How to Visit National Parks without a Permit

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Last updated
January 18, 2024

A Guide for Arches, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks Several National parks…

A Guide for Arches, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks

Several National parks are adding a permit system to enter in the summer of 2022 and these permits are highly coveted. Currently they are offered in two ways: registering in advance, each park has a different time when their tickets become available; and an additional permit drop the evening before. Below I have listed the permit details for each of the National Parks. Since a high volume of people are trying to get permits and only a small limit available it is likely you will be glad to hear there is another way to get into a national park if you don’t have a permit.

Permit entry is only in effect during peak hours, most parks that starts at 6am, so the solution is to enter the park before then. Once you are inside the park you do not need to leave once permit hours start even if you do not have a permit, but be advised that if you do exit you won’t be permitted to enter until after peak hours have past. Our camper vans make it easy to camp just outside the national park then drive inside before they require permits. If you are a slow riser, like me, you can even wake up just in time to drive inside then make breakfast after you have arrived at your trail head. For each of the national parks I have listed some nearby free camping site and for those who can stealth camp in a camper van some of the parks have places you can park just outside the gates. I would also like to add that camping in a national park is restricted to designated camping areas only and you can get fined for trying to camp in their parking lots.

Arches National Park Permit System

Entry tickets are required from April 3, 2022 – October 3, 2022, from 6 am-5 pm.

The tickets are released three months ahead of your desired reservation date and are released in one-month blocks. Just like Glacier, there is a secondary booking window with tickets that drop one day in advance of your desired visit date.

Arches National Park Nearby Camping

Gemini Bridges Campsites 2mi
Campsites 1-5 are clustered together in a beautiful red rock canyon, but they well spaced out with lots of junipers between them.
BLM land 6mi
Good BLM spot next to canyonlands national park, with beautiful sky. Big space for big rigs. about 6 RV or more can fit on this place.
City of Moab 2mi
If you are in a camper van and like to stealth camp the city of Moab is next to arches with plenty of parking lots you could pull into.

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Glacier National Park Permit System

Entry tickets are required May 27,2022 – September 11, 2022, from 6am – 4pm.

Initial release occurs 120 days in advance of your reservation start date at 8 AM MT. If you miss the initial release, there is a secondary booking window for day-in-advanced tickets that opens at 8 AM MT.

Glacier National Park Nearby Camping

Flathead National Forest-Ryan Road 3mi
Dispersed Camping near West Glacier. Several pull-offs on Ryan Road in the Flathead National Forest. No amenities but really close to West Glacier, full access to Glacier National Park.

On east side of West Glacier.Highway 2 3mi
Big pull off. Can kind of hide behind the trees. Good for one night. Traffic during the day, much quieter at night.

West Glacier 3mi
The town of West Glacier offers stealth camping options to people in a camper van.

Rocky Mountain National Park Permit System

Entry tickets are required from May 27, 2022 – October 10, 2022. Bear Lake Road requires permits from 5am – 6pm. The rest of the park requires permits to enter from 9am – 3pm.

There are two entry ticket options: park access with Bear Lake and park access without Bear Lake. Reservations are available on May 2 at 10 AM MDT. There will be a second drop for last-minute guests; they will be released one day prior to your desired visit at 5 P.M. MDT.

Rocky Mountain National Park Nearby Camping

Dispersed Camping on Hell Canyon Rd 10 mi
Disperse camping on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park

Stillwater Pass Dispersed 6mi
Free Dispersed camping in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests’s Sulphur Ranger District. Located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park 4mi
The town of Estes park has plenty of parking lots if you have a camper van suited to stealth camping.

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Yosemite National Park Permit System

A reservation will be required to drive into Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6 am and 4 pm.

Thirty percent of permits will be available seven days in advance of the permit dates and the rest will become available the day of at 8am.

Yosemite National Park Nearby Camping

FS 5s09 15mi
A campsite in the National Forest just outside the South entrance of Yosemite National Park. Very quiet. Easy 1 lane road.

Sierra National Forest outside of West Yosemite 10mi

A pullout in the Sierra National Forest just outside of West Yosemite. From Wawona Road you keep following the Henness Ridge Road/Drive through Yosemite West and enter the National Forest on a gravel road.

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Zion National Park Permit System

Zion is debuting a permit lottery for their most popular hike, Angels Landing Trail. From April 1 – May 31 and June 1 – August 31, everyone wanting to hike Angels Landing Trail needs to have a permit.

Permits are issued in two-time windows: one to three months prior to your desired hike date, or one day prior to your desired hike date. You can apply for a permit for up to 6 people!

Zion National Park Nearby Camping

Kolab BLM Campground 15mi
Free BLM campground just outside of Virgin, UT. Nearby creek is a great place to rinse off after a day at Zion.
Eagle Craig Trailhead area 5mi
Beautiful views of the surrounding area and cliffs of Zion National Park to the north. Dark red sand and a few kinds of cacti make this a gorgeous site to camp.
Springfield 0mi
The town of springfield boarders Zion National Park. There are several parking lots you could stealth camp with a campervan.

How to get into Zion National Park without a Permit

Zion’s permit system is different from other national parks since it is a permit for the buses in the park, not just driving. With the exception of low traffic months (January and February) visitors cannot drive down Zion Canyon road unless they are staying at the lodge. Visitors park at the Visitor Center by the West entrance and take a bus to access the park. Don’t fret if you cannot get a bus permit, there is still a way to access the park.

Bicycles are still allowed on Zion Canyon road and there are places for you to lock up your bike at each trail head. You can park where Zion Park Blvd meets Zion Canyon road and bike the rest of the park. Our camper vans have room in the garage to fit multiple bikes or you can add a bike rack to the trailer hitch. I recommend e-bikes for this if you plan to do any strenuous hiking in the park, you can rent some in town before you enter the park.

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More Resources

If you want to look for more camping options check out iOverlander. iOverlander has hundreds of 1000s of free camping locations. Make sure to scroll through the campsite descriptions and read the user reviews to pick a good spot.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.
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