Big change for Zion National Park’s slot canyon permits
Published: March 13, 2012 11:52AM
Updated: March 1, 2012 01:57PM
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Two hikers wade through the Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park on a sweltering hot day on July 16, 2003. On Jan. 18, 2013, rangers announced they had fined a photographer who was operating an unlicensed business in the park. Hartmann/photo 7/16/03

Zion National Park is making a big change in how it allots last-minute wilderness permits to visit slot canyons.

The park now will let visitors compete online for last-minute day use permits.

"This new system will eliminate the need for visitors to wait in line at the visitor center for permit," park spokesman Ray O'Neil wrote in a press statement today.

The change was the result of a public comment airing this fall. Visitors were tired of getting up insanely early — or even staying up all night — to hang around the visitors center for hours before opening, just to be close enough to the front of the line to score an unassigned day use permit.

Now visitors can apply for last-minute day-use permits here. They will be awarded in a drawing at 1 p.m. two days before the requested permit date. Entries cost $5, and they may be submitted no sooner than 7 days in advance of the trip date and no later than 1 hour before the drawing.

The one downside I can see — and this may be a big deal to a few people — is that it will be much harder to do anything to improve your chances for a high-demand, last-minute permit. Previously, they were awarded more or less according to your fortitude in the face of long hours standing in the dark. If you really wanted that Mystery Canyon permit, you had a good chance if you started waiting in line the evening before they were released.

Of course, that lost opportunity will be felt more by visitors from far away. They don't have the luxury of joining the lottery every Thursday & gleefully planning an impromptu weekend trip when a permit is won. Ah, the privileges of being Utahn!

If you really want a permit, you had better join the advance lottery for the Subway and Mystery Canyon. Entries are being accepted here now for June reservations. For the other slots, try to get a reservation here three months before your trip.

Overnight permits have not changed. For more information about Zion's backcountry permits, check here.

—Erin Alberty