, off to the River you go.
How do I get more than 5 points?
You can't, unless you are listed on the old Waiting List. If you are part of the Waiting List and have been waiting longer then 5 years, you will have more than 5 points.
Ok, but can't I increase my points by getting some alternate trip leaders who have not gone in the last 5 years and have them sign on to "not-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years’" application too?
Alternate trip leaders (remember, the NPS calls them PATLs) are listed so the river trip can simply be passed to someone else if the permit holder can't go. Just make sure the alternates, those PATLs, are "not-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years" people. Remember, five (5) points is the maximum number of points anyone who submits an application can get, with or without naming alternate trip leaders, AS LONG AS none of the applicants is on the old waiting list AND has not had a “most recent float” more recently then 5 years ago.
How often does a trip get passed to a PATL because the main permit holder can not go?
As of March 2011, the NPS has not released this information. One would assume it very rarely happens.
Why does this remind me of the Tax Code?
Ok, so if I have boated the canyon in the last 4 years or less, I don't want to apply, and I want a friend who has not gone down the river in at least the last 5 years to apply. Alternate names on the application, PATLs, also need to be people who have not gone in the last 5 years. Got it! So, how does my "not-gone-down-in-the-last-5-years" friend apply?
The same way everyone else applies, by establishing a profile and joining the next lottery. There's nothing you can do today but have "not-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years" register for the Lottery. River Runners for Wilderness sends out Riverwires when the NPS announces the opening of the registration for a new lottery. Once the lottery application period opens, have "not-down-the-river-in-the-last-5-years" enter the lottery application fray.
What's it cost?
It's going to cost $25 per application. Be aware though that if you win, you will immediately be charged $400 (for a standard trip of 16 people) or $200 (for the small trip of 8 or less people). You will not be able to change your mind once you get the permit. If you win, you pay. If you lose, you just donated $25 to Uncle Sam.
Will you have a better chance of winning if you apply for a trip during certain times of the year?
Yes, late fall, the dead of winter, or very early spring are less desirable times to float the canyon as it's cold and there's not a lot of sun. The folks with Waiting List points will all be jostling for the primary summer dates. You also might want to apply for the small trips. There is slightly less demand for them. Groups available to go on short notice will have a good chance of getting a cancellation in one of the cancellation lotteries.
Are you still paying attention?
Why do you ask? Will there be a test at the Put-in?
That'll be c-c-c-cold in the winter?
You bet! Don’t forget to bring your woolly hat!
If I am successful in getting a trip in the lottery, and for some reason can not go, can I defer the trip?
No, there are no deferrals. The trip is canceled and goes into a cancellation lottery.
I see. Ok, can I transfer the trip to someone else who played the lottery but did not win?
No, that’s not allowed either.
How will cancellations or unclaimed lottery dates be handled?
Cancellations and unclaimed dates will be put into another lottery. Interested parties will have to be registered, and join the cancellation lottery.
Ok, what if I want to go boating and I AM on the Waiting List. Should I apply every year to get "more" points?
No. You will want to wait until the lottery for the year you want to go, and then apply. The lottery works the same every year. Remember, if you don't go in 5 years, then you have maxed out your “most recent trip” points.
Wow, it seems like I’ll be competing with folks on the Waiting List, and there are thousands of them. Why even apply?
You never know who’s going to apply for what dates. It is a lottery, after all. If you are flexible, you’ll want to get into the “system” to be able to apply for cancellation lotteries when they occure.
I’ve participated in river permit lotteries before on the Rogue, Dinosaur, and the Four Rivers Lottery. In those lotteries, we have permit parties, apply for a lot of dates, and all go if one person in our party wins. Why not do that for this Grand Canyon lottery?
You can, but consider this: If you win, you get charged the $400 full trip or $200 small trip fee immediately. If your group of friends wins twice or more, you’ll have to pay the fees and cancel one or more of those trips. Say goodbye to your lottery fee and trip fee. Not only is there the fee issue, but also you can only go on one trip a year, and your name can only appear on one application.
This is a mess. I’m frustrated, confused, and don’t even want to apply. The chances of a permit holder getting a permit who has no experience in putting a Grand Canyon river trip together is really high. Who benefits?
The majority of summer river access is still, by far, going to the river concessionaires for their customers. The new plan allows 14,385 commercial passengers on 476 trips in the summer, and only 2,270 do-it-yourself boaters on 185 trips, 62 of which are 8 people or less trips.
This is a mess. So what can I do about that?
Tell your congressperson. Join RRFW at www.rrfw.org and stay active. This IS your National Park after all!
Click here to return to The Permit page.