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Winning The Enchantments Lottery

Advice on Winning the Enchantment's Lottery (2023 Data Update)

by Jarrett Retz

April 4th, 2024 the enchantments backpacking python data analysis jupyter notebook

Double Posting

This article touches on programming and backpacking. Therefore, it's posted in two places. Once on my business blog, and again on my personal blog.


This post will likely conclude a series of posts examining Enchantments Lottery data published by the USFS. In previous articles, we looked at common advice given to curious applicants to improve their chances of winning a permit.


In the first article, we looked at whether or not a person should apply for the Core Enchantments. Then, in the second installment I took a look at how the month, day of the week, and group size affected an applicant's probability of being awarded a permit. In the previous article, I explained the Awarded-to-Skipped ratio as a performance metric for application entries (spoiler, things have changed).

The findings from the previous parts of the series are:

  • Applicants should apply for the Core Zone in at least one preferred application option (granted you are capable of getting to the Core Zone and want to go). Or, in other words, applicants should not avoid applying for the Core Zone just to win.
  • Mondays are more popular than people think. The three worst days to apply are Friday, Monday, and Thursday.
  • Saturdays are a dark horse. It received fewer application entries than on Monday or Tuesday. It nearly received less than Wednesday. Also, it was awarded the second most permits by day.
  • Sunday is the best day to apply. Due to the closure of the walk-up lottery on Sundays in 2021, there was more inventory released in the early access lottery for that day. That meant there was 33% more capacity in the Core Enchantment Zone on Sundays in 2021. Coincidentally, Sunday received the least amount of application entries giving it the best awarded-to-applied ratio.
  • Smaller group sizes generally do better at securing permits in the Core Enchantment Zone with a group size of 1 punching above its weight. However, due to the increased permit availability on Sundays, group sizes of 8 secured the most permits on Sundays in August for the Core Zone.

However, these findings were based on the data for 2021. Since then, I've had a chance to run similar analyses on the 2022 data and the 2023 data.

2022 Application Data

For the most part, the data and analysis were very similar for 2021 and 2022. This article will mention the 2022 data as a reference point because it's the closest reference point for the newer (and different) 2023 data.

Changes in 2023 Data

The 2023 data was similar to the previous years in the majority of ways. But, in a few ways, it varied. The 2023 data:

  • Was shared in a different file format
  • Zero'd out Cancelled reservation rows
  • Added more columns

Let's talk about those changes before getting to the analysis.

Extracting Data

The 2023 application data is linked on the USFS website to a 520-page PDF file. This type of file isn't conducive to data analysis, but I won't go into too much detail here on how I parsed it to a CSV. If you're interested, I wrote a separate post about that process.

Processing Sequence Column

The Processing Sequence column is a new column in the data for 2023. This column is presumed to represent the order in which the lottery looked at the applicant's application.

This assumption is backed up by noting that more applications were awarded to lower sequence numbers.

The below graph shows us the randomized—unbiased—order in which applications are awarded. The x-axis shows the Index value. This is presumed to be the order the applications were received. The y-axis indicates the Processing Sequence value, assumed to be the order the lottery was executed.

The majority of permits were awarded in the first 10,000 application rows, but many permits were awarded above that threshold.


In previous articles looking at the 2021 and 2022 results data, I mentioned that we don't know how the lottery works. It's difficult to tell which applications had a chance at winning but didn't. Well, with the addition of the Processing Sequence column, this is no longer true.

Now, we know every application has a chance to win. Whereas in prior year analyses that assumption was not made. Therefore, the skipped entries data subset is expanded to include all failed application entries, not just application entries where the preferred option was less than the awarded option, although it still checks to see if the preferred option is less than awarded or the awarded entries.

Split Entry Values

Unfortunately, Cancelled permits were given a Processing Sequence value of zero, meaning we aren't able to examine their awarded date, zone, or group size. In previous years these applications could be considered Awarded, and they maintained their awarded values.

Consequently, Cancelled applications were removed in the cleaning process.

State Column

The 2023 application data also includes a State column noting where the applicant is from. This column includes entries outside the US.

The majority of winners are from Washington state, but the winners also included applicants from:

  • Mazowieckie, Poland.
  • Bavaria, Germany.
  • London, UK.
  • Espoo, Finland.
  • Centre Val de Loire, France

It won't play a role in our analysis, but it's a fun and interesting column to examine!

Does the lottery work?

With the appearance of the Processing Sequence column, I decided to run a query investigating the efficacy of the lottery. I selected a random failed application entry and tried to find all the entries that caused it to fail.

