Only Select Adventurers Get to See the Grand Canyon by Raft — Here's How to Be One of Them This Year

Rafting through the Grand Canyon
Photo: Silas Dunham

In late January, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the return of its coveted permits to raft the Colorado River, right through Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a bucket-list journey, no doubt, however, getting one of those permits is a lot harder than you may expect.

In total, NPS will release just 461 permits for 12- to 25-day river trips in 2021. For reference, in 2019 NPS received more than 7,800 applications and awarded just 463 spots.

Group trip, rafting in the Grand Canyon
Silas Dunham

The permits are awarded on what is known as a weighted lottery system. As NPS explained, “we adjust each individual's odds of winning, so that those who have been on a recreational trip on the Colorado River less recently (or never) have a greater chance of winning a launch date than those who have been on a river trip more recently.”

Beyond this main lottery, which is held every February, the NPS hosts follow-up lotteries to either reassign canceled trips or assign leftovers.

To get in on the lottery, those applying for a permit must be over the age of 18 and must be comfortable going on a self-guided tour. However, NPS does expect at least someone on your trip to have experience down rapids.

“The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is a highly technical river, not something for the inexperienced to try,” NPS wrote in its FAQs. “At least one member of each trip must have the experience and skills required by the National Park Service.”

Prior to applying for the permit make sure you and everyone in your party is certain of the dates you want to travel as awarded dates may not be changed or traded.

Not quite sure you’re ready to forge the river alone? As KOLD13 News explained, those interested in professionally guided river trips need to request space on a commercial trip. A list of commercial companies offering tours throughout the year can be found here.

Raft boat in the Grand Canyon
Silas Dunham

As for everyone else, gather your crew and create your application now as they are only being accepted online through noon Tuesday, Feb. 25. And if you don’t win the lottery, you can still plan an epic trip to see one of America’s most beautiful national parks anytime you want.

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