Dear Park Service, why must you have such an archaic system? You still have to use a fax, for Pete's sake. You have no idea of what use areas have vacancies, save for the corridor campgrounds, and only new hikers really want those. Your request could be denied for one campsite in the middle of your trip; you never really know. The poor rangers take up to three weeks to process the request, and by the time they write you back, other places have filled up. You can't do it over the phone, either.
|This graph from nps.gov is depressing. Probably better not to look at it.|
The NPS has a pretty tight lock on numbers too. For most use areas, some of which are really big, they only allow two parties per night. So even if there are two groups of one person each, that's it (I guess that's why the canyon is so much cleaner than other places though).
I've been sending in requests since January, and finally I resorted to a shameful email plea to the rangers. I may or may not have promised brownies. The ranger who responded said that there was an area with openings, so I faxed in that request, knowing that it could easily fill up before they got to it.
Success after ten requests! However, there was a mistake--the rangers had given me a 17 mile day instead of the more sane number of miles I had requested (while 17 miles on the PCT is a short day, the Grand Canyon not so much). The Backcountry office phone rings busy most of the time, but the hiking gods were with me and I got a real person, who talked me through some choices (if it is their mistake, they can change your permit on the phone). I ended up with an itinerary close to what I had asked for (in a perfect world I'd go to Hermit Rapids, but that was snatched up back in November, I'm guessing).
|2015 camp in Monument, which had a small trickle of water at the time.|
This means a dry camp for two nights, but I'm not afraid of dry camps. I used to be before I hiked the California desert of the PCT. I have to laugh when I recall one day in our John Muir Trail thru hike when we grew unaccountably nervous about six miles without water. Since then I've hiked many waterless miles, including one 32 mile stretch. Dry camping is totally manageable.Yes, you can't wash up, and yes, you will probably end up with too much water because you will be afraid that you don't have enough. The reward is usually a scenic camp lacking condensation, bugs, and too many other people. Dry camps are also better for wildlife, since they avoid water when people are camped there.
My formula is typically to allow one liter per five miles of hiking, unless unusual circumstances prevail (really hot, really hard climbing). If you don't take a stove, and you don't drink coffee, you use much less water at camp. You will want one to two liters at camp depending on when you get there. I have passed up some nice dry camps because it was only one in the afternoon and it meant too much sitting and drinking up all the water I had. Generally I like to arrive at a dry camp about six or later, thus minimizing this. If I have two liters at camp, one for the evening and morning rituals, and the next to get me to water, I feel like I'm doing pretty well. If you leave camp in the morning, when it's still cool, this means you will drink less.
|A great dry camp in the Castle Crags (CA)|
There are people who hike through the canyon in one day, but I'm not one of those people. Not because I couldn't, but because there is just something magical about spending at least one night below the rim. In the past four years, I've been back five times (If you really want a permit, December is pretty easy to get).
So if you really want to go and you are lucky enough to be able to plan ahead, the best thing is to put your request in at the right time: four months ahead (if you want a permit in March, you can apply on November 1). Steer clear of the main camps. Trust me on this, unless you want a loud family waking you up at 4 am, eating breakfast loudly and preparing to hike to the rim. Embrace the dry camps! You might never go back.