Getting Permits for an Expedition

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Ranger: Hello? You: So we're going to get dropped off in your park for 20 days fully unsupported and paddle the most dangerous river you've got in the most remote area between the deepest canyons and over the falls. Ranger: You're gonna need a permit.
Permits. Why do you need them?
Basically, there are two main reasons you need a permit;
  1. Because fragile popular locations tend to get trampled, there is a limit to the number of people let in, and
  2. They need to know how many lost hikers to look for before ending the search
This is an expedition, what type of permit do you need for that?
There is really just one type of permit for Canadian National Parks; the backcountry camping permit. There is a strict no hunting policy, though fishing is permitted, and it is illegal to remove any minerals like gold; therefore, the only thing you are granted permission for is to enter and stay. This permit allows you to camp anywhere you like in most of the park and ensures you've got a space in the most crowded areas (lookin' at you Virginia Falls!).
What do the forms ask?
It's pretty straightforward, actually; they want to know how to identify you and when to start the search. Each person has to fill out a personal liability waver and one group-leader-form asks for the following:
  • a list of the people in your party,
  • a trip itinerary of what days you expect to be where,
  • what communication equipment you're using and your contact information, and
  • a general pack list in case anyone comes across your gear
Again, this is generally not meant to be a hassle, but a way to safely and efficiently locate you in case of an emergency.
What happens if I don't get a permit?
Well, for one, you're a jerk because rescuing you will be a guessing game for the search & rescue team and put lives at risk, and by the way the money you pay for the permit goes to pay for protection of the park. But, the actual penalty is a hefty fine and possibly getting arrested since park rangers are law enforcement. In extreme cases, you may even have a search party evacuate you, and pay the tab.
Do the permits sell out?
Yes, and to get yours for Nahanni you should apply generally around this time. Because of how close to the North Pole Nahanni is, our June expedition is actually early in the season and there will still be snow and ice on the ground. Up to July, it's usually safe to get your permit a month out. During peak season when commercial tours are running to Virginia Falls (we'll be putting in much further past that), they acquire 70-80% of the permits for their customers and if you're going on your own you will want to book three to four months out.
Ok, ok, so how much does it cost for how many days?
The permit fee is an entry fee, so it is a flat rate of $147 per person. While this may be costly for those who *snorrrrre* FLY into Virginia Falls, it's a great deal for a longer trip. Oh, and did I forget to mention that's $147 CAD, Canadian Dollars? Yup, us US fellas get the exchange rate discount!   Simple, eh? This is generally the type of paper-work you can expect in most places. The US and Canada have pretty similar rules except for uniquely popular places like Yosemite's Half Dome, Yellowstone's geisers, Mt. McKinley, etc., where other rules apply because of the nature of the area. The rest of the world, as you would expect, differs based on how much a country's culture respects its natural wonders and you should always get in touch with the authority that most closely resembles the Parks Department and ask.
And please check out our gear sponsors who make this expedition possible!