You Literally Need to Win a Lottery to Hike These Once-in-a-Lifetime Trails
Start planning next year’s bucket list now for WAY better odds than Powerball.
Didn’t win Powerball? Neither did we, but we’ve got our eyes on a few lotteries that are more winnable. And they’re arguably more rewarding, too. We’re talking about lotteries for permits to hike to gorgeous, eye-popping vistas, from the likes of Angels Landing in Utah and Mount Whitney in California.
Not everyone can win, but thankfully, we found a one-stop-shop permit calendar to help ensure you get your requests in on time. We’ve got tips, too. To up your chances, apply for a weekday spot, like Monday through Thursday, or for dates outside peak summer travel season, like September or October. It’s also wise to go in with friends, so you can apply for multiple dates.
We’ve rounded up eight brilliant hikes with permit lotteries that absolutely need to be on your bucket list, as well as your planning calendar for next year. Now you just have to decide which of your family or friends get to join in on your winnings.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Arizona’s Havasu Falls tops many bucket lists, thanks to the chalky turquoise waters that are both brilliant and oh-so-gram-worthy. Located on the Havasupai Tribe Reservation, the COVID pandemic caused a temporary closure and suspension of permits, but the tribe expects to re-open in 2023.
Havasu Falls, along with equally stunning Mooney Falls and New Navajo Falls, are located on the west end of the Grand Canyon, but they are not in the national park. Permit reservations for the entire year are expected to open on February 1.
A three-night stay minimum is required with this permit too, but one glimpse of the falls and you’ll want to take your time. Book a stay at the 24-room Havasupai Lodge or Havasu Falls Campground. The former is accessible by a scenic 8-mile desert hike or pack mule ride. It’s a 10-mile hike to the campground. No day hikes allowed.
Zion National Park, Utah
The Narrows is a famously scenic slot canyon hike through a river that carved out other-worldly sandstone rock formations that seem to touch the sky, towering more than 1,000 feet high. It’s also the narrowest section of Zion Canyon—at times barely 20 to 30 feet wide—at Zion National Park.
The first mile is a cakewalk, an easy stroll on Riverside Walk, which dead-ends at the Virgin River. From here, you’ll walk upstream, in the boulder-strewn Virgin River. Pro tip: check in with Zion Outfitter at the park entrance to rent waterproof gear, like bibs and boots. You’ll also want water shoes and a trekking pole or stick to navigate the sometimes-slippery river bottom.
You can start on either end of the long canyon, either going bottom-up or top-down. If you choose bottom-up, you’ll start from Temple of Sinawava at stop nine on the in-park shuttle and go as far as you want until heading back (many people choose Wall Street about 3 miles in as a turn-around point). The top-down hike is a 16-mile point-to-point hike that begins outside the park at Chamberlain’s Ranch and ends at Temple of Sinawava. Only the top-down hike requires a reservation and a permit, which can be done as far as one month ahead of your hike.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite’s Half Dome is one of the most famous rocks in the world. This massive 4,700-foot-tall slab of granite is an icon, so naturally, more than a few people want to climb to the top for panoramas across the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley. Grab your grippiest gloves and hiking boots, since these bucket-list heights are no joke.
But wait—you can’t just waltz up Half Dome. The metal cables need to be up, which are installed from late-May to mid-October and allow hikers to scale dizzying heights to the tippy top of the dome. These cables appear near the end of the trail, when just 400 vertical feet stand between you and killer views for miles.
It can get busy at the cables, so yup, you’ll need a permit (even free climber Alex Honnold needed a permit). Get your name into the month-long preseason lottery in March, which awards permits for the full hiking season. If you miss this window, no worries, there’s a second-chance lottery every day.
Zion National Park, Utah
Angels Landing at Zion National Park is a wildly popular day hike. It’s known for seriously climactic views from the lofty summit, high above the verdant valley floor. It’s also known for sheer sandstone drop-offs, so keep your eyes straight ahead and hold onto the infamous metal chains.
The permit program is new, as of April 2022, but needed to manage aesthetics and crowds. A seasonal lottery awards permits four times a year and requires that you select both a day and a time: before 9 am, 9 am to 12 pm, or after 12 pm. There’s a day-before lottery, too.
Take the park shuttle to stop six, The Grotto. The hike begins right away, guiding you along the West Rim Trail, first to Walter’s Wiggles, a set of 21 switchbacks, then to Scout Lookout, a flat saddle with mind-blowing canyon views. This is your last stop before the narrow spine to Angels Landing.
Mount Whitney Trail
Sequoia National Park, California
Hiking the Mount Whitney Trail is a seriously epic experience, one that overwhelms with pristine waterfalls, rocky cliffs, and dazzling scenery. This sought-after hike leads to California’s tallest peak (14,505 feet), which is eyed by more than a few fervent peak baggers.
Given its popularity, you’ll need to secure a permit in advance, and of course, a lottery is the name of the game for this 22-mile backcountry adventure. There are two types of permits, a day-use permit for hikers and an overnight permit for backpackers.
Get your ducks in line if you want to summit Mount Whitney, which is located in Sequoia National Park, at the southern end of the John Muir Trail. The lottery is open for one month, from February 1 to March 1. It’s not a technical hike, but you can run into snow-covered trails. If you want to leave your ice ax at home, your best bet is July to late-September.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
The Wave, also known as Coyote Buttes North, is set in the striking 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona. This wildly photogenic playground of undulating pink, red, and yellow sandstone ranks among the most visually striking geologic formations in the world.
You’ll need a permit, but it’s absolutely worth it. The Wave has a monthly lottery that takes place four months in advance. So, for example, apply anytime in January for a chance to snatch up a day hike permit for May.
There's also a daily lottery, which takes place just two days ahead of your hike date. You need to be in-town and apply from a mobile device, which checks to make sure you’re within a “designated geofence perimeter” of this breathtaking sandstone and red rock desert area.
Conundrum Hot Springs
White River National Forest, Colorado
The geothermal Conundrum Hot Springs sit high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, boasting big views of Castle, Conundrum, and Cathedral Peaks. Situated in a remote section of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the healing mineral pools are a hot attraction (pun intended).
Visitors flock to the area from July through September, once all or most of the year’s snow has melted. A permit is necessary, but only if you want to camp out overnight amongst the aspens, pines, and firs. Playful elk herds have also been spotted in the wilderness area.
While in the area, another must is the Maroon Bells, which are widely considered the most photographed mountains in North America. To access the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, secure a coveted parking or shuttle reservation from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion’s Subway is among the most geologically stunning places in the national park, if not the world. Hikers navigate the Left Fork of North Creek, which over time—like, millions of years—exquisitely cut the Navajo Sandstone canyon into what today looks a lot like a subway tunnel.
There are two ways to explore this extraordinary slot canyon, including bottom-up (hiking) and top-down (canyoneering). Both options require a wilderness permit. Waterproof boots and bibs are also a must for hiking in ankle- to knee-deep blue-green water. It can be kinda cold, too.
To get in on this action, wade on into the advance lottery, which is open from February through August for hike dates two months in advance, meaning hikes between April and October. If you don’t win or if you’re not much of a planner, there are two more last-minute chances. Huzzah.