The randomly selected unsuccessful entry data had the following parameters:

  • Zone: Core Enchantment Zone
  • Entry Date: June 19, 2023
  • Group Size: 2
  • State: MI
  • Processing Sequence: 4194 (pretty early)

Sure enough, I found four awarded permits after filtering for those same parameters and a Processing Sequence < 4194. Furthermore, the group size totals for these four applications added up to 16.

Seeing that June 19, 2023, was a Monday (coincidentally my wife and mine's second anniversary) only 16 persons were awarded entrance into the Core Enchantments that day.

Short story shorter: it checks out.

2023 Update

View the analysis on Github

There were 40,031 applications submitted in 2023. This was an 8.7% (3, 204) increase from 2022.

Subsequently, all percentages saw a slight decrease. For example, the probability of being awarded a permit in 2023 was 6.39% (down from 6.86% in 2022).

Applicants should apply for at least one Core Zone option

Applicants who applied with at least one Core Zone option had a 5.34% chance of winning a permit for any zone. This is only a slight decrease from 2022 (5.65%) due to the increase in total permits.

This remains only one percentage point below the average probability of winning any permit (6.39%). Although most of these applicants didn't win a Core Zone permit they at least gave themselves a shot. Therefore, in my opinion, applicants should not trade this one percentage for a shot at a Core Enchantments Permit if that's where they would want to go.

Still, it's fair to argue that you almost double your chances of winning a permit if you don't apply for the Core Zone at all (11.94%). Only 6,885 of these applications were submitted in 2023 and 822 were awarded.

Alternatively, applicants who applied for only the Core Zone had a much slimmer chance of winning the coveted Core Zone Permit (2.83%).

Colchuck Zone

Applicants should be wary of the Colchuck Zone as well. Given you applied for the Colchuck Zone, the applicants' probability of being awarded a Colchuck Zone permit (2.61%) was almost as bad as the Core Zone (2.22%).

My recommendation is similar to the Core Zone. If you want to apply for the Colchuck Zone, you should do that, because you have three options and you might get lucky.

However, the applicant should be aware that applying for the Colchuck Zone as an alternative to the Core Zone won't help your odds since they are similarly awarded.

The three worst days to apply are Friday, Monday, and Thursday

Looking at the 2021 and 2022 data showed us that Friday, Monday, and Thursday had the worst Awarded-to-Skipped ratios (using the old method).

In 2023, using all the failed entries, the new worst days were Friday, Thursday, and Saturday. This confirms the advice on the USFS website that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are the most popular days to apply.

Saturdays are a dark horse

Saturdays are no longer the dark horse that they were in 2021 and 2022. Applications on Saturday rose 16.56%, compared to Monday which only increased 2.52%.

This allowed Monday and Saturday to switch places. Therefore, based on the 2023 data, Saturday is no longer a dark horse.

Sunday is the best day to apply

Word must have got out that Sunday was the best day to apply because it saw a 41.11% increase in application entries from 2022.

Even though Sunday saw a huge increase in applications it remained the least applied for day of the week. Likewise, more permits were awarded on Sundays because of the closed walk-up lottery on that day.

Awarded Permits by Day

Sunday - 468

Monday - 359

Saturday - 350

Friday - 349

Thursday - 347

Tuesday - 345

Wednesday - 340

Having the most awarded permits and the least amount of applicants kept Sunday (0.039) firmly ahead of Tuesday (0.026) and Monday (0.025) for the best Awarded-to-Skipped ratio. This also means it remains the best day to apply. For comparison purposes, Friday has an Awarded-to-Skipped of 0.014.

Smaller group sizes generally do better at securing permits in the Core Enchantment Zone

In 2023, it remained true that smaller group sizes outperform larger group sizes in the Core Enchantments.

Additionally, it should be pointed out that group sizes of 1 has a huge advantage in the Core Zone. It's awarded to skipped is over 3x the rate of the next closest size (2).

Group sizes of 8 do better in the Core Zone on Sundays due to increased permit

In 2021, I noticed that group sizes of 8 did quite well on Sundays in the Core Zone. It had the most awarded permits.

That trend did not continue in 2022 or 2023. Group size of 8 finished center of the pack for awarded permits in the Core Zone on Sundays in August, despite the increased availability.


Some of our earlier findings did not hold in 2023 with the addition of the Processing Sequence column and the change in applicant entries by day. However, other findings are recommendations remain true.

For 2024, it's stated on the USFS website that:

There will be no permits issued or available for pick up on Sundays or Mondays

I hypothesize that, if they publish the 2024 data we'll see Monday shoot up in performance because they're closing the walk-lottery for that day too, in addition to Sunday, which has been closed in previous years.

This series has been an exciting look at the published Enchantments Lottery data and I hope it helps the reader understand the tradeoffs when building applications in the future.

Jarrett Retz

Jarrett Retz is a freelance web application developer and blogger based out of Spokane, WA.

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