Somewhere in between polishing off a second helping of turkey and hanging Christmas lights this holiday season, multi-day boaters must find time to apply for their western river permits in anticipation of warmer days on the water this spring or summer.

The National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management have developed permit systems for rivers flowing through government lands in much of the western United States to control crowds, protect resources, and provide boater safety, says NPS Ranger Ginger Raborn. Raborn works in the river office in Dinosaur National Park, which oversees popular permitted sections of the Green and Yampa Rivers, including Gates of Lodore.

Her office employs the ever-popular lottery system in attempt to fairly distribute launch dates for private boaters, accepting applications from November 1 to February 1 this year. "A first come, first serve basis puts a lot of people at a disadvantage," says Raborn. "This way, you apply over a few months, everyone gets a number, and the computer chooses. It's completely random."

For the Yampa and Green, unsuccessful lottery applicants can call in, beginning March 2, to request launch dates not filled through the lottery.

After March 9, open dates are available to anyone on a first-come, first-serve call-in basis.

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Selway, Snake, Salmon, and Middle Fork Salmon rivers in Idaho and Oregon, accepts applications for all four rivers December 1 to January 31. A permit is required to float Salmon and Middle Fork year-round, but the number of launches is only controlled June 20 to September 7, meaning anyone can launch outside those peak times as long as they acquire a permit through the North Fork Ranger District.

Many other popular multi-day stretches of river, such as the Salt River in Arizona and Oregon's Rogue River, have similar permit/lottery systems; many take place over the winter. Several Web sites have grouped information on these rivers and their respective permits, including:

Consult these and read the tips below to help navigate the permit system before hitting the water this spring.


-Study the rules of the lottery/permit system you are entering, make sure your application is complete, and submit the correct application fee(s). Many questions can be answered online through the managing agency Web site for each river (usually the NPS or BLM).

-Submit applications as early as possible, and allow ample time for delivery to sometimes rural river offices. Some agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service (Selway, Snake, Salmon, and Middle Fork Salmon Rivers) accepts applications based on date received, not the date postmarked.

-Take advantage of non-peak seasons, such as the fall, or call-in dates for unclaimed launch dates. The NPS river office in Dinosaur National Monument (Green and Yampa rivers), for example, provides weekly statistics of launch dates from the previous high-use season to help new applicants guess when they might be the most successful.

-Talk up the trip to your buddies early—and have several members of your group apply to increase the chances of winning the permit lottery.