Congratulations, you just won a Grand Canyon Permit! It launches in three days. “Oh sh*t.”

Back in the fall of 2018 a friend from California called me:

“I didn’t think this would happen but I somehow won an eBay auction on this VW van out in Connecticut. Any chance you want to come with me and pick it up?” He inquired.
“This sounds like fun. I’m free next month, how does that work with your schedule?”
“Ehhh. Unfortunately, I have to pick it up within the next three days. I guess you could say I wasn’t really planning on winning it.”

I’ve now had this conversation a number of times. But not in regards to VW vans, but with Grand Canyon permits. What happens is a follow-up lottery is issued by the NPS, and in that follow-up lottery is a date that is right around the corner. And by right around the corner, it’s within less than a week. A friend will apply for reasonable dates in the future (follow-up lotteries typically have a number of date options) and then they decide, what the hell, might as well apply for this date too. And then they win it. They’re ecstatic. And then they say oh shit as they realize they need to tell their significant other that they’re leaving in a few days for a multi-week trip. And from there, the list of things that need to get done begins to grow. Organizing a shuttle. Finding equipment. Finding friends that can drop everything and join them. Don’t forget about the food buy too. It’s a bit of a panic.

The goal of this post is to help you stay organized by focusing on the high-level hurdles to get this trip on the water. It’s not a standard packlist that includes sunblock or postcards for Phantom Ranch. The goal is to ease your panic by getting you organized quickly in order of importance.

grand canyon cooking

First night camp after winning a cancellation permit in 2020

Call > Text > Email

Excellent and fast communication is the only way you’re going to make this work. The fastest form of communication is by calling. If you’re going to invite someone on the trip, don’t text, call them. If you’re going to arrange a shuttle, don’t email, call them. Anything after the initial contact can be done through other channels, but your first inquiry should be done over the phone.

Order of operations

This is based on the assumption that your work is fine with you leaving, that your significant other is cool with you being gone and any other life item is good to be dropped for the next three weeks.

  1. Find your crew. Unless you’re okay with the idea of a solo trip, you need to find friends that can go with you. Start on the calls right away. If they are able to say yes, then they are likely somewhat flexible on the length of trip, so you can delay a bit on that item but you should have a rough length in mind.
  2. Find your equipment and food. If you have a gear shed of canyon equipment ready to go and you’re a food buy guru, then this step is a bit easier for you. If you’re like many others that don’t have this organization, then you need to get on the phone right now and call the outfitters. The two items you’re looking to knock out is equipment and the food buy. If an outfitter can provide both, then move forward with them. If an outfitter can only provide equipment, then it is probably worth calling around to see if someone else can handle both. If you are calling around, it is courteous and the right thing to do to call any outfitter back and update them on your status, even if you will not be using them. That way any shift that they have tentatively scheduled can be updated. If you completely strike out on finding a food packer, then you need to move to Plan B which is arriving in Flagstaff and packing it yourself. This means you need to find a simple menu. This post will eventually be updated to provide that, but in the meantime, some ideas to find one include asking the outfitters if they can provide one, asking your friend circle if they have one, and even posting in a Grand Canyon private boaters Facebook group requesting one.
  3. Figure out your shuttle. This is a bit easier to do as your vehicles have a larger window to arrive at the takeout, but it is obviously a necessary step. If you’ve connected with an outfitter, they will help you with this. If you haven’t, then you need to start making calls to the shuttle companies.
  4. Pay attention to the needs of the NPS. They will be needing a roster soon and will have a list of items that you must provide. Don’t bury this paperwork, keep it in mind as you move forward.
  5. Come up with a must-leave date and time. I’m writing this in California, so I’ll use that as an example, but you need to come up with a date and time for when to leave your house. If today is Friday and your permit launch date is Wednesday then that means you need to be at Lee’s Ferry by Tuesday. This means you want to be in Flagstaff on Monday. And if you’re coming from my location, then that means I am hitting the road very early Monday morning or preferably, I leave for Flagstaff on Sunday. Keep these timeframes in mind. You might find that you have more time than originally thought to organize, or worse case, you realize you need to leave sooner.
  6. Focus on your personal gear. This step is often floated to the top of the list, but in my opinion that’s wrong. The reason being is you can pick up a lot of needed personal gear items in Flagstaff. Again, if you have connected with an outfitter they can point you in the right direction based on what exactly you need but here’s an incomplete list of outdoor equipment stores in Flagstaff: Wet Dreams River Supply, Peace Surplus, REI.

Final note

This is definitely a daunting task, but if you are efficient, remain focused and calm, you will be at Lee’s Ferry without much of a headache. For those reading this post that are thinking of applying for a fast-approaching date, I have some guidance:

  • If you have never done the Grand, I suggest not applying for a fast-approaching date.
  • Organization is your friend. The more organized you are, such as pre-emptively building out a friends list of eligible boaters that can join you, the better off you will be if you win.
  • Tell your significant other before you apply. The odds of you winning may be low, but the possibility is there. You don’t want your story to appear in a Dear Abby column.
  • Reality check yourself: Thoughtfully think about your life, upcoming events, and financials and make certain you can attend if you apply. The canyon is a special place, if you win and cancel you have taken away someone else’s trip that applied and lost.