It’s that time of the year again—time to start fantasizing about summer river trips. Many of the best stretches of family-friendly whitewater are regulated to prevent overcrowding, and if you want to lead your own multiday trip, rather than go with a commercial outfitter, you need to apply in advance for a government-issued private boater permit. Most river permits are allocated by lottery, and the best strategy for winning a launch is to go in with a couple other families and apply for the same dates. You can typically put in for several dates on the same permit, which also increases your odds. Read the fine print carefully, though, there are lots of caveats and the process can be confusing. Here's a guide to scoring a permit—or at least getting in on the lottery—for the best family whitewater trips in the West. Don't dally: Most applications are due February 1.
Good luck out there!
San Juan River, Utah
Details: The 84-mile stretch from Sand Island to Clay Hills is a serene wilderness float through southeastern Utah’s rugged canyon lands, and with only two Class III rapids—both of which are easily walked around—it’s ideal for families with really young kids. You can apply for the 2-3 day, 27-mile Upper section from Sand Island to the town of Mexican Hat, the lower, 4-5 day, 57-mile section from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills, or the whole enchilada—typically a 7-day run, or eight if you want to leave time for side hikes and layover days. BLM permits are required for the main boating season—April 1 through October 31—and are issued by lottery. If you apply for but don’t win a permit, you can call for cancellations once the whitewater season starts.
Due Date: Postmarked by February 1.
Info & Download:435-587-1544 http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ut/monticello_fo/recreation.Par.86013.File.dat/2012%20San%20Juan%20River%20Application.pdf;
Middle and Main Forks of the Salmon River, Idaho
Details: The big daddy of Idaho rivers, the 104-mile, free-flowing Middle Fork of the Salmon, through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, is one of the most coveted permits in the West (only about 1 in 20 applications are successful). It’s designated Wild & Scenic for all but one mile, with the only signs of civilization en route a few foot trails, backcountry landing strips, and private ranches. Bigger Class III-IV+ rapids, especially during spring run-off, makes this a better bet for families with teenagers, but it mellows considerably in late summer, when kids as young as 7 or 8 can make the trip. Lottery-issued permits are required for rafting during peak “control” season, June 20-September 7. The 82-mile, Class III-IV stretch of Main Salmon, from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, follows the same regulations.
Due Date: Jan 31
Info & Download: Online applications only—no mail-ins. www.recreation.gov. 877-444-6777