Tickets to Ride

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

Jul 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

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.

The Selway River
Northern Idaho
Class lV
Paradise Launch to Race Creek Camp- ground; 47 miles, four days Sixty-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, 406-821-3269 Idaho'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 days The 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, 800-959-9164 The 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 days 9,406 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, 208-879-4101 Idaho'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 days About 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, 970-374-2468 Desolation 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 days See 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, 970-374-2468 Westwater Canyon on the Colorado, a 17-mile, Class IIIĀ­IV 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