Tickets to Ride

When there's only one thing between you and your dream river: permission

Trying to score a permit for a restricted-access river? You'll up your chances if you aim for weekdays and keep your group size small. Consider having a permit party with potential tripmates in December (most applications are accepted from December through February). Each of you fills out an application; if even one person gets lucky, everyone can go. Here, the country's hardest river permits to land.

LOCATIONTHE STRETCHTHE ODDSTHE TRICKCONTACTCAN'T WAIT? TRY...The Selway River
Northern Idaho
Class lV
Paradise Launch to Race Creek Camp- ground; 47 miles, four daysSixty-two noncommercial permits available for around 3,000 applicants; one launch allowed per day.Go early in May, before permit season (May 15-July 31). By August, the Selway is usually too low to run.West Fork Ranger District, Bitterroot National Forest, 406-821-3269Idaho's Class III-IV Lochsa River. Looks and feels like the Selway--but with U.S. 12 running alongside it. No permits required. Call the Lochsa Ranger District, 208-926-4275.The Grand Canyon, Colorado River
Northern Arizona
Class II-V
Lees Ferry to Lake Mead; 277 miles, 18-21 daysThe average wait is--gulp--more than 12 years.Persistence and a flexible schedule. Once you're on the waiting list, program your speed-dial to call in weekly for cancellations.Grand Canyon River Trip Information Center, 800-959-9164The Colorado through Utah's Cataract Canyon, a 98-mile stretch with Class III-V rapids similar to those found downstream in the Grand Canyon. Permits are required year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. Call Canyonlands National Park, 435-719-2313.The Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Central Idaho
Class lll-IV
Boundary Creek to the main Salmon River; 104 miles, six days9,406 applicants for 371 permits. Toughest in July.Aim for autumn. Though permits are required year-round, the lottery only runs from June 1 to September 3. After that, it's first-come, first-served.Middle Fork Ranger District, Salmon-Challis National Forest, 208-879-4101Idaho's Lower Salmon--53 Class III-IV miles, relatively little river traffic, and permits that are yours for the asking. Call the BLM office in Cottonwood, Idaho, 208-962-3245.Gates of Lodore, Green River
Northwest Colorado/ Northeast Utah
Class lll
Through Dinosaur National Monument, from Colorado's Lodore Ranger Station to the Split Mountain boat ramp in Arizona; 44 miles, four daysAbout 4,500 applicants vie for the 300 permits available for both the Green and Yampa Rivers. Toughest in May and June.One-third of all permit holders cancel their launch dates. Call regularly; you might pick up a canceled date.Dinosaur National Monument River Office, 970-374-2468Desolation and Gray Canyons on the Green--84 miles of mostly Class II water and permits that are much easier to land. Call the BLM office in Price, Utah, 435-636-3460.Yampa Canyon, Yampa and Green Rivers
Northwest Colorado/ Northeast Utah
Class III
Through Dinosaur National Monument, from Deerlodge Park in Colorado to the Split Mountain boat ramp in Arizona; 71 miles (46 on the Yampa, 25 on the Green), five daysSee above--4,500 applicants, 300 permits.Aim for the low-use seasons--April, late July, and August--and pray for a runoff that coincides with your permit dates.Dinosaur National Monument River Office, 970-374-2468Westwater Canyon on the Colorado, a 17-mile, Class III­IV desert run just north of Moab, Utah. Permits are required and tough to get, but apply for a weekday launch in May, June, or October and you just might get lucky. Call the BLM office in Moab, 435-259-7012. --Tom Bie

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