Permit season creeps past us every January. Only a few weeks remain for application submission for many of the nation’s most prized river permits. Thats only a few weeks left to prevent the guilt, regret and disappointment that comes with NOT having applied for a permit yet another year.
Ask anyone who has camped their way down a river, spending days discovering a canyon’s intricasies and hidden jewels, and you will understand the value of a multi-day river trip.
They will describe how breakfast comes with a side of excitement for another day’s rapids.
They will tell you about the immediate retreat and continual submission of stress and worry.
They will illustrate the growing connection to the river, land and wildlife, a connection that deepens with every passing river mile.
Or they will say nothing, slipping out of the conversation in a dreamy fog of river memories.
Permits work in different ways depending on the governing body and location.
For instance, the National Park Service issues permits for the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon based on a weighted lottery. “Winners” of the lottery are drawn each February for the upcoming year. The NPS weights the lotter to give a higher chance to those who have applied year after year. (Another reason to start applying now!)
However, the US Forest Service requires a permit application for Idaho’s Salmon River multi-day raft trips for launch dates between June 20 and September 7 through the 4 Rivers Lottery System.
Be sure to learn which type of permit you’ll need, as you may not need to apply in advance.
Where to Begin: Which Rivers do I want to see this year?
1. Find a river.
Take a few minutes to scroll through American Whitewater’s list of rivers requireing a permit. (Go ahead and start your “Life List” for river trips while you are at it).
2. Determine which type of permit you’ll need.
You have decided where to begin your love affair with multi-day rafting. AW provides a brief description of the type of river rafting permit required to the right of the river name. The “permit” link will direct you to the specific agency responsible for issuing permits (BLM, USFS, US National Parks, etc.).
3. Follow directions.
Some reading required here. Each rafting permit varies slightly, but generally follows a similar format. Most will require you to create an account by signing into the website. From here, you can browse permit options such as dates and number of group members to personalize your multi-day rafting trip.
Popular Permits: Wonka’s “Golden Ticket” of River Rafting
These are the trips that become legends in rafting and kayaking lore.
1. The 4 Rivers Lottery System
Natural hotsprings, untouched wilderness and the nation’s deepest canyon can all be seen with a highly prized permit from the 4 Rivers Lottery System.
- Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
- Selway River, Idaho
- Hell’s Canyon of the Snake River, Idaho
- Main Salmon River, Idaho
2. Longest Standing Wild and Scenic River in the Country: Rogue River
As one of the original eight rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Act of 1968, the banks of the Rogue River have been free from human development longer than most rivers throughout the county. The pristine riparian wilderness and exhilarating whitewater put the Rogue River at the top of any river runner’s list. The BLM issues river permits at the Smullen Visitor Center in Rand where applications can be submitted until January 31st.
3. The Gold Standard: Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead
The Grand Canyon is where every boater wants to go when they grow up. As rafters and kayakers evolve within the sport, the opportunity to jump on another Colorado river permit arises, although infrequently. Imagine holding your own permit and suddenly you have the power to decide which lucky boaters will call this year a “Grand Canyon” year.
Why do we even need permits in the first place?
Issueing permits might be considered an added hassel for some rafters and kayakers, but has long proved beneficial.
The permit system preserves rivers and surrounding ecosystems from the stresses accumulated from recreation overuse. By limiting the number of trips that launch every day, each limited to number of people, everyone benefits.
Each trip enjoys a more intimate glimpse into the wild. Days might pass without the hint of the outside world, allowing groups to become further immersed in their experience.
Limited permits also help to maintain the “Leave No Trace” standard set forth by the US Forest Service. Increased numbers of visitors often leads to more abuse of the land which affects wildlife and future visitors.
Finally, wildlife emerge when they feel less threatened by outsiders. Herds of elk come to the river to drink and birds of prey circle above.
Remember, only 2 weeks remain for applications to the 4 Rivers Lottery System, Rogue River and many others. Your chance to make this year a mulit-day rafting year.
Slept through your window of opportunity? Fear not river enthusiast!
Wet Planet Whitewater and other outfitters, offer trips on many of these rivers throughout the season. They worry about the permits (and food, gear, transport, etc.), all you have to do is come along for the fun. Check out trip dates for multi-day rafting on the Rogue River, or even a full kayak instruction on the Rogue River. You can also raft Hell’s Canyon or kayak the Lower Salmon without messing with the permit.
Let your year of rivers be 2011. Act now to reserve your river permits, or make reservations for the ultimate adventure through America’s most beautiful places.
Writer, photography and kayak instructor Susan Hollingsworth hopes to cross off the Rogue River, Illinois River, Lower Salmon and a handful of other multi-day runs in 2011.