Grand Canyon River Lottery Five Year Review Released

Officials at Grand Canyon National Park have released a five year review of the Park’s new lottery permitting system for obtaining a self-guided river permit to paddle through Grand Canyon National Park. This review comes after a complete overhaul of the self-guided river runners permit system, implemented in 2006.

As in all lotteries, the losers far outnumbered the lucky winners.  The NPS has handled over 23,000 lottery applications for just over 1,600 permits released in 5 main lotteries and 27 follow-up lotteries since 2006.

Fortunately, about 100 additional permits will become available to the 2012 lottery. These permits were being used in the last five years to help exhaust some of the 7,000 permit holders waiting to go rafting from the previous permit system.

Unfortunately, 3,381 applicants competed for 266 launch opportunities in the main lottery for 2010, while 3,726 applicants competed for 274 launch opportunities in the 2011 main lottery. The NPS notes that while 50% of lottery winners will win their first choice launch date, 30% of lottery winners will win their third to fifth choice of launch dates.

Since 2007, the NPS has received over $350,000 in main lottery application fees alone from winners as well as losers. The $25 application fee required just to apply for the river lottery is the most costly river lottery application fee in the country.

The new river management plan greatly increased the number of winter time self-guided permits.  The data released shows these winter permits are not being utilized as the NPS had hoped. The five year review shows NPS projections overshot actual demand for winter river trips by about 50%. 

The review also shows that roughly 65% of all self-guided river runners apply for the lottery in the five warmer summer months of May through September.

In the face of overwhelming demand for summertime self-guided river trips, the Park’s river concessionaires still account for roughly 500 summertime launches catering to 14,000 passengers. Only 2,000 self-guided river runners are allowed in the same time period, traveling on 180 launch permits.

In other released data, the NPS offers no explanation for the huge but very short spike in demand for self-guided river permits that occurs only in the second half of September. This spike, seen every year since 2006, occurs at the start of the time period that bars the launch of motorized tour boats.

Application to the NPS lottery is not necessary for river trip passengers who use the park’s river concessions. These passengers book available seats on known trip dates directly through a concessionaire.

RRFW has put the entire NPS document (2MB) online at:

Permits for the highly coveted self-guided Grand Canyon river trips in 2012 will be issued through Grand Canyon National Park’s Main Lottery February 1 through February 24, 2011.

RRFW has posted an online primer on how to navigate the complex multi-step lottery application at: